How to Use Lean Startup to Stop Insanity and Denial

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By Sue Kim (Founder, Dress Me Sue) It's been the most unexpected turn of events. I'll start at the beginning.

Two years ago, I got bit by the startup bug and then proceeded through all manner of motions at entrepreneurship. One of my major mistakes was thinking one could do a startup on the side if one just worked hard enough. I first tried to juggle the startup alongside a consulting biz. Then shut down the biz in favor of a full-time job [fact: I actually thought this would work].

Finally, I drew a line in the sand. After negotiations with hubby, arranged to go full boar on the startup for the month of June. In that month, more progress was made than all previous 21 months combined. I got serious about Lean Startup, conducted face-to-face customer interviews, refined my business model, identified an early evangelist audience, and landed a customer.

It's truly magical how Lean Startup works. All of a sudden, I was out of the reality distortion field fog. I could see the revenue model, how many customers were needed to break even, which marketing channels could be lined up... the business of getting business became clear and even achievable.

There was only one problem. As everything became doable, it then became measurable. Including my work-to-pay ratio over the next two years. Doing a startup was no longer a dream -- it was a stark reality. And I knew then: the dream would need to go on hold.

You see, I'm not a young spring chickie just starting college. I'm a 41 year old woman trying to satisfy the needs of a startup, paid work, a marriage, a mortgage, a 4-year-halted home remodeling job, a shit ton load of debt from a disastrous partnership, AND plans for motherhood. Somehow, the morphing of my startup from a pipe dream into a reality jolted me out of denial. I could see that trying to do everything had in fact prevented me from doing anything.

This thanks to the sublime experience of focusing on lean startup for one glorious month.

Divorcing myself from the startup was at first depressing. The closest I may ever come to understanding a young mother forced to give up her baby. But there are some things, like your health, that are the basic foundation of your existence. Without it, you have nothing, and you can't do nothin'. For me right now, the basics are creating a livable home and cleaning up the finances for me, the hubby, and our future children.

Now you may think this is where I fade off the scene and become some blanket stereotype on women and startups. Thoughts like this would be very wrong. One of the huge advantages of being in your 40's is that you know exactly what you are and what you are not. You know what it is to have sabotaged yourself for years by denying your true calling. You know what you want and what you must do. I know that I am unequivocably an entrepreneur. This means that no matter what, it will leak out of me.

I know that I can still have it all. But I can't get there by starting it all. A home remodeling, a startup, a greedy money-making affiliate business, pregnancy -- that's 4 simultaneous early stage projects right there! Any real entrepreneur knows that there is room enough for only one early stage at a time. After you've passed a certain stage, then you can juggle and introduce more -- but not before. During the next few months, I will spend most of my time generating pure hard cash, not on my startup. The one exception will be for networking. I will actively seek out entrepreneurs and take part in the startup community. I will continue to create value for my startup's customers and grow the community by managing the twitter feed and blog. But I will not actively test landing pages, do solution interviews, test paper prototypes, search for co-founders, work on my pitch, start development or UX design, or pitch to angel investors.

(I'm declaring this laundry list partly so that you all can help me discipline my base startup desires. If you see me going against what I've said -- please say something!)

I know that if the basics are handled now, then the rate of progress later on will be exponentially more than individual tasks I could attempt for my startup today.

And so that's the story of how Lean Startup jolted me out of insanity. Thank goodness. I mean, is there anything more insane than denial? How much more time would I have piddled away satisfying no one? Over and over you'll hear about how entrepreneurs need to be persistent. But as with any startup adage, don't be afraid to question it. You may think you are exhibiting tenacity when in fact you're just being stubborn and unrealistic. Don't ignore your basic needs, and be smart about taking care of essential business now -- so that you'll be freed up later to create!

his post was originally posted at Sue Kim's blog.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Sue Kim is founder of Dress Me Sue, a self-help app disguised as a fashion app. She blogs about her first-time startup experiences at Tumblr (Obsessive Not Compulsive) and welcomes any technical and copy-writing contributions to her crusade to dress the world and eliminate wardrobe pain forever. Sue lives with her husband Todd and silly greyhound Skeeter in northern Illinois. Go ahead and tweet her @suesunmi and her startup at @dressmesue.