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Disciplined Entrepreneurship

One of the biggest mistakes programmers-turned-entrepreneurs make is to start coding before doing any market research.

Coders want to code

As a coder-turned-founder myself, I get it. Coding is awesome: it's fun, creative, and once you've done it enough, relatively easy. It gives you immense power to turn any digital idea into reality you get in the zone and are able to make progress day after day.

So it's only natural, once you get a product idea, to jump into the code and start building. Well actually, as a subscriber to this newsletter, you'd probably know to make a few wireframes to hash out your idea first, and maybe even get some feedback on them from your peers — or possibly even an expert. And then jump into coding.

I often meet with people who made some wireframes, then spent months if not years coding away at it, and now have a working version 1.0. At this point, they have to start thinking about "marketing", and don't know where to start, so they call me. 😊

Ouch. I mean I get it, I did the same thing, but that's a VERY risky way to start a business.

It's even worse for "idea people"

Sometimes I meet with someone who's not a coder, but had an idea for a product and wanted to make it real.

They clarified their idea with the help of Balsamiq, and they used the wireframes to set up a contract with a developer or a development agency.

Now the product is "almost done", their money is running out, and they have to figure out the go-to-market strategy quickly.

Double ouch! At least the coder only spent their own time... in this case there are life savings involved!

There's got to be a better way!

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, I have to tell you that yes, there is a better way. In fact, there are lots of better ways to go about it. The problem is, most people don't know about them. Knowledge about entrepreneurship is all around us, but it's not very well distributed. I wish they taught about it in high schools... but I digress.

There are several frameworks that teach you how to go from idea to product while lowering your risk along the way. Lean Startup is one that was very much in vogue with developers a few years ago.

I came across another one which I think is articulated better and can be used for a broader set of problems to solve.

It's called "Disciplined Entrepreneurship", or DE for short.

One of my favorite aspects about it is that the process can be summarized with this image:

If it reminds you of the Shoots-and-Ladders game of your youth and you find it intimidating, it's intentional! 😊

Starting a company is not easy! It's a winding journey, and you might have to retrace your steps a few times along the way.

That said, 24 steps are not too many to handle, especially if you take them one step at the time. The Disciplined Entrepreneur book helps you do just that.

Notice this: in the DE process...

  • Wireframes don't happen until step 7!
  • Coding doesn't start until step 22!

I know, crazy huh? So what are the other steps?

  • There are 6 steps dedicated to figuring out who your customer is
  • 5 dedicated to figuring out what you can do for them
  • 3 for figuring out how they will purchase your product
  • 4 about defining a viable business plan
  • 4 that are all about designing and building your product
  • and finally 2 helping you think about how you will scale your business

It's a lot, but guess what? You can't really skip any of it! Or rather, you can, but at your own risk.

I got incredibly lucky with Balsamiq. Back when I started in 2008, this book didn't exist, and neither did the Lean Startup movement. I did intuitively go through some of these steps, but got lucky that skipping the others didn't kill my company right away.

If I were to start another business now, I would follow this framework as closely as I could.

Different ways to learn about DE

Other than buying the book, you could start by watching this video introduction (you can skip all the way to minute 40 for the description of the process):

For the most committed, or for those who are just getting started right now, I highly recommend doing the online edX courses that Bill and his team put together. They are AMAZING. In fact, I often cite them as examples of the future of education. The lessons are SO engaging, full of cinematic and special effects... miles better than a regular in-person lesson could ever be.

The best part? These MIT-level online classes are FREE!