Start Co. Founders’ Tool Kit

Help to get you through the Startup Valley of Death

Knowing where you fit in the Startup Valley of Death is the best way to get started. Start Co. focuses on early-stage startup companies on the left-hand side of the red dividing line from the idea phase, to the product success phase, better equipping them to cultivate the later stage resources in the community.

Startup Valley of Death

The amount of work an entrepreneur must put into themselves and their company is a great ask that requires much time, patience, and the willingness to learn and grow. This is why we have compiled our Founders’ Toolkit and Guide to help those along the way. Although our core is providing ad hoc mentorship and programming, it is important that founders continue to advance themselves and their business models when not receiving hands on support.

The Founders’ Toolkit

The Founders’ Toolkit is designed to help entrepreneurs through 4 stages of development. It is recommended that all entrepreneurs be able to deliver on the following before seeking out later stage resources such as investment dollars. This list is not a comprehensive list, but is a solid way to begin working on your business.

There are no shortcuts here. There are many who have been working for their business for years who have not worked in an organized and deliberate fashion shaping their business and advancing it to certain goals and milestones. It is not uncommon for entrepreneurs to come to us and realize that they must revisit these early stage methods in order to give them the best chance for success. Entrepreneurs spend months, even years, working through this structure. It is recommended to work through this toolkit, which provides a construct for building both open source tools and Start Co. methods for strengthening your business concept.

The 4 D’s – Start Co. Tools & Methods of Starting Up

The First D: Founder Development
The average founder fails 3.7 times before achieving business success, which means an entrepreneur must constantly evolve and advance not only their startup, but more importantly themselves as a founder, so that they are better equipped for their current or future ventures.


The Startup Wheel – It is important to look down on your idea from a macro level to make sure you are considering all the components that will need to be built going forward.

Startup Wheel

The Second D: Customer Discovery
Now that we have founders extending their advancement and their idea’s advancement it is important to now begin testing with real potential customers the hypothesis around their ideas. There are tools for this and how to digest and compile this data.


Below are possible customer relationship management tools and project management tools that you will have to research and possibly use for your startups. This list is not exhaustive, and until you know more about the trajectory of your startup you may want to consider using Google Docs.



Data Management Tools – we recommend these data management tools for those startups compiling customer and contact information. In terms of customer relationship management Zoho is recommended- and for project management Basecamp is recommended-

Stickiness Factor (.doc)

Introduction to Investor Pitching – it is important to start looking at the final assets a startup will need to go in front of investors. This template for delivery an investor presentation is one such asset. Please begin reviewing what elements are in the pitch as you move forward. Don’t worry about perfection, but it is a good guide, and formal structuring will take place at a later stage – need attachment

The Third D: Delivery
Once the four hypotheses have been defined into a solid and narrow plan for building your business, the founding team needs to shift some of its effort toward developing and building the product or service. This is best accomplished by moving from early prototypes and proofs of concept into a minimum viable product and then into a form where customers are willing to pay. This method is iteration based.

Iteration Trumps Perfection

Many entrepreneurs are prone to believe they can deliver a perfect product or service without interim prototypes. The process they use consists of building out a specification for what the end product or service will look like, how it will function or deliver, and even the messaging surrounding the offering.

After the specification has been set, then work begins in earnest for several weeks or several months, or maybe even years. At the end of the build phase these entrepreneurs will emerge with the golden key, the magic formula, the secret sauce, or the silver bullet. Much to the surprise of these entrepreneurs the customer will not pay for the product or service.

Even if entrepreneurs conduct superior customer and market discovery work, they should continue to engage the customer in shaping the future of the product or service. Market conditions can change rapidly along with customer needs. Furthermore, through actual interaction with the interim prototypes the customers could uncover that a key feature was missing or needed to be changed to support adoption. Finally, the entrepreneur will uncover difficulties or complexities in delivering value to the customer with each prototype.

Perfection is difficult to attain. Iteration however will get the founding team as close to perfection as possible in the least amount of time. There are truly no short cuts.

Customer Feedback and Phases of Delivery

There are key reasons why proof of concept work is important to the entrepreneur. Proof of concepts are used:

1) To verify a given principle behind the product or service or to gauge the design appeal.

2) To provide confidence that the startup can in fact deliver value to the customer.

3) To provide confidence to investors and key partners that the startup can deliver value to the customer.

4) To help with articulating the value to others (i.e. showing is bettering than telling).

5) To aid in the process of protecting intellectual property through patents or other means.

To determine if the startup is on the right track in delivering value to the customer, the entrepreneurs need to build a prototype of the product or service and take it to the customers for feedback immediately before building the next version. The customers or startup friends that are contacted during customer discovery are likely very willing to give feedback on the prototypes. Reach out to groups of them at a time to learn as much as possible.

The more often the entrepreneurs can receive feedback, make needed changes, and take it back to the customers the faster the product or service will take shape.

In the early stages, prototyping can involve rough models, lacking even functionality. They could be wireframes on paper, videos, animations, cardboard models, or diagrams.

At the intermediate stages of development, the product or service should be minimally functional. It should demonstrate in a limited or basic way how a customer would make use of the offering but still lack refinements and the design of a final version.

Once the product has been developed sufficiently, the transition to a useable version often takes into account user experience. User experience can involve design on every level, including visual, audial, tactile, linguistic, and ease of use. It is important that the product appeals to the target customer in this phase

Eventually, as the startup continues to iterate over the product or service and give it to the customer for feedback the entrepreneur will notice a change in the perception that the customer has toward the business. Instead of providing feedback they will likely begin asking about when it will be finished for their use. They will also likely begin to tell friends and colleagues about the business. It is at this point that the startup team knows they have something valuable and something the customer is willing to pay to use. This means the founders need to move into the next phase of startup development – the Dollars phase.

Never Ending

Much as customer and market discovery work never truly ends, the same is true for the delivery phase. Development doesn’t stop at the final version. Periodically, even as frequently as every one to two weeks, a new version should be released to allow for additional customer feedback, which will be useful in tweaking for even later versions. Over time, the customers should notice careful alterations based on their needs. This will grow a loyal customer base, which will help build a scalable business.


The Fourth D: Dollars
Once founders are developing themselves, customers have proven that the business is viable, and a product or service can actually be produced, then it is time to build a business around all of the above.

Download a PDF of the Business Model Canvas

Investor Presentation Template (.ppt)

Valuation Document

Business Development 101 (.doc)

Mitigating Risk

Branding & Marketing

Competition – the competition must be analyzed and presented in a clear context.