The first 180 days in a new venture is the most crucial. This timeframe is where most new ventures fail. As a founder, you probably understand that you must make progress as early as possible but you probably aren't sure where you should spend your time to create the most impact.
If you're thinking about launching a new venture, here's a great plan to get off to a great start in your first 180 days:
Find and talk to as many possible end users as you can. Understand the challenge you're trying to solve from their perspective. Learn how they've tried to solve the challenge on their own. Dive deep. Your conversations should be all about their problems and nothing about your company or idea.
Set a goal of reaching out to 100 end users. Don't get me wrong, it's a hard task, but the biggest companies in the world started with 1 customer. And a lot of magical things happen when you try to do that.
You don't need a product (nor should you have a product at this stage) to have these conversations.
Build a proof of concept using the info you gathered from your initial conversations. Show the prototype to those end users you talked to in the first month and get feedback on whether or not they think the proof of concept is a good solution to their problem. Look for patterns in responses - if 10+ customers say the same thing, you're likely on to something.
The proof of concept can take many forms but I recommend starting with interactive mockups. The goal is to get something visual and interactive in front of people, but not to spend months building something before you get feedback. The proof of concept does not need to be fully functioning.
Synthesize the feedback you get from your proof of concept and begin building a working solution. A working solution can also take multiple forms. It may be that you're using a combination of other products to test whether your concept works. Crew used a Wufoo form and Mailchimp as their product to generate their first $25k. Product Hunt started as just a curated list of interesting new products emailed to a small group of friends. Angel list was similar, a curated list emailed weekly of prominent angel investors.
It's likely that at this stage you're doing a TON of manual work and things that don't scale to make sure you're early customers are delighted with your product.
Do everything in your power to make your first customer successful.
That customer will be your biggest advocate. They will be your first and only case study for success. They'll help you understand the real nuances of onboarding a client successfully. They likely also know other customers they can refer you to. A lot of the success of your company hinges on customer number 1.
Do not get caught up in the hype of trying to sell 5, 10, 15 customers off the bat because you're not ready to onboard or support that many customers yet. One customer in the first 6 months is a great goal.
Rinse and repeat. Bring on another customer and get them to success in 30-60 days. Then do one more. If you can get 5-10 successful customer implementations in year 1 you are doing very well and are now ready to have meaningful conversations with investors and think about ways to scale customer acquisition.
Notice there's nothing in here about marketing, raising money, getting paid by customers, incorporating the business, building a website, etc. Your entire effort should be on solving a customer pain using as few resources as possible, and once you do, switching your focus expending all effort to ensure your first few customers are extremely successful. If you don't nail the first 180 days, nothing else matters.