So, you want to make it as a startup. Maybe I can help you out.
Who am I? I’m a part of the team here at Xpo-Online, and we, too, are a startup company. Our founder is a successful businessman with 20+ years’ experience in the food industry. This advice is based on the experiences he’s had building his previous businesses, and the experiences our current team is having trying to make it as a startup in a new industry.
Why am I writing this? Because, according to research, 90% of startups fail. That’s an overwhelming majority. But, quite often the mistakes leading to these business failures are avoidable. I want to share that advice with you, so you have the best chance of finding success.
Here are 10 pieces of advice to help you be a part of the 10% of startups that actually make it.
1. Actually solve a problem
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how motivated you are or how much cash you’ve got behind your idea. If your product or service doesn’t solve a problem or provide some value, you’re doomed to fail.
You need to offer a solution to a real challenge that people face. Not only will you establish a strong foundation for your startup, but you’ll also set yourself up to scale in the future. That’s why the founders of the most successful startups are those who spotted a gap in the market – a problem without an efficient solution.
“No growth hack, brilliant marketing idea, or sales team can save you long-term if you don’t have a sufficiently good product.”
–Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator and co-founder of Loopt
So, how can you know what the biggest problem your intended customers face is? It’s simple – talk to them.
Whether you call, email, or meet face-to-face – speak to the people who you plan to eventually market your product/service to. Does your product/service excite them? Would it make their life easier? In other words, is there is a real demand for the product/service you’re planning to sell?
If the answer is yes, you’re know you’re on the right track.
Building a new business is no easy feat. The pay is less than if you worked for somebody else, the hours are longer than most, and the stress is pretty much constant.
But, as the saying goes – if it was easy, everybody would do it.
What separates the successful from the unsuccessful in the startup world is the ability to self-motivate. Don’t underestimate this ability. It’s much easier said than done.
In a regular job, you usually have a supervisory figure, who has a manager, who has a regional manager… etc.
In a startup, however, you only have yourself (or maybe your co-founder/partner) to answer to.
Building your own business brings a degree of freedom with it. This is one of the biggest opportunities that a startup can give you. You get to choose how best to spend your time to maximise the value you create. Use your freedom wisely – manage your time effectively and only focus on activities that contribute to the future success of your startup.
Falling into bad habits or becoming defeated is easy. Fight it. You need to wake up every single day with a positive attitude. Each new day is full of opportunity to progress – so don’t waste a single one.
3. Be realistic
The flip side of the ability to self-motivate is the need to be realistic. This applies to every aspect of starting and running a startup, from your day-to-day to your long-term goal.
Successful businesses like Apple, Google, Amazon, etc. make worldwide success look easy. It isn’t, and it wasn’t for them either.
A huge mistake that the majority of startup founders make it to compare their current position to the position of a company that’s 10-20 years down the line.
- It’s an unfair comparison.
- Unless you’re one of the very rare few companies who find overnight success, you will not become the Next Big Thing™ overnight.
Your expectations have to be realistic.
For most startups, the first 5 years (at least) is an uphill struggle. This is both normal and necessary. During this time, you will learn what works and what doesn’t, you’ll refine your product/service to better suit the needs of your customer and you’ll build your brand. Keep your long-term goal at the front of your mind in all you do and plan your daily activities accordingly.
Don’t assume that one day you’ll simply open the doors (literal or figurative) to your new business and you’ll have millions of customers flocking to buy from you, because – let’s be honest – it won’t happen that way. You’ll have to start one customer at a time, just like every other company out there. But, with consistent work and effort, those single customers will eventually start to add up.
4. Put in the work
A simple yet overlooked piece of advice for you if you want to make it as a startup is that you have to be willing to put in consistent hard work and effort.
Usually misled by Insta-entrepreneurs with lavish lifestyles, many people think the entrepreneurial startup life is one of overnight success. As if one day, you’ll just wake up on your super-yacht with enough money to live a life of expensive cars, fancy clothes and fine-dining. The reality couldn’t be further from it.
Too often, people jump into a startup because they’re chasing this lifestyle, without much thought as to whether they’re actually creating something that people need/want. They don’t realise the immense amount of work, sacrifice and determination that it takes to turn an idea into a (successful) reality.
If you want to make it as a startup, you have to be prepared for long hours, tough decisions and failures along the way.
Again, misconceptions about what success really looks like are a big factor in the disproportionate number of failed startups. It’s not all smooth sailing to the top. The journey will make you quit, start again, change direction, adjust your product, make mistakes, and so on. But, as long as you’re prepared and willing to put in the work, you’ll have a shot at reaching your goal.
5. Make mistakes
Like I said in the point above, the journey to success is not a smooth one. Now, some bumps and dips in the road will be due to external factors that you don’t have any control over. Other mistakes, however, will be the ones you personally make.
For example, you might:
- Make the wrong choice in terms of branding, or
- Ignore a vital piece of consumer feedback, or
- Hire the wrong person to join your venture.
It doesn’t matter where you slip up – what matters is your ability to learn from your mistake.
Most of the time, mistakes are blessings in disguise. How? Because they give you the opportunity to better yourself and learn for the future. Besides, if you’re not making mistakes, that means you’re not actually doing… well, anything.
“Only those who are asleep make no mistakes.”
– Ingvar Kamprad
If you’re too afraid to make mistakes, you impose your own restrictions on yourself. If you never want to make a mistake, you may as well never get out of bed in a morning. (Irony being, that in itself would still be a mistake – the mistake of wasting an opportunity to achieve something!)
Lose your fear of failure and welcome any mistakes that occur on your journey. Provided you deal with them in the right way, they’ll be no more than small blips on a long journey.
All of this might be making you wonder whether it’s actually worth risking starting your own business. Don’t be put off from the idea.
None of what I’m sharing in this post is intended to give you the impression that it’s impossible to make it as a startup. Instead, I’m just trying to paint a realistic picture of the challenges a startup venture can bring so that you can be as prepared as you can be.
Yes, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but it won’t be all doom and gloom either.
If you truly want to make it, then you have to be resilient. Come back day after day and work at your dream! Don’t let a bad day break you, and don’t let a good day lull you into false comfort. The ability to persevere will help you overcome anything that is thrown at you along the way.
As said by Rob Kalin, “The last 10% it takes to launch something takes as much energy as the first 90%.”
At every stage of the process, you’ve got to keep your energy levels up. Sure, you’ll have bad days. Maybe even bad weeks. But the key to success is to continually bounce back and carry on.
7. Be versatile
Choose to go down the entrepreneurial path and you’ll be switching between multiple hats all day, every day.
If you’re a solopreneur, you’re going to be everything from the receptionist to the marketer to the CEO. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you have 10 different tasks in 10 different areas. This is where your organisational skills need to shine through.
Luckily, there are a number of tools and platforms out there that can help you stay on top of your workload. Asana, Wunderlist, and even our very own Xpo Task (which automatically ranks your to-do list by urgency and importance) can help you to get things done without becoming overwhelmed.
Even if you do have a team, it’ll usually be a small one to begin with. That’s why it’s absolutely vital that you choose the right people for your startup. Each person is crucial to the success of your business. Their job role is going to be as varied as yours, so you need to make sure that they’re happy and able to take on a fast-paced, ever-changing role.
Remember, flexibility and versatility are lifesavers in the business world.
Unexpected challenges can pop up at any time and some may even result in your product/service becoming redundant. Instead of giving up, you need to be flexible and consider how you can chop and change to adapt to your new circumstances.
8. Understand we’re all human
The ruthless nature of the business world can make even the best businesspeople lose touch with reality. You can end up forgetting that you’re working and dealing with real people, who may think differently to you and who lead separate lives away from your startup.
Sometimes, you’re not going to get along. There’s no denying it. You’ll disagree, and perhaps even fight. Being totally honest, this is normal (within reason).
What matters is that you remain open-minded and calm at all times, and understand that you can’t know everything. Consideration of other perspectives and opinions will lead to a stronger final product.
A little goes a long way when it comes to being more human in your approach. Keep this in mind, when you’re dealing with co-workers, employees, customers or suppliers. Be understanding, be positive and be willing to listen to the people around you.
The more receptive you are to other people’s needs, the more likely you are to connect with people on a genuine level.
You’ll build trust and rapport, which will improve your relationships and grow your network. The stronger your network, the more opportunities for success you’ll have in your business life.
Note: This doesn’t just apply to the people around you. It applies to you, too. Understand and accept that you’ll have bad days sometimes. At the end of the day, you’re not a robot – you can’t be going at full speed 24/7. Take breaks so you don’t burn out, and make sure to keep yourself healthy and happy first and foremost.
9. Don’t waste time
So, you’re almost there.
- You have a great idea that solves a genuine challenge faced by people in your intended market.
- You’ve been working hard on refining and getting your product just right.
- You’ve overcome mistakes and difficulties and are continuously improving.
- Your days are full of meetings, ideas, marketing concepts…
You’ve got this startup business down, right? Wrong.
The most important step hasn’t been taken yet – you haven’t launched!
A huge error that startups make is waiting too long to launch their product/service. They spend all their time trying to get their product perfect. So much time, in fact, that somebody usually ends up beating them to the chase.
Once you have a marketable product in your hands, it’s time to start pushing.
Let’s be honest, you’re never going to think that you’ve reached perfection. There’ll always be something more that you want to add, change, remove, adjust… You can do all of that after you’ve launched. You can bring out a second version, and new update, or even a new product based on future customer feedback. But, you can’t make up for the loss of valuable time.
10. Scale properly
Finally, if you want to make it as a startup, you have to scale properly. Did you know a huge 74% of failures are due to premature scaling?
Before you look at taking your business to the next level, it’s imperative that you cover your bases in a number of key areas:
- Finance: You need to ensure you have the appropriate resources to scale. If needed, seek additional funding before you begin to avoid running out of money during the process.
- Marketing: To be big, you have to reach people. Create a marketing strategy for your first phase of scaling – you can always adjust it as you learn from your experiences.
- Automation: Storage, marketing, CRM*, payroll, training… set up any software you need in order to streamline your scaling.
- People: You have to have the right people on your team to scale efficiently – see point 7 above.
Once you’ve covered the essentials, get your mindset right. To become big, you have to think big. Set yourself a goal, and break it into real, attainable milestones that will keep you accountable and on track.
So, there you have it – 10 pieces of advice to help you make it as a startup. I hope you found them useful! If you have any other advice for those who are looking to make it as a startup, share it in the comments section below!
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