Startups can be exciting, and stressful! I love the energy of starting something new, whether it’s an internal initiative – like building a centralized team to service the organization – or starting a completely new division or business from scratch, the same foundational principles apply.
No matter what your long-term goal is, remember to build with SCALE in mind – the steps below are great guidelines to help keep you focused and your attention in the right places. Never forget, what gets measured, gets DONE. Ready, set, GO!!
A few years ago, Christophe Blazquez posted this great infographic on Twitter (by Anna Vital) about startups, based on Paul Graham’s essay: Startups in 13 Sentences.
I thought I would provide my own take on Paul’s 13 Sentences.
Pick good co-founders
There are so many challenges that come along with starting a business. Many entrepreneurs find that they don’t have everything that is required to build their start-up by themselves. Having someone to help you along the way can be quite helpful. Some of the greatest companies we know today started with two. Jobs and Wozniak, Hewlett and Packard, Ben and Jerry… even Laverne and Shirley (although I’m not sure how productive they really were)! It’s important to find a co-founder who can complement your skills and fill the gaps. This will ultimately help you focus on what you’re really good at and offload some of the work onto someone else. Additionally, having someone else around will make it easier when it comes time to make decisions for the company and will allow you to take a break every now and then.
One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced entrepreneurs make is moving too slowly. By launching early and launching fast you are getting your business into motion. This will help you gain momentum and get things moving. You must be quick, efficient, decisive, and ready to learn and adapt.
Let your idea evolve and embrace mistakes
As you grow and gain more traction, more ideas will flow in. Let your idea evolve and change. In fact, Flickr actually began as a feature in an online role-playing game from gaming startup Ludicorp. Photo sharing was the last component of the game. The game itself was never successful, but photo sharing was on the rise and what we now know as Flickr became a huge hit. You’ll make many mistakes, and probably regret a few decisions, along the way. Many people believe that a mistake means failure. Making mistakes will provide great opportunities to learn from, so embrace them and use them to your advantage.
Understand your users, and make at least a few of them really love you
By taking the time to get to know and understand your users, you have a better idea of what it is they’re looking for. Find out what their pain points are and try to address them. Create buyer or user personas so you have a better idea of who it is you want to target. You may find that your product doesn’t suit the particular group of people you initially had in mind. If this happens, you have options: modify your product to better suit the needs of your customers, or change up your strategy to target those who will be interested.
You’ll have to choose between partially satisfying everyone or making a few people really happy. Choose the latter. These people will act as brand ambassadors. Get them to really like you and they will spread the word. They can be your guinea pigs; have them try your product and ask them to provide feedback. It’s easier to gain more customers over time than it is to try and increase satisfaction among everybody.
Give surprisingly good customer service
Customer service is a major part of being successful in business. Customers aren’t always easy to please and now, more than ever, they look for instant gratification. When customers are happy with the service you provide, there is a higher likelihood that they will stick to your business instead of shifting to competitors. Customers like to share stories about their experiences with their friends, family, and colleagues – and social media has made this easier than ever.
When you provide customers with a memorable experience, they will be more likely to tell others about the great service they received. Receiving good feedback and knowing you did a good job can result in increased morale and a boost in confidence within the company and among employees. Having happy customers makes for happy employees, making it a better place to work overall. This also results in less turnover, increased profit, and on and on. The benefits are endless.
You make what you measure
When you measure something, you get a good idea of how to improve on it. Spend some time learning what people like, and what people dislike, about your product. Do some investigating and even put some free or inexpensive analytic tools to use to get a grasp on what’s going great and what’s doing poorly. This way you’ll have tangible evidence of how things are doing. When it comes time to approach investors, you’ll have plenty of data to make your case.
If you don’t measure your success, how will you ever know if you’re doing well?
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a fancy office or a beer keg in the lunchroom to become successful. After all, Apple started off in a garage; so did HP. You’ll get there. The most common reason businesses fail is because they run out of money.
Get ramen profitable
While keeping expenses low, make just enough money to survive off of as opposed to trying to make millions from the get-go. This will make you more attractive to possible investors.
If you’re already making a profit, this proves to investors that you have piqued interest in the market and can get someone to pay for your product. It also shows that you are interested in taking the time to build a quality product, and that you maintain discipline by keeping expenses low. If you don’t need to raise more money for the next best thing (which you probably don’t really need, anyway), then you won’t have to take time away from building your product to do it. When investors see that you aren’t going to blow their money on random stuff, they will be more inclined to cut you a deal, as they will see that their investment is going to be put to good use.
As if starting a business isn’t difficult enough, there will always be distractions on the sidelines ready to pull you away from whatever you’re focusing on. Often startups get distracted and bogged down by things that are almost completely irrelevant to the success of their business: things like your day job, side projects, or even little things like having your phone beside you in your workspace.
Dr. Gloria Mark has studied the effects of being interrupted and found that we typically become distracted and switch tasks every three minutes. Two other tasks usually intervene before we eventually get back to our initial task, and it takes about 23 minutes to get back into your groove. That means there’s a good chance you even stopped reading this post for a while in order to work on something else before coming back to it. Wow. Rude… (Full disclosure – I actually became distracted a few times while writing this.)
These distractions are coupled with physical changes to your environment such as new windows and applications open on your desktop, new files downloaded, and some new items in your workspace. These physical changes actually add to the time it takes to get back to what you were originally doing, wasting even more time.
You can read more on Dr. Gloria Mark’s study here.
Try to eliminate these distractions by planning distraction-free time in a distraction-free space. If even for just a few hours, go to a quiet place, play some music if you need to, turn off any notifications and keep your phone away from you and plan to work on one single task for a set amount of time.
Don’t get demoralized and don’t give up
These were originally two separate points, but they really go hand-in-hand.
You’ll have some hard times. It happens with every company eventually. Starting a business is a huge burden since you probably have a lot riding on the successful outcome of the product and the business. It is incredibly stressful, so it’s important to prioritize mental wellness and to not give up when times get tough.
While there is a lot of work to be done, it’s critical that you don’t work yourself into burnout. There will be times that you will have to work very long hours. It is important to remember to maintain a social life and spend time with friends and family. These positive interactions will help your mind take a break from the stress at work.
This one is… pretty self-explanatory.
Building a start-up is like raising a child (Parents: need I say more?). Start-ups can be very fun and become quite successful, and eventually go on to change the world. There are many, many more topics I could talk about in this post – but then it might just go on forever.
If you have a great idea, don’t be afraid to pursue it. It might just become the next big thing.
Cynthia Sundberg, VP Operations and Administration | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.linkedin.com/in/cynthia-sundberg-6742481