#52 — How do you eat an elephant?

I prefer ice cream

I’ve heard this Desmond Tutu quote parroted many times in startup land:

“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

Kinda gross to think of eating elephants. 🐘🤢

But it sticks more than “break down the problem.” 🥱

I’m in “pre-startup” mode right now. Definitely an elephant size problem. I’ve had to remind myself to take one bite at a time many many times. Too often I’ll end up in analysis paralysis or losing track of what matters.

Here’s how I’m breaking down my “pre-startup” activities:

  • Find people. Regardless of the product & market, I know that a great team will be the biggest factor in determining success, starting with the co-founders. There’s no secret here. ’m just asking my network for intros, talking to people, and going deeper when there’s a values fit. Each person I meet helps me get one bite closer and clearer.

  • Find problems (top-down). I have a couple hypotheses for problems & products. To decide what is worth pursuing, I follow Steve Blank’s customer development framework. I have my own summary of the book here if you are interested. For me these kind of interviews are each a small bite.

  • Try stuff (bottom-up). I love YC’s simple motto “Make Something People Want.” Sometimes it happens from just trying stuff. I launched PeerSignal.org as my playground for bottom-up learning in the market research space. It’s not a business by itself, but it gives me a way to do very small (i.e. no cost) experiments within a category of interest. So I keep taking small bites on this side.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found any magical formulas, shortcuts, or silver bullets to accelerate or skip any of these activities. They all take time and consistency. So wish me luck. 😬

How did you break down the pre-startup activities? What worked best for you?