4 Key Questions to Answer Before Forming Your Startup

Exploring the startup ideation process through an inside look at Money Earned

By Shawn Stone

There’s a witty old advertising slogan for Colt revolvers that has felt curiously prophetic to me since I was a child:


“God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal.”


In this light, the Colt is more than a gun; it carries more value than most any product could hope to achieve by acting as a means of leveling life’s all-too-unfair playing field. In the modern world, guns may have proven less than effective at making the world a better and more equal place…but I won’t fault people for trying. Besides, there’s a new “Colt” in play.

Right this moment, you could go online and study nearly any profession or skillset (for free), just to turn around and practice your newfound profession immediately after. With brick and mortar business fading, knowledge work on the rise and the low entry-cost that digital business offers, startup culture is our revolution.

The Internet is our generation’s Colt revolver, and you can get your money’s worth without shooting anybody. That being said, you can’t just take a shot in the dark. Take a stab at thoroughly answering these four questions before pulling the trigger (is it just me, or are English idioms really violent?):


1. Why?

I know, this is a really broad question. Ideally, you should take the time to explore every application of “why?” to your business idea, but let’s just focus on one for now:

“Why are you (and any partners) investing your resources in this project? What do you personally hope to achieve?”

It’s absolutely essential that you carefully record your goals, and those of your partners. If they aren’t aligned, you could be setting yourself up for failure. 

Consider this: you have always loved dolphins and your dream is to launch and manage a new app that helps people talk to them (don’t ask me how), but you don’t have enough money to get things rolling.

Uh huh, tuna…yeah. *Yawn

Your partner has offered to pay for all of the costs, and is excited to take part. However, they expect to get a significant return on the investment and are only looking at the project as a means of making money.

You may plan on developing and running this app for the rest of your life, but your partner may push to sell the app or discontinue investment if they aren’t seeing the expected return. This can all be avoided by finding a partner with shared goals.

In our case at Money Earned, Eric and I sat down over a few different occasions to carefully lay out our goals and expectations. We both want/expect:        

  • To devote our time to positive influence and innovation in business and marketing culture
  • To expand our own knowledge and experience with an industry in constant motion 
  • To eventually earn the resources to devote ourselves to the Money Earned community on a full-time basis.

Our mutual goals gave us the confidence to press ahead, knowing we could rely on one another for support.


2. Who’s your audience?

There’s an important distinction here between audience and customer. The person you’re marketing to may be entirely different from the person footing the bill or using your product.

For example: if you want to start a nursing home, the person using the product will be a senior, but your marketing audience will more likely be their younger children or family members. These are the decision-makers who you need to target and appeal to.

In our case at Money Earned, Eric and I would like to say our audience is any and every person in business or marketing throughout the world. However, that’s not just unrealistic, but would weaken our messaging and product for our actual audience.

It’s tough to say exactly who our audience will be before we meet you all and get some feedback in the comments/forum, but we’ve ventured a broad guess. You are:

  • Progressive and somewhat idealistic
  • Optimistic
  • Likely, but not definitively, a Millennial or Gen X-er
  • In a professional position (corporate or small business) or planning a startup

Maybe this is just a reflection of ourselves, but it’ll have to do for now. Either way, the important thing is that this common vision of our audience will let us tailor our content to a specific group of readers and maximize its value. If this isn’t you, raise your hand and let us know! We’re flexible like that.

Oh come on, I know we’re not that far off.


3. What will you offer them?

In this case, I’m referring to both your audience and customers. You need to first work to empathize with these groups, getting to know their problems and needs. Then, tailor your product/marketing to those problems and needs.

You may not be able to answer this question with a Google search or a cup of coffee and a few hours to think. Depending on the complexity of your product and your audience, it may call for in-depth market research. An online survey, or at the very least getting out and talking to some potential customers can cost a bit up front, but save you from more costly mistakes in the long run.

At Money Earned, we are our own audience to a large degree, so we have a bit of an advantage. At the very least, we have a lot in common. Another benefit of our line of work is the minimal up-front investment and long-term flexibility. Unlike someone developing a physical product that requires complex manufacturing and planning, we are primarily producing content and conversation.

We want to offer you:

  • A support network for ethical professionals and their endeavors
  • A laboratory for testing and exploring new ideas
  • Analyses of current events that explore modern business and marketing philosophy
  • Actionable guidance and insights to improve your business and/or impress your boss without compromising your principals

If we’re off on these assumptions (fingers crossed), our forum and comment threads will act as a platform for your feedback and future product testing…Hopefully allowing us to stay valuable to you: our community.


4. How will you meet these goals for your customers?

It’s all well and good to list out the many benefits of your product or service, but they aren’t worth the time it takes to read them if you don’t fully back them up. Nothing makes me shudder more than empty promises.

Okay, almost nothing.

You need to explicitly match your product’s features to the benefits they provide. So for example, if you have a new watch that promises to keep clowns away, it might have a special button that summons a troupe of mimes. Everyone knows clowns hate mimes.

Whatever the feature and benefit, you can’t just match them up and call it a day. You need to check with your customers to see whether they think the feature matches the benefit. Maybe 60% of your potential customers are also terrified of mimes. You didn’t think of that, did you?

Eric and I spent quite a while thinking through this question. We’re very open to new ideas, but so far we’re focusing on these features:

  • A weekly blog that explores business/marketing theory through case studies and current events
  • A community forum that provides a platform for our community to work together with supportive and like-minded professionals, testing new concepts and pushing boundaries
  • Fresh, free, unique tools and resources that help you profit and feel good about it
  • A collection of carefully reviewed and recommended resources from other thinkers, tailored to support your goals

Not enough for ya? Help us out and throw us some ideas…Preferably in the forum. We need idea people.

Eric and I are both incredibly excited for this project and we can’t wait to get it really rolling. That being said, it’s a community effort. If you think the Money Earned community sounds like something you want to take part in, do it! Sign up for our newsletter and introduce yourself on the forum. Invite a friend or two from work. Talk about it at the coffee shop.

Let’s change the world and find success while doing so. It’s a revolution and you’re invited.