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I sat glued to my computer this week, listening to every single tid-bit I could take in from this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt. In years past, I’ve gone rooting for my buddies, cheered-on technologies, and, looked-up phrases I’d never heard of (“Crowd-sourcing” first sounded like some kind of flash mob to me).
This year, the intake was just as intense — big and bold and full of life and technology I could eat-up like a still-warm chocolate chip cookie.
And that’s it. Each of the companies at TechCrunch Disrupt this week had something in common: a solid foundation. A great startup has the makeup of a great chocolate chip cookie, using all kinds of awesomeness to make our lives better and leave us wanting more and more.
Like all great bakers know, flavors can change, textures can vary and bake time can alter density, but all have the same core ingredients.
The foundation of a great startup and a great cookie are the same: a solid base, some grease to make things run smoothly, a leavening agent to make things rise, and, of course, a sweet overtone.
Chocolate Chip Recipe for Startups
2 1/4 c. flour to create a solid foundation for the problem you are solving
1 t. baking soda to make the idea rise and grow with purpose
1 t. salt to take when your idea gets bashed
1/4 c. white sugar for addictiveness
1 c. light brown sugar to give the product some richness
2 sticks butter to grease-up users and make their user experience smooth
2 eggs to bind the concept to the real product
1 1/2 t. vanilla to enhance your product’s feature set
1 12-oz bag chocolate chips for making a product special and rewarding
1 c. rough chop nuts because if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re probably nuts anyway
1. Preheat your idea to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Knowing the temperature of the environment is so important to your product. Bake an idea on low heat and you’ll miss the window of opportunity; turn up the heat too fast and you’ll burn (or worse, burn through your seed money).
2. Cream the butter and sugars until smooth. One thing people forget is that if you churn butter too long, it will make your cookies flat and shapeless. Make user interactions smooth, but, don’t over-cream. Instead, firmly lead users to the actions you want them to take (a purchase, a comment, social sharing). Drop every barrier to entry, but be sure to not leave them flat and directionless.
3. Add eggs, one-at-a-time. Eggs bind everything together. This is the place I believe that a great marketer is key. Bring all the elements of technology, a great story, and, clean UI together into a cohesive product. Look at the #tcdisrupt finalists including my favorites, CakeHealth, Bitcasa, Trello, they each have the same binding principals, even though their stories and companies are vastly different. Bind the product together by hiring a great marketer to bring it together.
4. Measure vanilla, and then let it drip a bit over the top. Vanilla is one of those secret ingredients. Taste it on its own and your tongue curls, but leave it out of the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and you’re missing the aroma. I always measure one teaspoon, then let it dribble a bit more into the bowl. The same goes for highlighting your feature sets. Throw your capabilities at a customer and they’ll be left bitter. But give them the aroma of what your product can do for them and they’ll be following the aroma all the way into becoming a repeat customer. Otherwise: don’t oversell your features.
5. Add the dry ingredients. People say to sift the dry ingredients to incorporate. I don’t. I like to gently add them in at a really slow rate, watching them fold into a slow-churning stand mixer. The flour comes first, of course. The ultimate stabilizer is your core product, your core technology and your stable financials. Even if it’s in early beta, it’s still got to be stable enough to hold all the other yummy ingredients together.
Next, I put in the salt. I love salt in cookies. A cookie without enough salt means it’s all too sweet — and that’s just not a reality for a startup. Be ready to take a grain of salt with all of your feedback. That means, be ready to iterate, change and be a grownup enough to handle it when it comes. And it will.
Lastly, I add in the baking soda. I measure this so carefully (really the only thing I strictly measure). Your growth plan — whatever it is — needs to be measured very carefully. What is your rate of growth, how do you plan to scale, and, can your flour and butter and eggs handle how much rise you are giving to it? A growth plan is so much more precise than you can imagine when you’re drawing out little PowerPoint charts of hockey stick-looking growth (Oh, and so is accuracy, which I unfortunately learned once when a VC modeled our market expectations and we had ourselves with a user base larger than the population of China within six years).
6. Take a deep breath and look at your batter. Solid, creamy, full of promise. Now, add the magic and dump in those little chocolate chip morsels. It wasn’t a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips, was it? This is your differentiator, your money call, your 12-minute TechCrunch Disrupt finalists pitch. After all that building and binding, make sure that you didn’t forget why you started all this in the first place — and make sure there’s plenty of that morsel of awesomeness that makes a chocolate chip cookie a chocolate chip cookie and what makes your startup yours.
7. Add the nuts. Not sure about this last step? Trust me. Why the nuts? Some people love nuts, others hate them! Some have anaphylactic shock from nuts. You could kill someone if you add this in! I say add the nuts. Because it takes a little bit of crazy to be an entrepreneur who is willing to take the big risk.
8. Scoop a tablespoon of dough onto baking sheets and put into the oven. It’s ready to go-to-market. The temperature is just right. You have a product ready to go. Bake for eight minutes or until you get traction and the product has risen enough to take it out of the incubation. Some folks cool their cookies completely, but I don’t – a warm, baked idea is wildly desirable and everyone wants a hot cookie — get your product to investors while it’s hot.
9. Make sure no one is looking and put your fingers in the leftover dough, and sneak it in your mouth. You made all that yumminess.
So many ideas, so many companies make it to this point and not beyond. And that’s okay. I keep non-baked cookie dough in my fridge at all times, just like I’ve got new business ideas rattling around in my head all the time. There is little that tastes as good as homemade cookie dough. Somehow the magic of bringing everything together can be more rewarding than a fully baked product. Lick your fingers and enjoy — you’ve created something that has all the fundamentals of the perfectly balanced startup.
Nom, nom, nom.