One way of thinking of startups is as a bunch of habits, especially by the founder. It is valid for bootstrapped startups like mine.
There is so much information about how to start a startup and all the myriad strategies, tactics, ‘growth hacks’ that nobody fails. They know a tactic or a trick from the winner. Startups may fail because of too much information resulting in confusion and paralysis.
A lot of that information gathering is because of the anxiety due to a lack of confidence in one’s own ability to do something habitually. For example, if you want to lose weight and if you are a person who knows that you will run for 40 mins a day no matter what, you know you will lose that weight. It might help to optimize with a few tricks and ‘low hanging fruit,’ but it is not a problem for you in your consciousness as it is for the majority. But for each person in the world like this, there are a ton of others who read a lot about optimizing workouts, diets, programs, watch motivational videos, etc. who cannot seem to get it together to keep their weight constant even though they want it.
I see the same in entrepreneurship, and I have been on both sides of that line. It dawned on me a year or so back that most of building a startup was about building habits that make your success more or less inevitable. You can say the startup is nothing but a sum of the founder’s practices in the beginning stages.
And all you need is about 4. Heck, even one single habit is more than enough.
A year ago, I identified a few and focused on building them one at a time and burn them into my routine and only worried about this and ignored everything else I would generally read/watch or listen about entrepreneurship.
Here is my list:
1. Make small improvements in the product every single day: It includes testing, debugging, making the UX better, looking for feedback from customers, constantly iterating — small but consistent improvements.
2. Write every day: My goal was to write 200 words a day. Come rain or shine. The quality doesn’t matter, the fact I did it everyday matters.
3. Improve the funnel/ conversions every day: Do A/B tests, work on the copy, make product videos, add chat with the website, and keep recording and optimizing my conversion rate.
4. Sell every day: Make outgoing cold calls, find prospects on LinkedIn and elsewhere, and reach out using emails, then follow up. Do this every day. Make 50 calls a day and send 50 emails a day and then follow up every day.
Early on, I realized this is very, very tough to do. I was alone at the time as well. So I decided to focus on one habit at a time.
How long does it take to build a habit?
I had heard of many theories about this from 28 days to 90 days according to different researches, but I settled on 90 days to be sure.
So how did I do with each one?
The first one — Make small improvements in the product every single day, was not that difficult. I do this anyway. The initial 30 days that went into building the product was so much fun; I had trouble getting off the computer, not on it. After that to be honest, I didn’t stick to making changes daily. I found that my brain wouldn’t switch easily between marketing, which I was doing (by writing content and promoting it and programming that easily. So I would fix issues that came up when my early customers complained immediately by dropping everything. But the rest of it, I would accumulate and tackle on the weekends.
The second habit — Write every day was a grand success. I found it tough in the beginning. My hand would pain after just writing 200 odd words. I would get this shiver in my fingers because I had never written so much since school. But I stuck to it. I wrote more than 100 articles in the first year. Published them on my Blog and medium and in a couple of other communities. I even made some videos and Slideshare presentations as a result of re-purposing the existing article content. I stayed out of all the Gyan about content marketing, and I just wrote. And when I had a streak going for a month of non-stop writing, I decided to protect this habit aggressively. I decided I would not move on to the next two practices. I just wanted to see what would happen if I kept this up. I had always planned to produce content consistently like this, but I could never follow through. It was exceptional, and I knew it. I knew this would take care of everything, and it did. It leads to incoming traffic, which slowly leads to leads, conversations on the drift chat on the website. My identity never shifted to being a “salesman” I was a content writer who is somehow getting sales. That was good enough to get me past my goal of sustaining myself and quit my job and then eventually to build a proper business around it. I built my product, Proxies API.
The third habit — Improve the funnel/ conversions every day. I never got down to it. I have just started focusing a little bit (a couple of hours once a week) because now I am getting a decent amount of traffic that it is silly not to optimize it.
The fourth one — Sell every day never really took off as its own thing. Sales happen as a result of me producing consistent content, and I am okay with it. I would instead hire someone else to help with it and see what happens.
That’s it. In summary, all it took was one habit over and above the programming habit — Write every day — that helped me build a business, and it changed my life.
I have barely optimized my content marketing, was only careful to be a bit savvy about what I wrote about SEO-wise in the beginning. But I just wrote my heart out till it became more or less automatic, no more finger pains, no more groaning when I set my timer to write, my brain started producing ideas almost on autopilot, I started writing. At the same time, I had a few minutes on a train while I was waiting for a friend in a coffee shop, etc.
I feel like I have built an asset, and the asset is not my business. Still, these two habits make my product better regularly and keep putting out exciting content, always leading to clients sooner or later.
The author is the founder of Proxies API the rotating proxies service.