On June 4th, the third cohort of CatalyzeCU begins their nine week accelerator program. Based at the University of Colorado in the city of Boulder (home to Techstars, Mergelane, and Boomtown), this equity-free accelerator propels student, faculty, and staff startups forward.
For their reading pleasure (and perhaps to instill a little panic), I'm offering a list of things that I think each Catalyze company should have in place before the program starts. Though this is written for you, my eager young Catalysts, this list isn't exclusive to Catalyze, but is relevant to just about any kind of startup, whether it's technical or brick-and-mortar.
Although I mention a lot of brands specifically, I know there are many options for just about each item. Feel free to adjust to your needs (or argue with me in the comments section.)
A Domain Name
You have an idea, the idea has a name. (Unless you've just come from Braavos, in which case an idea has no name.) If the domain isn't available, you're not going to spend $10,000 to get it. So be creative and figure out a domain name you can use - then register it! A few years ago, we were typing domains into our browser so the name itself (and it's .com suffix) was really important. I've relaxed my position on that. I'm 1,000 times more likely to follow a link from social media than I am to remember and type a name. So get something that works. You can always change it later. There are dozens of places to register a domain. Unless you have a strong reason to go elsewhere, I recommend Google, Name.com, or Namecheap - pretty much anyone but GoDaddy is ok.
A Working E-mail
From day one, you're going to be making contacts. If you're not e-mailing me from firstname.lastname@example.org, but from CU420WeedMaster@gmail.com, well... don't ask me for money. The easiest way to get started is with a Google Apps for Business account. It's free for the first month, then only $5 per user. If you want to be really cheap, set up one account and alias everyone on the team together. But don't. Splurge. Get an account for each person on the team. Google Apps will also be great for file sharing, collaboration, documents, and a thousand other things. Just do it.
An account on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc...
If you're doing a startup in Boulder, you need a Twitter account. That's not open to negotiation. While you're at it, set up Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever hip social media things you kids use today. But us old people have the money, so you need to show up on our radar, too. Twitter is the place.
I don't mean hiring a brand consultant to create your final "look." I mean something you can use in place of the egg, the grey face, and the yellow ghost thing. Pick a color and use your company's initials. For day one, it doesn't matter, but have something.
A Slack Team
You need to be on Slack. There are a hundred reasons why. If you won't take my word for it, Google around. It's going to help a lot later, as we start integrating every other tool and service into a single communication pipeline. Also, you might as well get used to using Slack, because the rest of us already are. I'm going to spend six weeks deeply committed to your success (and three on vacation - sorry, not sorry). If you email me, I might take a week to respond. On Slack, more likely it will be within the hour.
A Mailing List
Updates are critical for your company. In the early stage, keeping mentors, potential investors, interested parties, and supporters in the loop is critical. Start an e-mail list and get in the habit of sending out updates. Weekly while you're in an accelerator, bi-weekly or even monthly when you're running at a more normal pace. Using a service like SendGrid or Mailchimp makes this really easy. It will also help when you start collecting e-mails from other sources (like your landing page). A good update email should have a tl;dr section at the top with a couple sentence update and your one most important ask. You can go into as much detail as you like below, but almost everyone will give you the 20 seconds for your tl;dr
A Business Card
Print a few business cards. You don't have to get super fancy. Just a piece of paper with your contact information all on one side. I'm not going to take it. I'm going to scan it with my FullContact App. But then we're connected, and I won't have to type in your website and I can follow you easily on Twitter.
A Landing Page
Remember that domain name from a few paragraphs back. Point it somewhere. If you already have a website, great! If you don't, set up a Squarespace site and build a cover page. Give it a contact button and link it to your Mailchimp account. Now, people have another easy way to know who you are and show their interest.
A Smile (free bonus item)
A startup is the best, most exciting, stressful, terrifying, wonderful, confusing, enthralling, exhausting thing you'll ever do. (Please read my post on mental health!) So when we meet on Saturday, I hope you'll show me the first eight things on this list, but if nothing else, bring a smile. We're going to have fun!