The Report

Everything you've heard about starting a business is wrong

Posting in Cities

Two entrepreneurs have some advice for would-be startup founders: Don't spend too much time planning when you should be selling.

Starting your own business is a daunting, complicated task. Most people, after incubating an idea and mustering the courage to venture forth, spend time trying to perfect a business plan before they actually interact with a customer.

This is the wrong approach, say Dave Llorens and Ryan Ferrier, four-time entrepreneurs who run a new program called 60 Day MBA.

Consider their friends at San Francisco-based clothing brand Taylor Stitch as an example. Michael Armenta, Barrett Purdum and Michael Maher decided they wanted to make clothes. They knew nothing about logistics and spent the better part of a year trying to plan around that, getting nowhere. Eventually, the three got creative, measuring their friends in bars. They opened several pop-up shops around the city once they gained a little clout.

Now, the guys behind Taylor Stitch have a full-time retail store in the city’s Mission District, along with an online store, where they’re equipped to ship and sell their brand’s limited edition merchandise.

The lesson? Interact with customers first, say Llorens and Ferrier, and plan your company around their feedback. Though the founders of Taylor Stitch weren't 60 Day MBA students, they are a perfect example of how to actually get your business off the ground. It’s the startup approach, just for non-startup people.

“Taylor Stitch is iconic of what we would preach,” Ferrier says. “Don’t plan forever and build the perfect machine. Listen to customers, all good comes from that.”

Why does Lloren and Ferrier's advice matter? Llorens was behind solar buying collective One Block Off the Grid (acquired by Pure Energies Group in 2012), while Ferrier has sold previous ventures to Microsoft and Zynga.

Many other educational programs for entrepreneurs teach a step-by-step lesson on how to create a theoretical business plan. Instead, 60 Day MBA students are taught the three T’s: Talk to the customer, Translate what you’ve learned into an offering, then Try it out.

“We’re interested in helping,” Ferrier says. “We’re not going to tell you to patent and incorporate when you don’t need to,” Llorens adds.

For example, one student, Scott, wanted to start a clothing line called Meridian Elements. His assignment was to talk to people and sell one pair of pants. When he did, he said “Now what?” The goal of Llorens and Ferrier is to get their students to that point, where they have to execute or deliver on a sale. Another student, Andy, is turning his idea to help people looking to expatriate into a cohesive and profitable business (Mon Ami Andy). Another, a marketing professional, is learning exactly what she’s best at to promote her freelance business (LibbyDodd.com).

The 60 Day MBA coursework includes a downloadable set of lessons, accompanied by a weekly training call with peers and an instructor. Llorens and Ferrier weren’t prepared to disclose how much a session costs, but say they will be switching to a subscription model soon for a reasonable fee.

Whether it’s actually measuring strangers in bars for shirts, Llorens and Ferrier's message is to listen to customers and not to plan too much without real information. “Don’t put the cart before the horse,” Llorens says. “It’s about momentum.”

Beth Carter

Contributing Editor

Beth Carter is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has worked for Catalyst magazine, the New York Times Syndicate, BBC Travel and Wired. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure