Dec 12 0 Responses

Starting A Startup

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. – Mark Twain

There are a lot of people out there giving advice on how you can start your business. I’m not smart enough to be giving advice though so I’ll just tell you how I went about starting a startup.

The short version is Fun Panda was founded because I couldn’t find a customizable bamboo case for my iPad. The longer version is:

The Idea
Coming up with an idea is easy; implementing an idea is difficult. In fact, frustrated with my inability to get any ideas to take off, I started a company called MilliSeed with a tag line of “A million ideas; a thousand beginnings.” Will Fun Panda be different? To be honest, I don’t know, but I have learned a lot from a half a dozen failed businesses over a dozen years.

A big difference this time is it’s not just an idea. This is a frustration turned business plan. I’ve sat around with groups of brilliant people throwing concepts up on the wall. In those cases, we were trying to find a niche or create a market. In this case, the market already exists. There are large market segments for customized iPad cases and environmentally responsible product. There just wasn’t an existing solution for customizable responsible iPad cases.

The Market
The reason most of my earlier businesses failed is people didn’t want what I was selling. Sure, there was money to be made, and others with similar businesses were able to succeed where I didn’t. Maybe the ideas were too soon (search engine optimization in the late 90s, green lawn care in the mid 2000s). Maybe they were too late (baseball card inventory management long after most people stopped collecting). There are plenty of excuses, but the bottom line is that if more people were buying what I was selling those businesses would have been successful.

This time around, I have a much firmer grasp of the market and the opportunity. My living room is littered with print outs of projections, trends, and market analysis.

The Team
I learned my lesson several years ago when I partnered with a couple of guys to create grassroots organization software for political movements. I didn’t know these guys particularly well, and two months later, one of them was 1,000 miles away, not answering his phone, and holding all the vital info to run the business.

This time around, I wanted to work with friends. I interview a lot of people in my “real” job, and I’ve learned being friends with someone, even for a short period of time, will tell you more about a person than you will ever learn in an interview.

My checklist for partnering:

  • A Friend
  • Smart
  • Gets Stuff Done
  • Could stand to hang around for hours on end

There is always the possibility of going it alone, but for me, I’ve done that. You have the weight of the world on your shoulders, and when things don’t go according to plan, there’s no one there to hold you accountable, pick you up, or not allow you to quit. This time around, going it alone wasn’t an option.

The Money
Everyone I told about the customizable bamboo cases loved the idea, and when they saw the samples, the responses were amplified. This made for an odd problem – too many people wanted to invest. I followed the partner checklist above and found a couple of people who could help off-set some of the start-up costs.

This will become a new rule of thumb for me for future business ideas. If people aren’t fighting each other to invest in your business, it’s probably not a very good idea.

The Future
While I’ve made a couple of personal loans to the business, I also know where my bread is buttered. I have a great job that I love very much. I’m not going to go into debt to grow Fun Panda, but I’m also not going to be taking money out of the company. For now, invest and reinvest in the company, work hard at night and on the weekends, and see if we can’t grow this thing into something great.

In the end, no one knows exactly why anything works. Groupon was an accident.  HP turned down the personal computer idea 5 times before Steve Wozniak partnered with Steve Jobs to found Apple. For now, it’s a really fun project with a lot of potential.

If you’re looking for an iPhone or iPad case, check us out.

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