How to start a business with no money: tips for entrepreneurs
What if I was starting a new business today? How would I approach it?
Let’s run a scenario- Slidebean, the presentation platform I started in 2014 disappears today, kind of like The Leftovers. Our AI design system disappears, our SEO, our users, our revenue, and our team. Also, this Blog.
In this alternative Universe, I’m left with my personal Youtube channel, which is still tiny, last paycheck, plus I’m the only person in the world that remembers Slidebean, which means I have no credibility as a founder. All I have left is my experience.
How do I start a new business?
Step 1: the business idea
Alright, let’s talk about the business idea first when starting a business.
I firmly believe you should only start a business around something you know how to do: an industry you are familiar with, where you’ve worked for a while.
So I have good knowledge of the startup ecosystem, though remember, nobody knows who I am anymore. I have some design knowledge. I have video editing and digital animation.
My new business should probably connect to one of those skills and markets. Perhaps an AI-assisted video editing platform, though that already exists… Maybe a pitch deck design and writing service for startups- which Slidebean already does, or did- the challenge here is, once again, credibility.
When we started that line of business we already had a brand: people knew Slidebean, so they weren’t giving their slides to a stranger, it was this cool company, Slidebean, a venture-funded startup. These guys must know what they are doing, right?
Without that background, I like to think it’d be harder to compete when starting a business.
So lessons learned here, don’t just build the first thing that comes to mind. Find a market niche. Find something where you and your experience can stand out.
What’s your motivation when starting a new business?
Also, the motivation to start a business shouldn’t be ‘I want to start a business’- or I am out of a job, I’ll start a new company.
In this scenario, I haven’t lost my savings- but my savings would only last only for a few months. So no, I would not go to start a business right away- I’d get a day job.
So scratch step 1 and change that to get a day job. Make sure you don’t have the pressure of running out of money and not being able to afford rent. It will put you on a better position for anything you set out to do.
Ideally, this should be a day job that gives you some flexibility. If you are tied to a desk 9 to 5, it’s going to be hard to get anything else done.
Step 2: find a business idea.
We already talked about that. Let’s say this business is called design.inc, because it’s a bold and simple name, which is a great thing to keep in mind when starting a new business.
Step 3: The co-founder.
I firmly believe you need a co-founder. I doubt I’d start a new company by myself. While I can do some basic coding, I wouldn’t have time to code AND grow and sell the business, so I’d seek a new co-founder for this.
Since my Slidebean co-founders disappeared, and nobody knows I know a thing or two about startups, I have to start with my immediate contact network.
I’d reach out to friends who I know have some of the skills and knowledge in the area. I’d double down on my involvement in the local startup scene; you know, attend meetups, go to events… not conferences, I made a video about that: How to find a cofounder.
Finding a co-founder is hard! They should be in a similar position as you (age, day job…) and they should be excited about the idea of starting a new business, enough to commit to it. We should date a bit, perhaps hack a secondary project together first, before, you know, going all in. The pressure of not needing money is excellent! We don’t need to rush things.
Step 4: kick-off
I’d aim at developing an MVP of the platform. Before doing that, we should agree on the company terms, share distribution, and so on…. you can find a video here. Again, we would do this while keeping our day jobs.
An MVP doesn’t have to be an app. When we started Slidebean, our first MVP was a concept video explaining how this platform that didn’t exist yet, worked. People bought into it, hit our sign up button, and joined our fake waiting list.
The MVP for my previous company was a Kickstarter campaign. It proved that people wanted this product.
So, yeah. THAT is a cheap MVP you can do in a couple of weeks. After we validate that, we can start doing some coding.
If my co-founder is working on the product, I’d work on the website and the social proof. SEO takes a lot of time, and since we are starting from scratch, we should aim at filling up a blog with some content as early as possible.
Maybe some ProductHunt and Reddit posts to see how people react to the concept, and then, I would launch this, as soon as possible as soon as it’s usable. Call it Alpha, Beta, whatever- get it in front of people.
We are looking at 15-hour workdays here. Eight hours at my day job, 7 hours on this new company. That’s the way it has to be, really when you are starting a new business.
Step 5: Traction and De-Risking
I’ve always said you need traction to raise money. Traction = business de-risking. Confirming that the business is worth something.
I would want to de-risk this business as soon as possible, to find out if it’s worth quitting my day job for it and using up my savings to be able to work 100% of the time on the business.
Most of us can’t afford to live for three years on savings, so it’s a real-life bet to do this. And it gets harder as you get older, of course.
I’d like to see a few thousands of dollars in revenue. Or a growing trend of thousands of users. It depends on the business, of course.
Step 6: Seek funding
If this idea is a tech startup, then I would look for investor capital, yes. I draw a line between tech startups and traditional small businesses, so make sure you know what you are getting into.
I would say I can write and design a decent pitch deck. If you can’t, you can always get help from someone like Slidebean, which doesn’t exist in this Universe, of course.
I’d navigate my network to approach investors. LinkedIn first, AngelList, later. This great pitch deck I wrote, with a fresh product with significant growth, should get me through the door for a few investors interested in starting a new business.
Don’t forget about Startup accelerators. I did my fair share of programs, and I don’t think there’s a lot more I could learn today- but what they do offer is initial funding and a vast network of investors. For a company this stage, with this amount of traction, you could look at something in the 500 Startups, DreamIt or Y Combinator level.
Smaller accelerators typically take idea-stage companies, but we already built that traction ourselves.
What comes next?
Well, that depends on the business- but I hope this is enough to shed some light on the approach.
Back to this Universe, we built a checklist of all the steps you should take from idea stage to raising capital- it’s available at FounderHub.io.
Also, if you want to try our very real, super easy to use presentation platform, you can use this URL to get three free months on any of our plans.