The Ultimate No BS Guide For Startups (Free Version, Updated 2021)
The Premium Version of the guide can be accessed at nobsstartupguide.com. It has:
- An easy-to-follow set of chapters, projects, and tasks divided by difficulty, priority, and phase.
- Specific action items, such as How to create a sales team or How to run ads from start to finish
- +200 additional action items
- +50 new ways to acquire customers
- lifecycle customer growth and management
- hiring and interview action items
- and more!Why I made this guide:
I’m sick and tired of guides with empty platitudes, SEO fillers, and generic advice. Endless paragraphs, thousands of words, and almost zero action items. They reinvent the wheel by rephrasing everything for “SEO purposes.” It’s annoying. So I made the one I’ve always been looking for and sharing the tools I am using to build my startup Cicero.ly. A guide with specific action items and no fluff.
Help me improve this guide. Email me at email@example.com if you think I am missing anything.
Ideation: How to come up with ideas.
- [ ] There is a crowdsourced Subreddit where people ask for things to be made called SomebodyMakeThis. Check it out for popular ideas.
- [ ] Listen to what Elon Musk did to come up with ideas for Tesla.
- [ ] Check out Paul Grahams classic post on how to come up with ideas.
- [ ] Check out some practical steps this Redditor gave on coming up with ideas.
- [ ] Also, check out the Startup Ideas on Kernal newsletter. They market themselves as “Startup ideas anyone can build, buy or invest in”.
- [ ] There is the Trends VC community, which sends you a weekly report with some great ideas. They also have a paid membership and community you can join.
- [ ] Starter Stories is packed full of guides, and stories from real founders, on how to start a business and businesses you can start today.
- [ ] Discover community-based business opportunities that solve validated problems.
- [ ] Each week get a newsletter full of business ideas (backed by data)
- [ ] Trend research and realistic business ideas for indie hackers, creators, and serial makers.
- [ ] Think like a scientist during ideation and validation. My favorite tool is Alex Cowan’s amazing Venture Design process. Get started with your personas, and go on from there. This is a comprehensive guide
- [ ] I am not the biggest fan of his templates so I use Miro. They have beautiful and easy-to-use templates.
- [ ] Talk to potential customers. Though a bit outdated, I love starting with these 95 ways to find your first customers for customer development or your first sale.
- [ ] Like any good scientist, you should not bias your research subject. Use The Mom Test as a guideline for interviewing customers. Don’t start interviewing people without understanding the concepts in this book. Don’t have time for the book? Check out this awesome summary.
- [ ] For good measure, check out these 19 market testing and market validation tactics (plus 7 tools for validating). I specifically like this for the tools and unique ideas around getting commitments from users.
So you’ve done some customer interview and now you’re ready to get more of a commitment from people? Great, no need to even build a product yet. First, launch with a website. Can you get 100 emails with little effort?
Build a kick-ass landing page:
- [ ] Check out this My step-by-step guide to landing pages that convert. It is by far my favorite for it’s brevity and helpfulness
- [ ] I also recommend Laws of UX. Another incredible evidence-based resource for design. We will reference this again later when building the product.
- [ ] These UX audit checklist templates are incredible. I recommend you copy this to your own Notion and follow along. Like the one above, we want to use this when designing the product also.
- [ ] Check out these 21 damn good copywriting tips. Just please avoid marketing jargon and make the product clear
- [ ] Interview +12 people about the copy on our website. This is key! Just watch them use the website and ask them to read out loud + give a stream of consciousness on what they are reading.
- [ ] I enjoyed some of the ideas that this AI copywriting tool gave me. Use it for inspiration.
Give an idea of how the product functions on the website:
- [ ] Don’t have mockups? Hire freelancers to create Lottie animations for your website. Think of Lottie as a really nice gif maker that is friendly for websites.
Watch users use your website:
- [ ] Install something like hotjar.com and tag people who click on elements, scroll all the way down, stop and read sections, etc. Look at your numbers. Does this match industry standards? If not, interview people and figure out why they are not reading, scrolling, or clicking.
Get signups and commitment
- [ ] Go back to the resources for the “Pre-Launch: Hypothesis” section. Use those resources to find more people to signup and interview them
- [ ] Need help? Check out the amazing GrowthMentor community where you can book free calls with some the most incredible mentors you’ll meet anywhere. Note: I am biased as I am a mentor on here, but I truly believe it’s the best community for founders.
- [ ] Get help from communities like IndieHackers, /r/Entreprenuer, r/marketing, r/EntrepreneurRideAlong/ and r/startups/
- [ ] Signup on Frontier. It’s a great community of founders giving each other advice and holding each other accountable. Also, you can find early users here.
How to talk to users
- [ ] You need to continue validating assumptions. We discussed the mom test already, but here is a great Y Combinator talk on talking to users.
- [ ] I also like this article on how to interview customers for priceless insights, which gives more practical advice.
Tracking conversations with users
- [ ] I suggest you start using a tool like Notion to take notes and Shipright to start organizing the suggestions, feature requests, ideas, and more from your interviews. I’m sure other people have much more clever ways of doing this so I’m open to suggestions.
Launching: Building your Product and Website
- [ ] We discussed earlier ways to build landing pages. I recommend Webflow for beautifully responsive and more advanced web building
- [ ] If you’re an eCommerce company then just stick with Shopify for now.
- Or just stick with the site you created earlier.
Building the Web or Mobile app
- [ ] Build a web app using Bubble if you’re not technical. It’s code-free and very easy to use. If you’re experienced in coding then you may hate it. So stick with things like Material UI to speed up your design.
- [ ] For Mobile apps the most popular option seems to be Thunkable. I have experience with it, but it was highly recommended.
- [ ] Think deeply about your customer experience. I love this analysis on Why Spotify Destroys Dropbox by 667%. Great nuggets of wisdom when thinking about your user experience.
- [ ] Hubspot has a fantastic and all inclusive guide on onboarding.
- [ ] Read The Psychology of Waiting Lines. Short and sweet but probably one of the most important things you will ever read in your career, especially as a founder.
- [ ] Lastly, check out this thoughtful guide on Proactive and Reactive onboarding.
Once again I take your attention to UX design laws and Templates:
- [ ] I also recommend Laws of UX. Another incredible evidence-based resource for design. We will reference this again later when building the product.
- [ ] These UX audit checklist templates are incredible. I recommend you copy this to your own Notion and follow along. Like this one above, we want to use this when designing the product also.
- [ ] I’ll introduce you to some new, more advance UX guides here as well. I can’t stress how important UX is, so check out this UX CORE GUIDE. Lots of behavioral driven advice on designing the customer experience.
Setting up the right foundations
- [ ] Check out this CTO Checklist. It covers all the basics you need in place for a successful software launch. My cofounder and CTO tells me some of these are unnecessary for launch. So up to you to decide.
- [ ] Tracking is extremely important. Use Segment’s Startup Program and plug that stuff into Mixpanel, which also have a startup program. This is how you track usage.
- [ ] Email is still king. I worked at SendGrid, but I think Customer.io is the best tool right now. Use it for newsletter, behavioral emails, and transactional emails. It’s vital you have emails ready!
Launching: Getting users
- [ ] Check out this awesome QA style guide on getting users, with quotes from leading thinkers.
- [ ] 18 places to share your startup is also a good one.
- [ ] Check out this guide on launching on Product Hunt.
- [ ] Honestly, the best guide on all of this is the Growing a Startup guide. Covers everything from running ads and doing sales to web conversion optimization and onboarding.
- [ ] Once again, I recommend you get help from the amazing community on GrowthMentor.
- [ ] Are you a B2B company? I have some amazing Sales guides for you too!
- [ ] Get 11–30% positive reply rates on cold email
- [ ] This (surprising) cold email CTA will help you book A LOT more meetings
- [ ] 55 Sales Tips & Techniques That Work Like an Absolute Charm in 2020
- [ ] A 12-Minute Summary of “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz
- [ ] Use Postago to find places to write about your product, cross post your blog, review your product, or even podcasts you can be on.
- [ ] Use Sparktoro to instantly discover what your audience reads, watches, listens-to, and follows
Post Launch: Ensuring You’re Staying True to Customer Needs
So you’ve launched your product. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, are starting to use it. Time to scale sales and marketing, right? Wrong, this is exactly what Tom warns about in his book. It’s easy to fall for false starts, raise millions, and still fail. So how do you discover a false start and start pivoting right away?
- [ ] Product market fit is not easy to achieve, but it’s something you should continually test. The lovely people at SuperHuman gave us an in-depth guide on how to ensure product-market fit is achieved.
- [ ] Don’t stop the customer development. Keep practicing the ideas out of The Mom Test. As the CEO I aim to interview at least 1 customer a day.
- [ ] Get a holistic view of customer experiences and feedback. Every day you’re getting tons of customer feedback from emails, calls, tickets, NPS, and more. Use tools like Caravel to turn these data into actionable insights you track over time.
- [ ] Democratize user feedback. Tools like SleekPlan , Rapidr and Canny.io allow you to continually get feedback from users and know what is most important to them. Some companies, like Notion, have created active Reddit communities with lots of user feedback. I don’t have a favorite guide on this so feel free to share one if you do.
- [ ] Don’t emphasize measuring vanity and feel-good metrics like NPS and user/revenue growth. Instead, measure churn correctly and set up customer performance indicators in place.
Post Launch: Finding Investors
- [ ] Get answers to all your fund raising questions here. From when to raise and how to pitch to terms of process and valuation
- [ ] Create a Pitch Deck. I used this database of 700+ Pitch decks for inspiration and based my pitch deck on Sequoia Capital pitch deck template.
- [ ] Give investors an easy to view overview of your company. I like BriefLink. You can add your deck to this also.
- [ ] Now to finding investors. I used a combination of Signal, this list of 220 VC firms and list of 2053 VCs and PE. Additionally, you can search VC by their thesis here.
- [ ] Check out some Equity free funds and equity free accelerators
- [ ] For more traditional accelerators check out this list and this one.
- [ ] Think about incorporating at this point. Here is a great incorporation checklist.
Post Launch: Marketing strategy
- [ ] I truly believe the most successful companies are the ones who excel at inbound marketing. And the most important part of inbound marketing is Content Marketing. This incredible tool takes you across all aspects of content marketing.
- The fundamentals of content marketing
- Content production, blogging, and writing content
- Distribution, promotion and tools.
- [ ] Contrary to popular beliefs, over 100 years of scientific research shows that there is very little evidence that experience matters. This article breaks down the science and nuances of the issue quite well. I also like this article, which focuses on one of the groundbreaking meta-analysis on this subject. New research continues to validate this theory.
- [ ] So how should you hire? Adam Grant argues you should hire “Trailblazers, Nonconformists and Originals” and gives practical advice here.
- [ ] Looking to hire software engineers? Here is an in-depth, scientific, step by step guide on how to structure your hiring process for software engineers
- [ ] Lastly, this Harvard Business Review article does a good job of debunking some commonly held assumptions and giving different ideas on hiring.
Scale: Not losing touch with customers
Your startup is growing. You’ve done a fantastic job knowing and being in touch with customers thus far. But all things come to an end. It’s now time you hire dozens of employees and focus on other things. So what do you do to make sure the company is still constantly listening to customers?
- [ ] Develop a Voice of the Customer Program. VoC, as it’s called, is a program to systematically capture, analyze and report on all customer feedback — expectations, likes, and dislikes — associated with your company. Basically, set up the infrastructure and protocols in place to automated and embed customer obsessions into your company. There is a fantastic guide on this here.
- [ ] Ensure your executives, directors, and managers are truly putting customer success first. This awesome article has 9 questions you can ask yourself and your team. It ranks good answers against bad answers.
- [ ] Want to nerd out even more on 90 pages of tips, tools, questions, and playbooks on ensuring your company is aligned on customer success? Check out this guide.
Final words from Farzad, the author of this guide.
Your obsession with customer should never end (and never come at the cost of employee happiness). It is what will give you the fuel to build your inbound engine. It is the catalyst for morale. It is the inspiration for features and products no one thought possible. It is your greatest asset. So, I’ll leave you with this quote from the most customer-obsessed CEO on Earth. It perfectly exemplifies everything I’ve been saying.
“There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.” — Jeff Bezos.
I love this guide. How can I give back?
As I mentioned, I was sick and tired of BS guides. I created this to give back to the community. Please, just pay it forward. Help people. Spread love. Don’t ignore those who email you asking for help. The world would be a much better place if we just helped each other more.
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- Awesome guide from Frontier with direct quotes from leading founders and QA style for every part of your startup journey. From Ideation to Growth. It has a lot of resources I didn’t share here.
- +400 free(ish) tools for building your startup.
- Sales checklist with ideas on what to do pre, during, and post launch.
- Courtland’s Business Idea Validation Checklist. This validation checklist is loosely modeled off of Brian Balfour’s Four Fits