Pick a problem/space and not an idea. Startups are hard (very hard) and it is very likely that during the process of executing your idea, you will need to change course.
By Wendy Nguyen (CEO & Co-Founder, HealthyOut)
Entrepreneurship can feel like an illusion. Here in the Bay Area, we are inundated by the fables of entrepreneurs and the opportunity to create something feels so acutely accessible but at the same time slightly out of our personal reach.
“How do I begin? What do I work on? How do I know this idea of mine isn’t crazy?”
Here’s my personal story along with some practical tips that I hope inspire you to get started on your long road to startup-dom.
Tip #1 – Be the Kid that Cried Wolf
The tale often starts with a twenty-something that comes up with an inspired idea, recruits technical co-founder, gets seed round (followed by Series A/B/C), builds the social something, sells to Facebook/Google and then lives forever in our founder folklore.
What’s often forgotten is the prologue – the months and often years of ideation that precipitates the story. Get started by talking about your ideas with friends, co-workers and strangers on the street. The act of talking about your idea is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It makes it real and it immediately starts the process of refining it. For me, ideas came easy.
Getting started was the hard part. I got to the point that I felt like “the kid that cried wolf” – the person who always had an idea but did nothing with it.
Looking back, I feel like it was a necessary part of exploring and finding the network of support that would eventually make my current startup, HealthyOut (a mobile Yelp! at a dish level + Path for healthy eating and diet), a reality.
Tip #2 – Pick a Problem/Space, Not an Idea
A long time ago, I was found myself having lunch with Alon Salant, the co-founder of GoodEggs. I met him by telling one of my friends about my latest startup idea, and Alon gave me some of the best advice that I’ve heard as entrepreneur. Pick a problem/space and not an idea. Startups are hard (very hard) and it is very likely that during the process of executing your idea, you will need to change course.
What can sustain you during all of those course corrections is the passion for solving a problem or being in a space that energizes you. With HealthyOut, I found myself combining multiples loves – delicious food, public health, creating (what I hope) is beautifully-designed product for a largely female audience.
I wake up every morning energized by creating a company that takes the homework out of healthy eating and that passion helps me through all the painful setbacks, sleep deprivation and constant low-grade stress of finding enough funding to keep the team together.
Tip #3 – Structure It
When you’re ready, approach it just like you would approach work. Find yourself a startup buddy (and future co-founder) or a mentor that you check-in with . Get a stack of Post-It notes and create a wall of ideas and spaces. Research and vet ideas (in spaces you love) until you arrive on an idea that inspires you. Then pickup a copy of Lean Startup and start executing. HealthyOut was born out of this exact process.
Tip #4 – Believe in Yourself (and Find Others that Believe in You)
Let’s not kid ourselves. Startup is more pain than glamour. You’re creating something from scratch. The odds are definitively stacked against you. Chances are that you’ll launch your first prototype and your well-laid plans for your product are blown up because users aren’t using your product how you anticipated. You’ll get rejected – angel by angel, incubator by incubator, VC by VC.
Trust yourself and your ability to handle the setbacks, learn and move on. For me, what’s been helpful when my nerves are frayed is to remind myself of how I’ve handled obstacles in the past.
I grew up in a family that immigrated to the US after the Vietnam War, which means I grew up poor, lacking in sleep (worked my way through high school and college) and determined to see a better day. Not much has changed 10 years later, but reminding myself of how I’ve gotten through tough situations in the past gives me the confidence and resolve I need to keep pushing forward. You can do this.
I’m not sure exactly where this road will take me. HealthyOut launched its first major release in the iTunes App Store this week and became a top new Food & Drink app.
I just got word that we’ve been accepted into Blueprint Health, a tech incubator in NY. The road is long, but I’m excited to see what’s around the bend.
Women 2.0 readers: What is your top tip for starting up? Let us know in the comments.
About the guest blogger: Wendy Nguyen is the CEO and Co-Founder of HealthyOut, your mobile nutrition coach that makes eating healthy easy, fun and addictive. This is Wendy’s third startup. Previously, she was the second employee at SocialChorus, where she managed product, marketing and tech while working with leading brands like Williams-Sonoma and DVF to launch social media initiatives. In her past life, she worked in emerging market private equity and as a consultant at Bain & Co. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @wdot.