Start a Startup on a $1 Budget

It could take years of your life. It could burn all your savings. It could ruin your relations or marriage. And yes, no matter how much you will work, you would most probably fail. But whoever you are, the best thing you could do with your life is start a startup. Right now.

Part 1: Rich kids

I had a meeting today with a young lady, in her mid-20s, who was exploring the idea of funding a startup. “What do you do for a living right now?”, I asked. “Mostly charity: children and education”, she answered.

That’s wonderful but wrong. You don’t do charity early in life — you do it much later. You first build a fortune. Your fortune. Only after that, you start giving back. Doing “charity” in your 20s or 30s is actually wasting money. Your parents’ money. And your potential.

If you actively fight whale hunting in the Pacific or tie yourself against a tree in the Amazonian forest — that’s activism, not charity. And yes that suits your age and I encourage you to do it. That’s a good way to travel, to see the world while staying humble and involved. It builds character and makes you a better person.

If you come from money, the best thing you could do is start a startup. It will arm you with a set of skills for the rest of your life. There’s nothing more worthy than being a self-made man or woman.

It is going to be hard, but try to do it with just $1. What I mean is don’t hire a web agency for $20,000 to build a website from scratch — buy a theme for $25 and adapt it. Hosting is free. You get it: ramen will do it even if you can afford caviar. What you can use is your dad’s or your mom’s rolodex but not their wallets.

Part 2: Nerds

“Build a startup on a $1 budget” is a metaphor — take it cum grano salis; I am trying to make a point here and I hope you’re smart enough to get it. The truth is that starting a startup is expensive: in terms of energy, focus and commitment but also in terms of money and opportunity costs. Even if you’re working on something of value, most chances are you won’t be able to generate revenue for months (maybe even for years). You need to take this into account as it could easily lead to some nasty discussions with your significant other or with your family and parents that are supposed to support you during this hard times. Relations may be damaged in the process of you becoming a millionaire.

But you’re a nerd, a smart guy/gal from humble origins, you’re used to working hard and making the most of the little resources you have. You are already in a startup mindset — you’ve always been. This is the advantage of the hungry wolves.

What you really need is to let the wolf inside you feed on the nerd. Allow yourself to be aggressive (the road to fortunes is not for the faint-hearted). Not physically “aggressive”, of course, but aggressive in setting your ambitions and high milestones, assertive in your attitude, tough in negotiations, courageous on stage or in press statements, insistent in following through with investors and partners, decisive in hiring and firing people, restless in searching solutions, strong in supporting the morale of the others and resilient above all.

Get outside the comfort zone — get out there and find a co-founder. If you are a Wozniak start searching for your Jobs. It’s not like you have a choice — in your heart, you know it already that starting a startup is your only chance to make it big. So, start a startup.

Part 3: Corporate executives

Let me be clear on this: all corporate execs are virgins in denial.

As a senior exec, you had time to acquire all the bad reflexes. Coming from a well-structured company, with well-defined processes and seniority levels is probably the worst background for a startup founder. You have to move to a very different mindset (from scaling and maintaining to testing and building, from harvesting to seeding, from delegating and outsourcing to doing it yourself and keeping it in-house) — and this is going to hurt.

Welcome to chaos. Welcome to inventing your own job description. And, again, welcome to the company you have to build with a $1 budget. (No purchasing department, no protocol budget, no company retreats, no PwC consultants lined up on the hallway).

Moving from being a big shot in a corporation to being practically a nobody with a startup will deflate your ego. As a corporate exec, you probably managed budgets of millions — that made a lot of people depend on your decisions and moods. Now, your startup’s budget is insignificant for these people. So, many of the doors that used to open wide for you will now stay closed. Many of the old partners and suppliers will turn their back on you. Many of the privileges of the old job won’t be available for the new, less significant you.

There are two possible outcomes of this: either you fail (and all your former colleagues will consider you a fool) or you’ll make it big (and all you’re former colleagues will consider you a lucky son of a bitch). Embrace it and start a startup today.