In the previous post we tried to find out whether hiring a consultant is a good idea for startups and what makes a consultant the right one. The bottomline is that startup consultants can be surprisingly useful, but you have to pick only those who launched their own startup (or two) in the past.
Here I will do my best to explain how to squeeze as much value as possible out of that bearded guy (or that lady with strange glasses) you’ve just signed a consulting services contract with.
The key is to understand what past-founders-turned-consultants are really good at and what is rather beyond their limits. Today we are going to start with the first part: what they can.
Yes, they can…
1) Provide a fresh, independent and educated perspective on your business idea
Your startup is your baby. You love and cherish it just as you mom cherished you twenty-something years ago.
This emotional component may actually be very useful – as it encourages you to move forward, overcome obstacles and never, never, never, never give up.
But at the same time, your “parent” attitude towards what you’re building may be dangerous and counter-productive. The damage comes the following ways:
- you cannot impartially assess the strengths and weaknesses of your product;
- your friends and relatives may lie to you, falsely praising your idea. They like you – and you look so passionate and inspired when telling them about your startup, that even if they have some constructive criticism to give – they eventually will decide to remain silent. They’ll do anything, only not to risk seeing you bursting in tears.
The most useful person here would be some benevolent sociopath: the one who will tell you the bitter truth without an intention to humiliate you, but rather to help you get to the right vision faster. This is as close as possible to what a proper startup consultancy should get to.
Their own negative experience also allows past founders notice when things are going wrong early enough – which may prove valuable to you.
2) Quote a realistic budget for building and launching your product.
You will be surprised how different the actual cost of your project can be from what you are currently imagining. And yes: in this case “different” usually means several times bigger. For example, the cost of building your MVP under best possible circumstances is no more than half of the total amount you need to invest into development – only to get your hypothesis proven. Launch of MVP is just the beginning of sometimes much costlier beta phase. Now, add marketing and administrative expenses, paid services, travel – etc. Those things can be unseen initially – they emerge in course of work.
Those who have already been there are aware of the actual cost of different inputs your startup needs – so you can delegate the budgeting job to them without hesitation.
3) Ruthlessly cut the unnecessary features out from your product and define the right scope of Minimum Viable Product.
Recall what attention you pay to every part of your attire (if you are a woman, this also includes makeup, haircut, nail polish, clutch bag and practicing a charming smile in front of the mirror) before an important appointment. When you are preparing your product to its launch you want every part of it to look perfect. The logic here is so strong that it becomes subliminal: you want to make sure you have eliminated every possibility of failure. You want the audience to give a sigh of admiration after you pull the curtain, don’t you? In practice, this most often means adding another nice and useful feature. And then one more. And another one…
The truth is there is neither an overnight success nor failure here. And there is neither a curtain, nor audience with wigs, fans and theatrical binoculars waiting for your great premiere in a gilded candle-lit hall. The reality is simply the opposite: nobody cares.
How many brands of, say, kitchenware can you recall? Be sure: those 2-3 you could remember invested millions and years to make several percent of population aware of them.
That is why you need to launch small and fast – so you can start getting customer feedback asap and eventually iterate from your basic vision to something your customers truly need. Initially, all you need is a limited, focused version of your product – with only the most essential features that reflect key assumptions of your business model. This is called “Minimum Viable Product”.
Proper startup consultants can take an educated look at your business model and tell you what amount of functionality is sufficient. They also don’t want your product to fail, but this does not evoke the primordial fear in them. This is why formal medical practice forbids practitioners to perform surgery on their relatives.
Sketch your MVP scope yourself – and then give it to that bearded guy with an axe – so he cuts everything that sticks out.
4) (some of them) Find the right people for your team and set up the management framework.
All past founders have developers they worked with on their own project. Good past founders went through the crisis of their own startup failure with a priority on keeping those relationships – which eventually strengthened them. This is an exceptional opportunity for you. If your consultant manages to negotiate with his past team to develop your project – consider yourself a lucky bastard. Even if this luck does not happen often – rely on their expertise to distinguish good designers and engineers.
Project management is a thing to do in the first place. Ask your consultant to set everything up as they did on their project – then take over it yourself and keep tweaking the pipeline until you feel that everything goes with proper smoothness and efficiency. This approach will save you a lot of precious time on your business’ early stage.
5) Connect you with useful people.
Network. Another thing first-time founders lack. In contrast, your consultant most likely has an array of connections far broader than you think. Leverage on it! Ask them to introduce you to their acquaintances and use their existing network to reach the people you deem useful for your business.
But please, please don’t start with investors! First people you need, even before you have started building the actual product, are experts in the industry your startup is aimed at. Begin your customer development with them – and you will get more than just quality feedback: those people may eventually become your first customers. After that you will need designers and engineers (see paragraph 4), lawyers (especially when there is a patentable technology in the core of your startup) and HR people. When you reach product/market fit you will need journalists, bloggers and other influencers. And only then you may have a coffee with an angel.
Make sure not to miss the next post with the second part of the story: what startup consultants can not do for your startup.