Setting up a website ≠ Starting a business
This baffles me. It irks me.
Every week, I come across many such questions on Quora.
There is nothing wrong with these questions. The questions are quite genuine. It is how people respond to it that I have a problem with.
Yes. I know. I tend to end sentences with prepositions. That irks me as well. But… I don’t know. This bad habit has percolated deep enough by now, I think.
Let’s have a look at the only three answers I saw for this particular question.
THE COMMON THEME?
They all suggest one thing and one thing only — build the website.
You build the website and your job is done?
Are we still living with the mindset — build and they (customers) will come?
Screw it, just do it!
I don’t think there is a shorter line to find inspiration from, than the ‘screw it, just do it’ approach of Sir Richard Branson. I love superheroes, and so I love the origin stories. I love the origin stories of startups and businesses as well, and there is no other story simpler, funnier, relatable or inspiring than how Virgin Airlines came to be.
Apparently his flight to the Virgin Islands got cancelled and Branson was annoyed. He really wanted to get there on time, so he started calling around about chartering a plane. As Branson recalls, ‘I didn’t really have the money to charter a plane at that point, but I told them, let’s go ahead and order it.’
Then he went over, picked up a small blackboard and went over to all the people who had had their flight cancelled with him, on the previous flight. And he just wrote on the blackboard, Virgin Airlines, $29 and sold off the rest of the seats on this chartered plane. All passengers got to Virgin Islands that night.
(There are some recounts of the tickets being sold at $39. I don’t recall what was the exact price. You can read about it in Branson’s autobiography though.)
WHY THIS STORY MATTERS?
It illustrates perfectly an entrepreneur’s willingness to take action. Branson was willing to start before he ‘felt ready’. He had no prior experience in the airline industry — let alone running an airline, yet he saw an opportunity and he seized it. He was willing to fail, but he was more keen on acting on the opportunity he saw.
He was selling plane tickets before he even had a plane!
SO. HOW ‘DOES’ ONE START A BUSINESS?
You can start a business by doing exactly that. Starting a business! And businesses are in the business of making money. Having a website isn’t the same thing as having a business.
Having a customer (even if you don’t have a website) is having a business.
This is what you should do:
- If you are starting a business, your first focus should always be on that first sale. Make a sale. Get the cash register going.
- How you are making that sale matters. But it doesn’t matter as much as you think. Use flyers, use pamphlets, use garage sales, instant messengers, online groups, your twitter account, emails. Use anything. Any medium is fine as long as it is helping you make a sale.
- You do need a website. Of course you do. But not right away. Your website is not your business, it is a tool that scales up your business. If you are making 5 sales a day, does it really matter whether you are doing it via a website or over phone calls? Actually, you may have a better conversion rate if you are doing it via a call. You need a website when your business starts growing and you want to put it on a path of further, faster growth.
So the next time someone asks you — How do I start a business, answer it with another question — How are you planning to make that first sale?
Let the conversation flow from there. You would be helping him, as well as yourself.
Oh. And though not the same thing, but it is in the same ballpark, so I will add a line on VC funding as well. Just like the website, funding is also something that you need to scale up the business, and not to get it off the ground. Sure you can go with money from friends and family, or find yourself an angel (maybe even a seed investor). But never — and I do mean never — have the mindset that you ‘absolutely’ need the capital just to start a business. Barring any venture that requires heavy R&D, bring me a business and I’ll tell you how to go about it — with little to no capital.
That’s it for today. See you tomorrow.
If the story manages to resonate with you, do consider giving it a heart. 💛