Don’t just follow the herd. Figure our what’s right for you and your startup by asking yourself these essential questions. 

By Jess Dang (Founder, Cook Smarts)

When I first started my company in December of 2011, I admit to being under the influence of Silicon Valley’s bubble. I did a lot of things that I thought I should be doing because it was what other entrepreneurs were doing instead of first asking myself, “Are these the right steps for my company?” Luckily, I soon course corrected by asking myself these five fundamental questions:

What Can I Build Without a Developer?

I’m not a technical person, so I simply assumed that I could not build a product without finding a technical counterpart. After months of searching for a technical co-founder without any success, I realized I wasn’t doing enough to test my ideas. I ended up refocusing my efforts on building out a minimum viable product with just the PowerPoint and Excel skills learned from my previous corporate life. Even though the product was low-tech, it was still something I could give people to use, and I immediately started learning. By the time I did find a developer, I had a much better idea of product requirements.

Is Now the Right Time to Be Fundraising?

I spend a lot of my days in Palo Alto coffee shops. I have several friends running startups. My husband’s company is VC-funded. In other words, I am constantly surrounded by fundraising buzz. In the beginning, I felt that the value of my ideas completely rested on how much money I could raise. However, before I started to seriously go down that path, I asked myself, “Do I want to build a $1M, $10M, or $100M business?” I honestly wasn’t sure what my fledgling ideas could grow up to be yet. I still frequently ask myself the fundraising question, and I know the day I answer, “Yes,” it’ll be because I can’t achieve my vision any other way.

Does This Person’s Opinion Even Matter?

In the beginning, I was mostly seeking the opinions of technical people to understand the complexity of the development process, but conversations inevitably turned to how this product could be better – for them. My product idea was aimed at mostly moms and families, but my conversations were mostly with twenty-something single male developers. They all wanted my product to be sexier – again for them. After hearing this over and over again, I started to think that maybe they were right, but then I asked myself question #3. Your first product can’t be for everyone, so before you take someone’s opinion too seriously make sure they’re a targeted user. If not, just smile politely and change the subject.

How Important Is This Decision to the Success of My Product?

There are an overwhelming number of decisions an entrepreneur has to make. If you’ve ever planned a wedding, you’ll understand – vendors, product features, branding, social media platforms all needed to be chosen. It can make you go nuts, and I’ve definitely had days when I’ve wanted to hide from making any decisions. When faced with this fear, just ask yourself question #4. If the success of your product doesn’t hinge on the decision, then don’t stress yourself over it so that you can put your energy into the decisions that truly impact success.

Am I Having Fun?

This question gets overlooked too much by entrepreneurs but it’s the most important one if you ask me. Being an entrepreneur has been harder than I have ever imagined, but I’ve also never had so much fun in my life. There can be a lot of lows, so we have to take the time to celebrate that we get to do something so completely awesome when we can.

Women 2.0 readers: What questions do you ask yourself to make sure you’re on the right path?

Jess-Dang_2About the guest blogger: Jess Dang is the founder of Cook Smarts, an online resource dedicated to educating, inspiring, and empowering the everyday home cook. Jess saw that there were very few resources to help home cooks learn to cook for their everyday needs and created Cook Smarts to fill that gap. Prior to striking out on her own, Jess worked in finance and strategy at Visa Inc. for five years. She’ll be launching Cook Smarts’ first digital product, a web-app offering weekly meal plans on May 1st.