In her day job, she focusses on building the crowdfunding community in New Zealand. In her spare time she co-instigated a crowdsourced list of inspiring women in NZ (bit.ly/inspiringwomennz), and co-created Women Who Get Sh*t Done, an unconference for women.
Here’s your permission slip to get started
Guest blog: Anna Guenther, Co-Founder and Chief Bubble Blower at Pledgeme
I often get asked about how to get something started. Uncertain entrepreneurs, bored public servants, conviction filled activists all struggle with this. As stupid as it sounds, what I tell them all is that sometimes you just have to jump. You need to make sure that where you’re jumping is safe, but you’re not going to know what it’s like until you try. So, try!
Don’t be half-assed about it. Commit your time, possibly some money, and your energy to making it happen.
But, this doesn’t mean you have to quit your job. In fact, a recent study by management researchers Joseph Raffiee and Jie Feng showed that “entrepreneurs who kept their day jobs had 33 percent lower odds of failure than those who quit. If you’re risk averse and have some doubts about the feasibility of your ideas, it’s likely your business will be built to last” (The Originals by Adam Grant)
“Fire bullets, then cannonballs” – Jim Collins
You don’t need to start something with the full shebang. You can start small, test your ideas, iterate (or even fully reboot). In the words of Jim Collins, the godfather of getting shit done, you fire bullets, then cannonballs. Validate an idea in the smallest way you can, before making a big bet. The best thing about starting something is you get to do it your own way, but you should also do it in a way that makes it useful for your customers, solves a real problem, and will make the world a better place (in whatever way you want that to be).
“I want to debunk the myth that originality requires extreme risk taking, and persuade you that originals are actually far more ordinary than we realise.” Adam Grant
I’ve learnt a lot about starting things, having started a few start ups in my time (and accidentally co-instigated a few events and groups in my time). It really is more of an art than a science, as Adam Grant states it’s quite ordinary, and it involves a lot of people herding. Here’s what I’ve learnt:
Create a brand
If you’re starting something new, what it looks like really does count. People innately trust things that look trustworthy. So, if you’re starting something new — get a name, and a brand together pronto. Unless you’re a designer by trade, pay someone to do it. Even if you are a designer, it might help to get someone external to take your brief and create it too. I promise, it’ll be the best few hundred bucks you spend at the start.
When we started PledgeMe, the best money we spent was on a designer that made our logo and front end design. She ran a session with me and my co-founder to figure out the basics on how we wanted the brand to look and feel, and came back with the PledgeMe bubble that we still have today. Without that focus on brand, I don’t think we would be where we are today.
Don’t know where to start? Here’s a recent logo brief that one of my WWGSD team wrote for our logo and brand that our designer Pepper took up and ran with.
Ask for help
Looking back on everything I’ve ever started, the best things were co-started. I co-founded PledgeMe, I co-instigated the crowdsourcing a list of inspiring women in New Zealand, I accidentally co-lead the Women Who Get Shit Doneunconference. Starting something is easier when there are already other people interested in it succeeding.
When you’re starting, there are a lot of things you don’t know you don’t know. So when you come against something that stumps you, and google isn’t helping, ask for help. You can approach people you know, and often for the price of a coffee, they’ll sit down with you and give you some feedback.
Note: it’s easier to approach people you already know. If you try someone you’ve never met, be clear they aren’t required to respond to your email. Make sure you pay for their coffee (unless they insist), and try to keep your questions to one or two clear points. Don’t take up more than a half hour of their time, and be SUPER appreciative for their help.
- Pay people (even if it’s just coffee)
- Seek out people that fix three of your weaknesses (or…. Even just one if it’s a big ‘un). Be clear on the help that you need. And, sometimes, you can’t outsource things. Like leadership. There are things you might have to beef up on.
- Avoid advice overload by starting an advisory group. Get all your smartest advisors in a room, and make them debate their advice while you listen on (and weigh in). It means you get support, but not whiplash.
Set clear plans and processes, but be open to change
If you don’t spend the time to create a bit of a plan, and outline a few processes, it can be hard to get other people involved. This doesn’t mean you can’t constantly improve and iterate, but you need to set a stake in the ground to start the movement from. At a minimum create a one pager on what you’re doing and why (you could try a Lean Canvas) and be clear on what you’re doing and where you need help. The people that help you might have some ideas on how to improve / change the plan, so be open to that too (if you’re not, they’re not likely to want to help you for very long….).
People are the most important bit
They really are. You need people to make plans happen. You need people to want to consume what you’re planning. You are a person. You can have all the processes in the world, but if they make people feel like shit they’re never going to work. So care about the people. And, if you fuck up, apologise.
Now, what are you waiting for? Here’s your permission slip to jump.
Anna Guenther is the co-founder and Chief Bubble Blower of PledgeMe, New Zealand’s first crowdfunding platform. Since launching 5 years ago, over 1,100 creative, community and entrepreneurial projects have met their goals and over $15million has been pledged through PledgeMe. Anna has also worked for the New Zealand Government, MIT and Harvard, and completed her Masters in Entrepreneurship with a focus on crowdfunding.
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