Recently, I wrote a post about the launch of Prota Ventures, a venture building and early-stage investment firm. We've been hard at work on a number of items and dogfooding our own products (someone should come up with a better name for this) each week along the way. One that you can check out is MapleIQ. Need an intelligent, interactive, customer-focused landing page? This is the one for you.
One that I've been using nearly daily for the past seven weeks is Startup Rocket. During this time, I've been involved with everything from a hardware startup (making metal hairpin legs, more on that later) to helping about a half-dozen founders/pre-funded and pre-product teams work through their individual ideas while evaluating the steps of Startup Rocket along the way. We added in a few more features and steps to the framework to help take founders all the way from an idea through closing a first round of funding (if that's the path they choose to pursue; we've seen the framework also work for those bootstrapping or growing organically). Additionally, you can now see all of our current articles on the steps for launching a Tech Startup online at startuprocket.com/articles.
So, why write a post about this? Well, first - I committed to write more, so am keeping up with that. Second, I've made a ton of notes throughout the past six weeks about why/how I find Startup Rocket valuable when working through the steps of launching a new idea.
Founders Need a Centralized Working Repo of Thoughts & Actions
Building on the internal motivation that drives teams to create, the next piece of the process for moving from an idea to validating the idea starts to get into the details. This phase includes "the how something comes to life" and "what that something actually is." Based on experience, it almost always includes creating a centralized way to communicate with one another, archive conversations, create some public accountability for deadlines and focus on executing tasks while giving/getting feedback on the roadmap at hand.
I've found that sometimes I'm notoriously bad at answering the specific questions of "okay, but how do you actually do that," or "what exactly do you do during that phase?" So, after getting similar questions a couple dozen times while speaking a couple weeks ago at the Longmont Startup Week, here's exactly what I've been doing/using for the past couple of months.
In the past 15 years, I've spent a lot of my life working on launching new ideas. The early phase of an idea is always chaotic. The question of what's most important to do next inevitably comes up on a daily basis and the answers to that cause tensions between cofounders, customers, advisors, family and more. I'm proud to be working with our team at Prota Ventures on a tool to help solve a lot of that pain in the early stage of getting an idea to market.
Here are my top three reasons that I use it on a daily basis now for all the ventures I'm involved in.
Sets Focus: Early stage ideas are rough... always. That's their nature, they are "just an idea." It's hard to figure out what to do next sometimes and it can be overwhelming to pick a path forward. The Startup Rocket Framework eliminates that confusion by focusing on moving an idea forward into a validation cycle all while building accountability from cofounders, advisors and eventually customers. It can be terribly hard to trust a process and we even struggle with it sometimes, but the more that we refine and focus on following the framework itself, the faster we get to a point of validation with our projects. Focus, coupled with motivation, are the two most powerful tools a founder has when launching an idea.
Centralizes Process: By using the web app on startuprocket.com, our team (and those that I've been working with) are able to easily communicate on what's next. Currently, I like to sync Asana tasks with each step of the framework. In the future, we'll be able to do that right in the web app itself. By centralizing the communication/comments and feedback loops from cofounders and advisors it makes it easy to invite in potential investors to the workflow when the time is right - a huge win for an investor to gain that level of transparency into how the team has worked through ideation, validation and execution to get customers.
Practical for Founders: There are thousands of ways to build a business plan and there are probably tens of thousands of articles on the Lean Methodology and tools like a Lean Canvas, but there aren't very many practical guides to help sort through the chaos of the early stages founders go through. Startup Rocket solves that for me by providing a simple, sensible approach to each step (you can see them all here).
Startup Rocket helps solve many of the pains in an early stage while also helping teams evaluate cofounders and advisors along the way - from ideation through validation, into execution and through closing a first round of funding.
(the communications repo)
There's no question that Slack is one of the fastest growing companies of our time. The company now valued likely well over $3 billion is a tremendous communication tool. I've used it for projects, catch up communication with friends and as the centralized communication tool for Prota Ventures, CoWork Jax and more for a long time. Here are the top 3 reasons why:
Integrations: Slack seamlessly integrates with the apps and other tools that I use every day. From Hangouts to Asana and even a bot for Standups (nice, Corey & team!) and Time Tracking (local JAX folks), there's an app for nearly everything you'd need within Slack.
Organized Communications: On a busy day, I'll get between 100 and 200 emails across all my email addresses. That may be a lot for some and not a lot for others and that's okay - the point isn't the volume of email. Regardless of volume, using a tool like Slack centralizes communications for teams and helps us run our businesses how we want - with less email. Using channels and staying consistent with using Slack also helps onboard new team members a lot faster.
Culture Formation: Slack helps teams create and communicate their culture. Drop in a fun .gif, share a screen, quickly call someone, create a channel for motivation or inspiration - all ways to help form, creat and communicate culture. Looking back through our Prota Ventures #Random channel you'll find gems like: several men carrying a 5mb IBM computer, Superfly, fishing for tuna with a drone and so many more delicious treats.
There's been probably tens of thousands of articles written on how and why teams are using slack. I encourage you to check it out if you're not already - and for those that are, what makes it work for you?
(the accountability tool)
I've used all sorts of project management tools. The list includes Basecamp, Trello, Meistertask, Wrike, Smartsheet, dapulse, 10,000 ft, Podio, Kanban Tool, Microsoft Project and more. Each has pros and cons and for a while I found myself using two or three different tools depending on what the project/team/tool was best suited for. During the past year, I've slowly migrated all of my projects into Asana. There are a few major reasons that I like Asana, but most of it boils down to the following items:
Free for Small Teams: The fact that its free and easy to use for small teams/projects makes this a great tool for early stage founder teams that are working on getting an idea out of the gate.
Seamless Across Devices: Sure, most apps are seamless these days. I particularly like the Android app that helps me keep up to date on the go. Again, this isn't something that only Asana has to offer, but for me it works well.
Works for an Agile Approach: Trello is pretty great at this as well and was my go-to before for most agile/lean projects, but once I started to organize items in an agile way, Asana worked great. For Prota Ventures, we set up most of our projects with the headings below. It helps us keep organized and focus on what matters the most right now... each and every day.
Here's an example of our initial starting point for new projects.
The Bottom Line - This Process Works
Why spend all this time writing down the process and sharing these items? Well, it actually works and it has been one of the most efficient/effective ways to get through the chaos of launch that I've been part of in the past ten years. I've personally used it for our own launch (we're still in the midst of it), to help people launching companies ranging from events to tech startups and even for launching a niche product like hairpin legs. Throughout each venture launch, I've been more motivated for the right reasons, had more time to still get outside and enjoy life and also found that it is easier to communicate with cofounders and advisors.
The thing is, if you're going to raise funds, at one point of the other, you're going to need to do these steps anyways. And, even if you're not raising a round of funding, using this type of approach will help you get to revenue faster at a lower cost.
Here's to your success!
I've been personally working with a small group of beta users via Startup Rocket and our team is now going to open it up to work with another small cohort in a hands on manner. Email me for details at firstname.lastname@example.org.