Control the Controllables - 10 Startup Rules
by Samuel Lehane, 15th June 2015
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So, you want to set up your own business? Let’s get in control of the controllables for your entrepreneurial journey, so that you can make the most of what will no doubt be a bumpy ride!

This article is particularly aimed at someone who may not have a concrete business idea yet, but thinks they want to begin their startup journey.

Disclaimer: Ideas and advice in this article are those of the author and don't necessarily reflect those of Virgin Startup. 


1. Get Healthy:

You’re going to need to be lean (but not quite mean) to give you the energy you need for the long days and nights. Start cycling or running regularly in your local park and check out what physical exercise equipment they have. It is free and healthier body = healthier mind. 


2. Get Re-Connected:

You would be foolish to think you can make your business a success on your own. The vast majority of successful founders attribute their success to their founding team and those who helped them along the way. Re-connect with old friends, acquaintances and family members, tell them what you are trying to do...naturally, they will be inclined to help and may open many doorways and save you valuable time in the long run. Your time is finite, so the more you can save, the quicker you can get your business off the ground when the time comes. Pick 10 solid, old connections who you think may be helpful and meet them for a coffee or give them a call to see how things are going for them. Do it over lunch or just before or after work, to allow time to work on your idea and to make it easier for them. Try to help people before you may need to help them. Not manipulative, just nice and mutually beneficial. The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman is exceptional for advice on this. Think you may need a developer co-founder? You better start playing the long game on that front.  



3. Get Informed:

Knowledge is power. Read, read, read. Nothing beats an interesting ice-breaker at a networking event or knowing good strategies to help you get your business off the ground. For a start, get The Lean Startup Up (Eric Ries), The Start-Up of You (Reid Hoffman) and The Startup Owner’s Manual (Steve Blank). Sign up to Facebook pages ( and Techcrunch are particularly good), Linkedin Groups and newsletters from suitable companies or industries that you aspire to be involved with. A shout out to Inspired Startups has to happen here too, lots of great information on there! You will learn relevant information, stay up to date, be more inclined to spot an opportunity to jump at and also get to know who the right people to speak to are. Keeping you relevant and connected. Awesome! By keeping informed on the industries you think you want to be involved in, it may also trigger a magical idea for you.


4. Get Networked:

This is different to getting re-connected with old contacts. Get out of the room and go to startup events, TEDx events, motivational events to speak and connect with new and interesting people. Talk about your business or dream to set up a business and learn about areas others are involved in. You will be amazed what you learn, the constructive feedback you will get on what you are trying to do and the connections that may be made. Don’t be afraid to talk about your intention or your early stage business idea. Add them on Linkedin, but do follow up with a coffee. Strike while the iron is hot! Many events are free, check out or just Google ‘startup’ or interesting events in your area. If there isn’t any, set one up!


5. Get Saving:

Now. The last thing you want is for your business to fail or hit a massive roadblock as you run out of cash. Strip back your expenses now and save. In the long run, it may also reduce the amount of equity you need to give away, as the value of your company may be higher.


6. Get Life Sorted:

Living in expensive accommodation? Look to downsize and find somewhere more affordable and flexible – property guardian accommodation is cheap, can be in great locations, is flexible (you never know where your business will end up) and is a melting pot of interesting people. Cut back on the takeaways, new threads and big expense on big nights out – but still go out of course! Fun is good. Dis-engage from negative people in your life. Keep the creative juices flowing regularly, as that is important – go for hikes, visit art galleries, join a book club. Clarity of thought will also happen as doing these things allows you to forget about the everyday stuff. If in a job that requires crazy hours, so you have no time to network or work on an idea – cut back the hours or move! Now. Consider going freelance, so if an opportunity arises you can jump on it.


7. Get Serious with Researching Your Startup Team and Idea:

By this stage, hopefully you have met someone you want to go into business with and / or there is an idea you want to develop further. Research it. Check out Google Analytics to see how well searched it is, see what potential competitors are out there, consider how best to market the product / service. Step up your search to find a suitable founder(s) if you don’t have one yet (with complementary skills being ideal). Cart a bit before the horse here I know, but it will allow you to keep an eye out for these things as you proceed on the rest of the journey.

Customers! Now is also the time to spend even more time speaking to potential customers and getting their feedback on your idea. Ask as many people as you can - not just friends or family either, they may be too nice. Ask people why they wouldn’t buy your product / service, so you can adapt and improve it. Consider making and distributing a questionnaire on Survey Monkey. On the basis of feedback keep iterating the product / service and working towards your Minimum Viable Product (“MVP”) that Eric Ries writes about.


8. Get Your Head Around the Business Model Canvas (“BMC”):

Check this out – it is worth 52 minutes, believe me. When an idea starts to evolve, plot it on the BMC. Update it as the idea evolves and changes when you find out more. It will help you to visualise the idea and see what needs to be in place to have a viable business model.



9. Get a Plan Together:

Things are very serious now. Months, maybe even years, may have passed since the last couple of steps. Time to focus on some more planning. Don’t make it 50 pages long, but do list what activities / objectives you would like to complete / achieve in the next 2 weeks and the next 3 months on an ongoing basis under the following headings – funding, operations, product / service requirements, supplier / sales channels, marketing, customers, founding team up-skilling (look into MOOCs), competition, legal / tax / regulatory matters / trademarking, plan B (flexible income options) and HR. You may not follow the course of the activities, but do keep updating it with completed tasks as you go along. If nothing else, it will be nice to look back on to see what you have done and the progress made – especially on those dark nights when you think nothing is going right! It will also help you to decide what to do next and may re-trigger an old idea you had. Lists are good, they can keep you sane. It can sometimes feel like there is a tornado in your head, so jot things down.


10. Get Focused and Get on with it:

99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. The harder work starts now. Control the controllables in your life and then try to do the same with the basics in your business – then your chances of success will be significantly improved. Roll on the progress and best of luck with your startup!

Disclaimer: The above is very much a light touch overview on this, I hope it helps.


Samuel is a chartered accountant and self employed business advisor working for Virgin StartUp in London, where he helps entrepreneurs to develop and nurture their business plans and financials to make them investment and operationally ready. In his spare time, he is helping to curate on June 20th, with a theme of Emerging Cultures and Ideas, whilst working on a new this space!! Having worked in the Restructuring & Recovery Services sections of KPMG and Smith & Williamson in Dublin, he volunteered for 9 months in an Irish social enterprise called, after which he moved to London to lead the start up of Camara’s operation there. You can contact Samuel on LinkedIn or drop a message in our comments section below.

Author: Samuel Lehane

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