David B. Lerner

Dave Lerner, 3x Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, Host of Venture Studio
Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, Director of Columbia University Venture Lab, Blogger, Community Organizer, Golfer-in-Exile.

Getting from Zero to One in Your Startup (2) Map it Out!

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This is part of my Series on Getting from Zero to One.

No matter how world-changing you believe your startup may be, the most important thing you need to do at this preliminary juncture is to take things one step at a time. You are at “Zero” now and the goal is not “100”- it is actually “One”.

Remember- at some point in the not-too-distant future you actually need to build a product that people- (many people!) will want to use. That is the essence of what you need to achieve and don’t forget it. You must relentlessly focus on making this a reality. Everything you do now must be subsumed to that singular purpose.

One way to impose this discipline upon yourself is to break your company down into a diagram or two that you can paste on the wall above your desk so that you see them every day.  Everyone’s different, so you need to use diagrams that work for you. Nevertheless, I believe that it helps to have at least one that gives you an orchestral view of every aspect of the fledgling company’s operations. Here’s a primitive template I devised that I often recommend to entrepreneurs I’m mentoring:


 As the company evolves, you are constantly refining this diagram, adding granularity with names, companies, action steps and the like within of all of the above categories.  Grow new branches, add new categories, move things around to suit your eye- all this is very helpful to a Founder, who otherwise has to keep all this swimming around in his head. 

So whereas your executive summary, business plan, google docs, Xcel spreadsheets, GANT charts, wireframes, use-cases and the like will all reside on your laptop or in the cloud somewhere- I’m suggesting you have at least one orchestral view on old-fashioned paper pasted front-row and center. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, simply glance up for a few moments and orient yourself. With that one glance and perhaps a tweak here or there you can quickly recalibrate things and get back into focus. 

Are you beginning to hear the rhythmic chanting in the distance? … Zero to One… Zero to One… Zero to One…

 For Part 2.5 in this Series, (Mapping it Out Some More!) click here.

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Hi David
Thanks a bunch! I have had kept a more fuzzy version of your chart in my head as i have started pulling my new product and nuCo together over the last 5 months. Transforming that fuzz into a "front & center" living document is a great insight.

There is another comment with similar value to those launching new ventures that you might make about who the customer is and what the product is at any given point. Often we who envision companies and products think that the product we hope to sell to customers is our product. We loose sight of the fact that at one stage our product is a company concept, founder profile and our customer is potential mentors, at another it is a business plan and VC firms, etc. Maintaining in-the-moment clarity about who the customer is and the product we producing/selling is crucial to executing and moving through each stage of a venture to the next.

Cheers Michael

David very good advice to startup entrepreneurs and I would add the cloud this chart resides in is in is the overarching market, which always dictates reality.

Best - Roger

Michael- Thanks for your comments- that is a great insight! Don't work in a vacuum- look to your customer as a real mentor as well... love it, thanks!

Thanks Roger. Yes indeed- the entirety of the whole chart belongs in a circular halo that surrounds and subsumes it, a.k.a. "the market".... so true. Much appreciated.

This is a great diagram David. Thanks for sharing.

Hi David,

Great post and map, we love maps in our business as well.

We developed a product that helps people implement their plans whether they be strategic, business or marketing plans and as part of that initial development we documented via our blog how we used our product to detail the steps that a startup has to go through. We called the posts "Eating our own dog food"


I would suggest to your readers that combining the high-level map that you have with maybe some of the example steps that we are going through would give people a good approach to creating and then building out a startup company.

BTW, we also have a feature in the product that exports things out as a MindMap!


Ed Loessi

Great diagram...its like a map...Where u r and whr u r heading and where can u can go...

Thanks lot for diagram as well as ongoing series

What a great resource David.

thanks for your comments Kunal, much appreciated. Glad it's helpful, more next week

very kind Jahan, thanks for your comment.

Constant and reliable funding is the most critical part of any startup. Government Grants is probably the best way to get that funding if you really have the product.

Disciplined Project Management is also critical, otherwise, you'll end up with a never-finished product.

thank you Jahan. glad you find it helpful!

let us know if you know some really talented grant writers please. thanks PM.

thanks Kartik

very cool. thanks Ed.

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