There are a lot of metaphors in the startup world. They act as a visual and tacit aid for understanding difficult concepts that otherwise would be very hard to grasp.

The latest metaphor that I’ve started to use is “pushing your idea off a cliff.” After you do, one of two things happens: either your idea can find a the tiniest amount of traction to slow or even stop its fall, or it plummets to its death and disappears on impact.

Both are acceptable and successful outcomes.

The worst fate for a business idea is floating in limbo. You can talk about an idea and pivot as much as you want, but until you give it a final push off the cliff, you’ll never know if your idea has what it takes to succeed.

Preparing for the Jump

Before you take the leap off the edge, it is important to ready your idea for its descent. It’s not wise to push fresh ideas off the cliff; there’s plenty of work to do before this point.

1.) Study the cliff. Every cliff and mountain face is different. You can’t approach every leap as the same. You need to know what weather is like, how fast to run, and how high and far to jump off each cliff. This means doing your due diligence.

Translation: Before you launch a business, you need to know your market size, a complete picture of your target customer, an understanding of the sales cycle, and a customer acquisition strategy. Which brings us to the second way to prepare.

2.) Equip your ideas with tools to gain a foothold. When Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, was being interviewed on the day of its IPO, he said, “…you have to learn how to survive first instead of how to be successful.” As your idea is falling to its demise, it shouldn’t be worried about how to climb to new heights. It just has to stop falling before it shatters into a million pieces of failure.

“So you have to learn how to survive first instead of how to be successful.”Jack Ma, Lead Founder of Alibaba

Translation: What will your business need to be validated and gain traction? Entrepreneurs must understand the value they create for their customers as intimately as possible. Value must translate to revenue for at least one customer segment, and revenue is the only valid sign of traction.

3.) Know Who Else is Jumping! If you really have a great business idea than someone else has had that idea. Most likely, several people. Hundreds of people. Including giant companies. Before you make that jump, you have to know who else is jumping with you. While you’re trying for your foothold, someone may just drop an anvil on top of you. Be prepared.

Translation: There will be competition for the value you create. Defining a unique point of differentiation is crucial and is the only way to protect your business.

Free Falling

I cannot be more clear: during your fall, your only objective is to scratch, claw, and dig out the slightest foothold to stop your free fall into oblivion. Your full attention must be on achieving the next, smallest measurable objective. Think again about falling from the cliff. As you plummet, you are only concerned with stopping the fall.

There are two successive ways to prove your business idea has a chance to halt its descent: validation and traction.

Validating an Idea Proves Your Should Move Forward

Think of validation as traction without sales. Validating an idea should not consume a monstrous amount of time. While different industries validate in different ways, some relatively painless ways to validate an idea include:

  1. Creating a landing page and tracking website conversions vis-a-vis email signups for a newsletter or updates;
  2. Building a cheap proto-type and engaging in direct potential customer feedback and then measuring conversion to pre-orders;
  3. Signing customers to purchase orders and commitment to sales upon production.

Traction Proves You Should Grow Your Idea

Many disagree with my assertion that only revenue proves traction. Still, I stand by it. To go back to our metaphor, traction only occurs once you’ve stopped falling. At this point in your journey, you’re hanging on by a finger, or foot, or twig and you can begin to stabilize yourself to begin your climb. Each additional sale or unit of revenue you produce further strengthens your position.

Beginning the Climb

Finally the metaphor comes to an end. You’ve stopped your fall, you’re beginning to gather your strength, and finally you can begin your climb. The period of growth has begun.

Don’t get too comfortable, though. Any slip could send you tumbling. Other jumpers will continue to rain obstacles down on you. Bad things tend to happen on a mountain face. Only you will determine your success.

 

Featured Image Credit: Jaine via Flickr