Entrepreneurs Should Start with What They Have

Start your business with what you have

Entrepreneurs Should Start with What They Have

When you start a new business, or develop a business idea from scratch, it’s easy to begin with what’s missing.

I got this technique from Hollywood director, Robert Rodriguez. His simple method is now known as your Rodriguez List.

Instead of starting with loss, we start with abundance.

Begin with what you’ve got.

This is how Rodriguez was able to shoot the film El Mariachi for $7,000, later earning $2 million at the box office.

He based the film’s shooting locations on the places he had (locations he could shoot for free). Robert shot and edited the film himself. He used actors who would work for free. Rodriguez began with what he had.

We start with what we have and work upward from there.

Start with What You’ve Got

As an entrepreneur it’s easy to start making lists of wants. We look to freelancers we can hire. We try to borrow money, or search for investors.

The problem is, when we go after our new business idea with a scarcity mindset, we position ourselves at the mercy of others.

  • The VC firm owns half the business
  • The VA is in control of our code or core product
  • The bank tells us what we can and can’t do
  • Our rented office bleeds us dry before we start
  • We don’t ship our product, because we can’t hire someone to pack it

When we start with what we’ve got, the frame shrinks.

There’s no more “I can’t because…” Instead, we work within the frame of “I start from here.”

When we start from where we stand, we get scrappy. We find efficiencies. We uncover answers that didn’t exist ten minutes ago.

When we start from where we stand, we build a stronger foundation for our best work, for the tribe we serve, and the people who matter most–our paying customers. Your list is all around you. There are more resources available to you than you think.

You Have More than You Think

Not only do you have your own experiences, but you’ve got those of your inner-circle. Maybe you know someone with a 3D printer covered in dust, or a college student who needs a project.

I’ve worked with attorneys, creators, programmers, and others–all willing to give their time and ideas for free, just because I asked (and they were close to me).

I started with what I had.

I dug-deep into my list, not just the surface relationships. I asked probing questions. I found people who know somebody who know somebody.

You will be amazed at how far people will go to help you if you’re willing to ask.

Not everything must be bought. People generally love helping others. The help is the reward. You don’t always need money to get your best work accomplished.


Start from where you are, not where you want to be after you gather everything you don’t have.

Start with what you’ve got. No more wish lists. What do you have right now, that can be used to start your business.

  • What kind of intellectual capital do you have?
  • What physical tools do you have?
  • What’s the minimum product you can ship now?

The faster we start, the faster we learn. It’s easy to spend a lot of money on supplies and talent.

The hard part is shipping. Not enough entrepreneurs ship quickly.

This doesn’t mean you should build bad products. It means you need to get your work into the world, before real customers, so you can improve the next version.

Those who start, win.

Make Your List

Begin with a list of the cool things you have. Whether it’s equipment, locations, talent, people you know, or knowledge you have—make a list of everything you’ve got.

  • How can you build your product free?
  • How can you get reviews free?
  • Do you have a friend who already does the work you’re trying to build?
  • Do you have a relative with an empty warehouse?
  • Can you barter someone for future payment?

Make a list of all the tools, materials, talent, and locations you have.

This list should surprise you.

Scroll through your phone. Look at your social contacts. You probably know a few people who owe you outstanding favors. Maybe you’ve got an eccentric uncle with a ton of random supplies sitting around.

What do you have right now? Start there.

There will be people inside your circle who will help you shave years of mistakes off your timeline, maybe decades.

You aren’t a unique flower.

Someone before you has already made all the mistakes you’re about to make. If you put yourself out there, announcing your ideas, your circle will come to your rescue.

Build Your First Product from Your List

Instead of seeking outside help, services, and resources for your idea, build your product from your list.

When we start with what we’ve got, we can ship faster and cheaper than our competition.

We’re also more-likely to build our work within our circle of competence, than becoming a contractor over a bunch of people who own the control of our intellectual property.

Starting with what you have, doesn’t mean you’ve got to build a cheapskate product either. You can use your inner-circle to get access to better information than your competition.

Everyone knows someone. And those someones also know people.

We don’t capitalize on our internal lists enough. At least I don’t. I have a hard time looking to myself for the solution first. I usually seek the answer (or supplies) from outside my circle of ownership.

Start with what you’ve got, instead.

The List is Safer

When you build your product internally, with what you’ve got, you avoid outing your business in the hands of someone who could screw you.

Think of the situation like this: you hire a coder to build a huge database project. The person works for a year.

You’re excited to see the final product. You announce your new idea to the world to build buzz and attention. The coder disappears, taking your prized IP with her.

You didn’t own the skills required.

Since you don’t have any of the skills or resources to create the product yourself, you’ve got to start over with a new coder. All that money is gone.

Had you built your product from what you already have in your possession, you would have more control over your business.

The List is More Nimble

When you operate as a contractor, you’re at the mercy of everyone’s schedule. When you work within your list, you’ve got more control of the work.

  • Maybe the idea isn’t a good idea
  • Maybe you find a new solution that’s better
  • Maybe you can ship your product tomorrow, with an in-house team, but six weeks from now if you rely on subcontractors

When you work within your list, you gain tremendous leverage.

What the List Isn’t

Working with what you’ve got doesn’t mean you have to learn everything yourself. The list is the opposite. This means you start from where you stand.

  • Not from where you want to stand
  • Not from the endgame
  • Not from your to-do list or your wish list

Where do you stand right now?

What can you gather to build your product, using the skills you already possess, people within your circle, and resources already within your control?

The list is about building abundance from what exists, not creating an endless series of to-do items, resources to buy, or people to hire.

The List Will Grow

Over time, your list will grow. You’ll increase your circle of competence as you ship your work. Your network will grow. You’ll have your eyes open to new opportunities within your circle.

This isn’t some list you create once and live inside it forever.

The list grows as your business grows.

As you ship your work you learn more about your customers. You make mistakes and fail-forward. You when you can with what you’ve got.

You learn to operate lean-and-mean, compared to your slow-moving competition. Eventually, their list will catch up to them. They won’t own their circle of competence. They don’t make their own product. They don’t know a thing about the code inside their software.

This is the place you’ll shine.

Your Customers Win Too

Have you ever dealt with a small business owner who works within her circle of competence?

I have. You probably have too. Problems are fixed immediately, not when the outsourced contractor can get to it. You get answers right away. You get a refund immediately. Broken products get fixed or replaced.

When you build you product inside your list, the customer has a better experience. You don’t need 300 plug-ins to make your business work. You don’t need to rely on a bank loan to make your payroll.

While you may not start your business as big as a well-funded VC-backed business, you’re more hungry. Hungry entrepreneurs try harder and ship faster.

We need your best work.

It’s important to start making your list. You have access to much more than you think. Most of it, free. All you have to do is ask the people you trust.

Tap here for August’s free, Tribe 1K list-building masterclass. Get your first 1,000 subscribers (or your next 1,000)

August Birch is an author, email expert, and entrepreneur from Michigan, USA. As a self-appointed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indies how to make more work that sells and sell that work once it’s made. When he’s not writing or teaching, August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.