140 Simple Steps to Building a Successful Startup

Ah, the invigorating life of the fearless entrepreneur. A warrior of capitalism, armed with nothing more than a dream and a laptop, risking all in hopes of changing the world.

But how do they do it?

Careful analysis of successful Silicon Valley startups has revealed a heretofore secret list of 140 steps outlining what really happens in a technology startup. Want to know the real story? Buckle your seat belt, here it is:

1) Figure out what you want to sell.

2) Find out if it’s already out there.

3) If not, shout “We gonna be rich!”

4) Choose a name

5) Incorporate

6) Write a business plan

7) Calculate your market size

8) Build financial projections

9) Adjust financials – downward. Then call them “conservative”.

10) Notice that your financials show magical profits in year 2.

11) Stare wondrously at those magical profits in year 2.

12) Shout “We gonna be rich!”

13) Search for co-founders.

14) Show them your financial projections

15) Then say, “these financials are conservative”

16) Recruit potential cofounders with this phrase, “We gonna be rich!”

17) Add co-founders to your team.

18) Discuss how to share equity.

19) Realize that conversation sucks

20) Replace co-founder you just pissed off

21) Spec the initial product

22) Set a launch date

23) Talk to customers

24) Assume the customers who “don’t get it” must be stupid

25) Add features from your customer meetings

26) Work on the product

27) Discover its taking longer than you thought

28) Move the launch date

29) Work on the product

30) Discover its taking longer than you thought

31) Move the launch date

32) Work on the product

33) Drink stronger coffee

34) Determine which features are closest to complete

35) Push the rest into the “the next release”

36) Work on the product

37) Figure out which features actually work

38) Push the rest into “the next release”

39) Launch the product Oops, find a major bug

40)  Call the fix “non-trivial” (a term derived from the ancient greek, meaning “impossible”)

41) Somehow fix it anyway

42) Feel lucky

43) Launch the product, but call it “beta” (a term derived from the ancient greek, meaning “this might suck”)

44) Tell your Board it’s a “soft launch”

45) Experience new emotional highs, and new emotional lows – all in the same day.

46) Look for a way to reach customers

47) Discover your “way to reach customers” costs more than what you sell them.

48) Look for a new way to reach customers before the next investor meeting.

49) Realize a startup is very different from having “a job”

50) Prioritize the bug list

51) Prioritize the new feature requests

52) Create an investor pitch deck

53) Get investors to meet with you

54) Feel euphoric as they praise you, smile and say thanks as you leave

55) High five your cofounders in the parking lot

56) Get in the car and say “We killed it!”

57) Shout “We gonna be rich!”

58) Wait for the investors to follow up

59) Wonder why the investors don’t follow up

60) Email them

61) Text them

62) Call them

63) Wonder why the investors don’t follow up

64) Tell your co-founders, “Those VC’s must be knuckleheads”

65) Actually get an interested customer

66) Totally cave on the price

67) Somehow close the deal

68) Feel lucky

69) Go to a friend’s party to unwind

70) Discover everyone at the party thinks Googlers are cool, but…..

71) No one’s impressed with “Founder/CEO of random startup”

72) Meet with more investors

73) Revise your presentation

74) Again

75) And again

76) Tell yourself the investors “who don’t get it” must be stupid

77) Discover investor silence means “probably not”

78) Learn “probably not” means “no”

79) Promise yourself to remember a startup is very different from having “a job”

80) Meet with more investors

81) Receive a term sheet

82) Learn what “participating preferred with a 3x multiple” means (a term derived from the ancient Greek, meaning “indentured servitude”)

83) Negotiate with investors

84) Discover VC’s are very good at negotiating

85) Somehow close the round

86) Feel lucky

87) Get the money in the bank

88) Shout “We gonna be rich!”

89) Receive the legal bill and recite out loud, “Wow we’re in the wrong business”

90) Start trying to hire

91) Realize it’s hard to hire the right people

92) Discover it’s harder to fire the wrong people

93) Realize the firing conversations suck.

94) Promise yourself to remember that a startup is very different from having “a job.”

95) Start holding weekly sales meetings

96) Again

97) And again

98) Wonder how customers all say the same polite excuses for not buying, but….

99) Have completely different feature requests

100) Discover customer silence means “not this fiscal year”

101) Learn “not this fiscal year” means “no”

102) Somehow close a few more deals

103) Feel lucky

104) Hire a few more people

105) Wonder if you are paying too much salary and equity

106) Wonder if you are paying too little salary and equity

107) Feel like you didn’t get anything done today

108) Hold an all-hands meeting. Use the metaphor “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”

109) Secretly hope everyone still sprints

110) Notice one of your cofounders doesn’t seem as capable as he/she used to be

111) Notice everyone else is noticing too

112) Realize you need someone else doing his job

113) Realize that conversation sucks

114) Feel like you’re getting good at conversations that suck

115) Realize most of what’s new in Version 2.0 is really bug fixes from Version 1.0

116) Look back at your original business plan

117) Laugh

118) Look back at your original investor slides

119) Laugh

120) Look back at your “conservative” financial projections

121) Stare wondrously at all that magical profit in year 2

122) Laugh

123) Add up your monthly burn rate

124) Cry

125) Realize you need a business model, not a business plan

126) Feel like you didn’t get anything done this week

127) Spend 4 solid days preparing for a board meeting

128) Announce a change of strategy

129) Call it a pivot

130) Receive a call from your lead investor because she wants to “help” with your “pivot”

131) Begin weekly updates with your lead investor about progress with said “pivot”

132) Try to sound intrigued as lead investor suggests bringing in a new exec to help get you to “the next level”

133) Wonder what she really means by “the next level”

134) Receive an unexpectedly friendly voice message from CEO of a pseudo-competitor

135) Have a remarkably friendly lunch with CEO of pseudo-competitor

136) Be charmed by remarkably friendly CEO as he suggests “working together”

137) Call your lead investor from the car.

138) While you are still driving back to the office, agree to be acquired.

139) Negotiate the title “Chief Business Segment Strategy Development Officer”

140) Promise yourself to remember a startup is very different from having “a job”


But wait, you say – this list is crazy because I already know better than to do a lot of this stuff. Indeed, if you are listening to startup wisdom from people like Eric Reis, Steve Blank, Sean Ellis, Brant Cooper, Brad Feld, Fred Wilson, Nathan Furr, and many others, you hopefully saw numerous mistakes in the above list, and already have ideas on how to avoid them. Nonetheless, just about everyone who has been in a startup, even one enlightened by startup wisdom, still identifies with at least some of the above steps.

The good news is there are numerous battle-tested methods for dealing with each of the situations described in the above list. And that is what I hope to deliver in the smartfunstartup.com.

The first step is to change the way many of us think about startups. That’s what this next post is all about…..”The Real Secret to Startup Success“.


  1. This list is funny because it’s true.


  1. […] Note: This post is a “more serious” continuation from my parody about the startup journey,  140 Simple Steps to Startup Success […]

  2. […] is a new blog discussing ways to get to product/market fit faster. The first post was written as a humorous  (but very real) list of events that often happen inside a startup when […]

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