Pre-startup is a short-term project that solves a real problem for at least one person. It can be novel, but it’s not necessary. The key is to be useful for someone.
Mark Zuckerberg did FaceMash before Facebook. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did an non-authorized phone calling system Blue Box before Apple I. The initial project for Sergey Brin and Larry Page was to download the whole content of the Web. The search engine came only after that.
If you have never done a pre-startup do not start a company now. Do a pre-startup first. You learn how to make things and how to sell them. All on a safe scale, without wasting much time and money. Pre-startups give you confidence. They also make you more convincing for future clients, employees and partners.
Doing a pre-startup is like passing a driving exam. Do it well and go for the big roads.
Ideas for pre-startups
Sell something physical. Put it on Ebay, organize a garage sale, get a table at a weekend market.
Throw an event. Eventbrite is your friend and can handle registrations and payments. An invite-only meeting with someone famous is fairly easy to organize.
Organize or teach a (paid) class. Promote it on Skillshare and other class aggregation services.
Produce and sell a small batch of something. Handmade, t-shirt collections, jewelry. All basic categories have great platforms to sell. Etsy and Cafepress are very open to newcomers. Invent some new product on Quirky.
Do a media project. Document a road trip, write a blog, start a youtube channel. Aim for large number of views, likes and subscribers. Many startups (Cragslist, Thrillist, Startup Digest) started as a simple email list.
Sell something digital. Market research, instructions and check lists, sample documents. Gumroad can help.
Import. Bring a cool foreign product to your local market. E.g. be the first to sell Google Glass in your city.
Do a consulting project for one client. Ask to retain the IP rights for your solution. There is a chance you can resell it to someone else in the future.
Do a side project for a bigger company. Big organizations always have more opportunities that they can execute on. Ask them, what opportunities are they interested to pursue but can’t because of lack of resources? Offer to do a side project with them. E.g. additional distribution channels or additional services for their customer base.
The Web is now full of platforms for pre-startup projects.
Startups are hard and scary. Start with something easy.
- Khosla Ventures replaces Yuri Milner on Y Combinator VC fund (bizjournals.com)
- [e360] Two’s (a) Company, Three’s a Crowd? (entrepreneurship.org)
- The Like Log Study (neilperkin.typepad.com)
- MyStartupStory: Adam Rich, Co-Founder of Thrillist (hiscoxusa.com)
- Khosla Ventures Replaces Yuri Milner In Y Combinator’s YC VC Program (techcrunch.com)
- 4 Businesses Entered a Startup Competition and Lost…Or Did They? (grasshopper.com)
- Russian millionaire Yuri Milner bets big on gene sequencing startup GenapSys (medcitynews.com)
- Lifshits and Lukács (littlethoughtsoneverything.com)
- Billionaire bandy: Y Combinator swaps out partners in its investment fund (venturebeat.com)
- Khosla Ventures Joins YC VC Program As Investor And Advisor – Khosla Ventures, Yuri Milner, Vinod Khosla, Soylent, Instacart, Quartzy, Watsi, Rosa Labs, Sun Microsystems, Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst, Maverick Capital (ycuniverse.com)