We’re Burning the Boats. Now What?

“Burning the boats” is an analogy John and I have been hearing a lot the past few months.  Traditionally, it refers to an order Hernan Cortés gave in 1519 when he landed with his men in what is now Mexico. By burning their boats, he was telling his men there was no way back to Spain so they had no choice but to survive or die.  This was also a military strategy used by the Greeks and is also described in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.  When applied to starting a company, it means you’re approaching your venture with an attitude of “succeed or die trying”.

All of which is really a roundabout way of saying that we’ve pivoted Small Basket Studios into an extremely early stage software company, upon which we are both working full time.

Our initial plan is to build software to enable non-technical people to do interactive storytelling on smart-speakers like Amazon’s Alexa.  Last February, we released a proof-of-concept called Animal Farm P.I. that is running on a prototype engine we started working on last October.  Since then, we’ve been busy learning that there’s a lot more to launching a software product than a couple of smart guys with an idea.

Since starting on this adventure, we’ve been reaching out to friends and contacts who have been very generous with their advice.

Following are some important things we’ve learned.

Build It And They Will Come Is A Nice Idea, But…

We’ve found that in general, software startups fall into one of two camps:

1> Non-technical founders who know EXACTLY what the market needs and who will buy it, but have no idea how to actually build the product.

2> Technical founders who write a magic piece of software that can solve a myriad of problems and now need to find a market that will pay money for their elegant solution, but aren’t quite sure how to do so.

I will leave it to the reader to guess which one we are (hint: the code’s like really, really cool, man…).

The good news is that plenty of people in both situations successfully found and launch software companies.  In each case, it takes a willingness to roll up your sleeves, and either learn how to do the stuff you don’t know, or find people you can trust to do it for you.

There’s no one size fits all way to make a startup company succeed

In talking with a number of people, we’ve quickly learned that no two software companies have the same path from ideation to launch.  In fact, you will often find one person who tells you that you absolutely MUST do X to get from point A to point B, but then the very next person you talk to forged the same path and absolutely DID NOT do X and emphatically insists that doing X is a waste of time.

The more people we have talked to, the more we are learning that, while we can benefit from everyone’s advice, it’s really on us to pick and choose what we think is most applicable to us and go from there.

People treat you differently once you go all in

This is a big one.  I can’t tell you how many times that we meet someone new at networking events and within several minutes are asked what our commitment is. Which really means: are you working on your venture full-time – or just dabbling?  If you can’t say you’re full time, the conversation ends quickly.

Before they’ll give you the time of day, most entrepreneurs want to hear that you’ve “burned the boats” to use the analogy from the beginning of this post.  Once you’ve convinced them you’re all in, though, it’s amazing how many people are willing to give you an hour or two of their time and offer advice that you can decide whether or not it works for you.

Committing to your project sounds like such a simple thing, but in reality, it’s your ability to convince others that you are truly committed that causes the doors of opportunity to open.

So all that said, we’ve burned the boats.  Now what?

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