Basics & Beyond: An Annotated List for Startups #1-3

By Attorneys Joe Boucher and Drew Coursin

The simple act of making a to-do list can be immensely satisfying.  Actually doing those tasks and checking them off/crossing them out/tearing them to shreds is pretty fun, too.  The following list – admittedly the creation of lawyers and therefore too wordy (hence that “Annotated” part) – is a big-picture meditation for startup founders as they steel themselves for the innumerable tasks, goals, challenges, obstacles, etc. that lie ahead.

The list is broken down into categories for easy reference, but not necessarily in order of priority. Certain tasks/important documents aren’t essential for every business, so consultants with no intention of hiring employees shouldn’t feel compelled to draft employment agreements unless they really crave the experience of diving headfirst into the finer points of employment law.

Business Basics (before you even form the company or very soon after)

  1. Find ______________ [insert professional service providers – accountants, lawyers, bankers, plumbers, etc.] and get to know those people. It’s never too early to surround yourself with the right people.  Granted, “right” is a pretty dense term – the people you rely on for business essentials, whose services aren’t cheap, should be individuals you trust who are willing and able to explain clearly and concisely (i) what they do; (ii) how they do it; (iii) what value is adds to your business; and (iv) how that fits into scope of the business world at large (bonus tip: find a reliable plumber ASAP – replacing a valve when it’s welded onto the pipes is way harder than YouTube makes it seem);
  1. Get your records in order. Seriously, it might sound like a real pain to write EVERYTHING down and make sure it all goes into the right color-coded folder, but the time you spend organizing your business life will pay off in the long run.  Buy Quickbooks.  Everybody uses it, and your accountant and the hotshot business consultant you hire won’t want to jump off a bridge because they can’t figure out how to export data from the open-source solution you’re using.  Side note to developers/cutting-edge techno wunderkind: maybe Quickbooks isn’t the Once and Future Small Business Accounting Software, but your service providers (who probably had to print this article before reading it) will thank you for confining your disruptions to your company’s products and services;
  1. Research your market and look critically at where (and whether) you fit in. This might sound harsh in the context of an entrepreneurial ecosystem that emphasizes unlimited innovation: it is entirely possible that your solution may not succeed simply because the underlying problem it attacks isn’t quite problematic enough to demand it.  Expand the focus of your initial research beyond whether your app/device/software/service/whatever is useful – that isn’t enough.  Is there a market for it?  If there is, are you prepared to tap into that market in a meaningful way?  Can you grow your company to accommodate demand?  Don’t beat yourself up if the answers aren’t to your liking.  Solutions aren’t themselves businesses, even though successful businesses almost always provide solutions.