5 things you need to do to turn a napkin into a company

Growing a startup isn't easy, but at least once you're up and running, you're more likely to get outside feedback and suggestions. When all you have is an idea, it's often hard to figure out where to begin. Here are five things I tell napkin stage entrepreneurs all the time:

 

1) Have great relationships with the people who know you already.  If the people who have either worked for you or that you've worked for won't vouch for you, who will?  Investors, employees, and partners are all going to look for this.  So, before you spend the next 6 months trying to pound the pavement trying to drum up new relationships, how about spending half that time with the successful people who know you already?

2) Join the conversations already going on in your space--read blogs, start a blog, join groups, listservs, attend meetups. There are a bunch of reasons for this. First off, unless you're actively engaging with thoughtful people in your industry on a daily basis, it's going to be extremely difficult to be as current as possible on the trends that affect your idea. Plus, engagement in conversation, both online and offline, will attract likeminded thinkers, which you're going to need when you get your idea off the ground.

3) Use every single even mildly related service you possibly can--and not just once. You need to have a really thorough knowledge of what else is out there--not to defend your idea and explain why it's different, but to learn from (copy, improve upon) the best ideas the market already has, and understand what isn't working about the ones that fail. I can't tell you how many times I mention a related company to a startup and they've never even heard of it. I shouldn't know more about the startups and existing services in your space than you do.

4) Identify the 30 most knowledgeable people in your space--analysts, investors, executives, even competitors--and try to meet with them about your idea. Look, all you have is an idea. Chances are, all of these people have thought about or heard of your idea before, and they have existing day jobs, so they're not likely to just jump in and steal what you're doing. When anyone can copy your idea in a matter of weeks, it's a matter of execution anyway--and that requires all the best thinking you can muster. Plus, chances are that some of these people will put you in touch with people who could help build your idea, through collaboration, investment, or even literally code it up.

5) Be a leader of startups in your space. All startups need some basic help with the nuts and bolts of running a business. Gathering a critical mass of other startups doing similar things allows you all to learn from each other and focus on the parts of your business that creates value, not stumble on the basics. Also, putting together events for new companies in your space can attract potential clients, who may want to checkout a bunch of startups all at once. A good example of a group of new startups in a single industry coming together to help each other and learn is the new Fashion 2.0 Meetup group here in NYC. They're sure to attract more industry speakers, investors, etc. as a group than any one of them would have been able to individually. Competition? Sure, some of them may be competitive with each other, but better to know and have a dialogue with the enemy than not.