Startup Consulting: What I’ve learned

Back in November 2015, I did a small experiment, I launched an open invitation to everybody in my network: get free advice for your startup from me.

The deal was: I would offer advice to people with projects in the pre-launch or early post-launch phase that would need help with their overall strategy, marketing, user acquisition, or product development… as long as I can use their cases as study cases for my blog.

Well, the time has come to share the things I’ve learned/found by doing this experiment. Here’s the summary:

  • 13 people contacted me
  • 7 people actually followed up/ qualified
  • 5 people got actionable advice from me
  • 1 launched me on a 2,5 month research into what it takes to achieve your goals

Curious about my little experiment, read on:

  1. People fall in love with their ideas and build products and services that nobody wants.

Even though I wrote about this in the past, it was different talk with someone going through this. Let me tell you about it.

I met Carmen, in December, for a cup of tea in Café de Jaren, here in Amsterdam. She told me that for the last year she built a consultancy and certification service, which would help companies become environmentally friendly.

She would certify restaurant and hotels, after they would take the courses she offered, apply the lessons and pass her inspection. She spent over 7 months building the program, the website, the courses and for the last 3 months she had been trying to sell it to the companies… but there was only one problem nobody wanted to buy what she was selling interested.

Not one restaurant or hotel saw the advantage of 1) helping creating this standard, or 2) being judged by someone. And of course nobody wanted to pay for such thing.

To her this came as a surprise. She loved the idea and thought it’s an amazing service. She put a year of her time, energy, and focus in this only to find out that the need she imagined for companies was not a real one.

As I mentioned, this happens quite often. But why? From what I can see, it’s because people fall in love with their ideas and don’t test them until it’s too late. So how do you find out if your startup idea is good?

  1. People love acquiring customers, but hate researching what they want

The other person I talked to was Adrian, of ASADRA. He is building a marketplace where independent designers around the world show their unique collections to people interested unique fashion.

I loved his enthusiasm and vision so I ended up investing the most time. I wrote about 7 pages of actionable advice and instructions on how to get more information about what their customers want.

We ended up not continuing our collaboration because I thought he should invest more time in understanding his customers, before moving forward while he wanted to start building personas… without talking to his potential first.

But that’s the beauty of doing work pro bono: you can stop as if you don’t agree with your client.

  1. People don’t work on their ideas

This, I found the most interesting. In fact I was so puzzled about it that that I spent a lot of time after figuring out how does one achieve his goals.

Let me tell you about it. Another person that asked for my advice was Sinziana. She wanted to marketplace where Romanian artisans, aka indie product designers, would promote and sell their creations to the people interested in unique local products.

At first my biggest question was how she would differentiate herself from existent websites, like etsy. But after a few minutes into our Skype call I found out that she was pondering taking action for about 3 years. She was talking with lots of enthusiasm and she could tell me how the website looks like, what products she envisioned, how she would advertise it, etc… but hadn’t done anything to start the project. So my question became why didn’t you do anything about it?

I found it puzzling. How come someone so enthusiastic about her ideas wouldn’t or couldn’t take action. I didn’t know what to say other than just take the first step.

But this made me realize I need to learn more about this topic. Especially since after the call I met more and more people at my Startup Maze meetups, who had the same problem. How else would I be able to help them out?


All in all, it was a fun experiment with a great deal of learning for me. I realize I am capable of giving valuable advice, but I do need to hone a few things. Interested in getting my feedback on your project, get in touch through the contact form.

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