Here are my top five tips for when you’re just starting out
Starting a business is often heart over logic.
So, you want to start your own business? Maybe get VC funding? Maybe turn it into a lifestyle business? Maybe build it just to collect passive income?
The idea may have struck you casually but then you thought to give it a chance.
Becoming an entrepreneur is a journey in itself. You’ll learn more about yourself than any other time in your professional career. You’ll learn what is important and what’s not while trying to take your business from 0 to 1. Most of the time, getting started is the most difficult part. How do you get started? What steps should I prioritize first? What will actually move the needle?
Top 5 Priorities for the startup founder
As a startup founder, your job is to get to revenue or user engagement as fast as possible. Your job is to make decisions. Actually, your job is to make the right decisions in a sea of decisions. How do you make the right decision? How should I prioritize when every issue looks to be important?
Here are my top five priorities for those just starting out.
The ultimate metric is cash
It’s not the profitability but the cash flow that makes or breaks the startup.
The first and foremost thing about this journey is that your business idea has to solve a real-life problem. The building block for any successful startup is to solve a business need before the business mindset. Before you begin, go out and help someone or some company with their problems. This will help you understand how to position your product or service. In other words, you will be iterating on your product before even writing a single line of code.
Once their problem is solved, you then have an understanding of what your customer and users want, as well as how they want their problem solved (the latter probably being the most important nuance). Then go out and help someone else with their problems. Build your product at the same time and iterate until you have a real service or product to offer your customers and users. The cash flow problem solves itself — you’ll either have paying customers and/or you’ll have great metrics to take to a VC for funding — all with a product that’s being built as you help your customers (i.e., your customers are helping you fund your startup).
The key is to understand the type of business you are trying to build and then ensure that you have sufficient cash to give that idea a shape. If you have investors, then figure out the metrics that they would like to see to ensure their participation and set of expectations on your journey together.
There’s a saying that goes “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon”. That’s not really accurate when it comes to building your company — it’s both a sprint and a marathon
Build an MVP that is simple, don’t go overboard
Build an MVP (minimum viable product) with the goal of solving your problem. The MVP doesn’t have to be an app or a fully scaled product. The idea is to assess the market and generate enough traction that you can get your full-blown product built (knowing that it’ll never be fully built). Even if your MVP fails, that doesn’t mean that there was something wrong with your idea, it just means that the implementation of that idea needs more attention.
Basically, what you’re trying to do is find something that works — it often takes a lot of iteration. For instance, the story of ZeroCater where the founder got his business idea from opportunities to manage lunch for other companies. He had created a list of preferred caterers (it had taken him a year to curate through and build his list), through trial and error, while he worked at Justin.tv. This list, just a spreadsheet, powered his service — to provide lunch for other startups and companies — which then led to building an app that would help him scale his business. The app powered his service and became the company we know now as ZeroCrater.
The idea is to create a technique that satisfies the early adopters of your product or service. You need to concentrate on what problem you’re solving for your customers in your product/service. The product itself is designed and developed after you have the feedback from those early adopters.
Build your personal brand as a founder
One of the most important aspects as a founder is to build your own brand because when the founder is a known personality in the industry, things move faster.
Talk to as many prospective customers/clients/investors as you can, as an entrepreneur you need to invest in building your own brand. You have to build something that you are known for. Focus on solving the problem you have — ideally, the problem that you have a lot of experience in. This can have a huge impact on the course of your business.
Invest some time in building media relationships, actively tweet, write blogs, and other outlets where you can give your important business updates; you need to tell the story.
As soon as you succeed in positioning yourself as an authority and leader, your words carry a lot more weight than others. People will go to you for advice and you might even get invited to speak at various events and conferences.
The focus should be on building a long-term worth. So work to lead from the front.
Learn from the feedback you get from your first customers
Most of the founders believe that they know what their clients/customers want. This preconceived notion can have a negative impact on the trajectory of the business. Most often, your users and customers want something else than what you have built so not collecting their input from day 1 can set you back months and burn resources.
So the key is to create the service before creating the technology. Go out and learn/talk to your customers and create demand. Find your community. Be known in your community as someone people go to.
Remember, the first customers are the most valuable assets of this journey since they are the ones who have bought into your vision, product, and service. There is nothing better than a customer suggesting an opportunity or product feature that you might have not thought of. You never know that by incorporating customer feedback you may be able to offer a better product/service.
Take care of yourself
The startup founder has to be a jack of all trades. The entire path is a struggle; you’re responsible and accountable for everything. And it doesn’t get any easier as you grow in size. Adding employees, investors, customers into the mix can lead to growing demands and responsibilities. The last piece of advice is to take care of yourself.
Startup founders are 30% more likely to suffer from depression compared to the general public. I, myself, became prone to anxiety attacks and suffered from shingles when times were tough. My co-founder was sick all-the-time. His doctor said that his baseline stress level was so high that any little thing — from allergies to a cold — would set off his immune system.
There’s a saying that goes “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon”. That’s not really accurate when it comes to building your company — it’s both a sprint and a marathon! Be mindful of what you’re getting yourself into. Please, take care of yourself mentally and physically. This is where company culture and values come into play, but that’s another article by itself.