“Build your own dreams or someone else will hire you to build theirs” – Farrah Gray
This mantra seems to be catching on with the youngsters…which can probably explain the spurt of start-ups mushrooming around the world. Unfortunately, the bitter pill to be swallowed here is that if you are working on a start-up there is a good chance it might not click. Odds are you won’t be a Zuckenberg, a Paige or a Koum. Most of these failures can be attributed to a few common mistakes that spell doom for a young start-up from the word go. No need to push the panic button though! Just ensure to internalise the following success strategies if you aim to capitalise on your million dollar idea.
- Finding the Right Co-Founder
Founding a start-up single-handedly is akin to Atlas bearing the world’s weight on his shoulders. Even if you could manage all the work yourself, you need colleagues to bounce off your ideas, to talk you out of risky decisions, and to lift up your spirit when things go wrong. The low points in a start-up are too low to be borne alone. When you have multiple founders, esprit de corps binds them together and keeps the spirits high even when the ship is sinking.
In the same vein, finding the right co-founder can be harder than finding your soul mate. While the ideal partner balances you or brings skills to the table you don’t have, the most important thing to look for is alignment of values such as your prospective partner’s ethics and moral decision-making; the amount of risk willing one is comfortable with etc. The absence of co-founders who compliments you can spell heartbreak in early-stage companies as it might ultimately lead to tiffs that can turn ugly.
- Not waiting too long to launch
“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” –Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn Co-Founder
One motive to launch quickly is that it forces you to actually finish some quantum of work. Nothing is truly finished till it’s launched; no matter how finished you thought it was, there are always the intricacies to look into at the last minute. The other reason you need to launch is that it’s only by bouncing your idea off users that you can build on it. Several distinct problems such as working too slowly; not truly understanding the problem; fear of having to deal with users; fear of being judged; working on too many different things; excessive perfectionism etc. manifest themselves as delays in launching . The only way to combat all of them is by heeding to the war cry of Carpe Diem i.e seize the moment…there is no better time than now to launch your product.
- KISS: Keep It Simple Silly
Young start-ups tend to complicate things too much, from structuring partnership agreements, financing, leases, etc. However, this is not a platform to showcase unnecessary creativity. One is always advised to embrace simplicity in order to ensure everyone is on the same page and avoid failures. Because as Jonathan Wegener (Founder, Timehop) says “Building a product is like packing a suitcase: Plan out what you think you need. Then remove half.”
- Being a Trend setter rather than a Follower
If we look at the origins of successful start-ups, very few were started in imitation of some other company. Majority owed their success to creative, out-of-the box thinking. And the best source of ideas is solutions to problems that affect you personally. Apple happened because Steve Jobs wanted a computer that fits in your pocket, Google because Larry and Sergey couldn’t find stuff online…the list of inventions arising out of needs is long. Hence the key to success for young start ups is not to fall prey to the disease of imitation. Work on a concept which has not already been perused which would subsequently create a buzz in the market owing to its wow factor.
- Not shying away from competition
People think of grand ideas but decide to pursue smaller ones because they seem a safer bet. If you make anything good, you’re going to have competitors, so you may as well man up and face that. Most young start-ups suffer from a common problem of shrinking from grand ideas and instead choosing a small, obscure niche in the hope of avoiding competition. In the process they let good ideas slip away and as they say…some opportunities don’t come twice!
- Money Matters
“Just because you get funded does not mean you will be successful” – Vinod Khosla (Founder, Khosla Ventures)
A lot of young startups assume that fundraising is not only a necessary component of running a business but an important marker of success. On the contrary, it is always advisable to make just enough money to sustain and grow the business on your own terms instead of relying excessively on a third party as it helps you to retain control and ownership of your business. Obsessing over pitching to venture capitalists and raising capital is a sure-shot recipe for failure that most young start-ups get trapped in.
- Hiring Right
“The secret to successful hiring in a start-up is this: look for the people who want to change the world.” – Marc Benioff (Salesforce CEO)
At a budding start-up employees need to wear many hats, and they need to be prepared to wear many hats. If you don’t manage this expectation upon hiring, you will be grappling with employee issues six months down the line which will eat into your time and productivity. Similarly, some entrepreneurs think it’s a luxury to have accounting, finance, or other support functions which they can’t afford, but it’s important to spend resources early on for administrative efficiency. If you don’t have someone to do that for you, you’ll end up spending all your time on things that aren’t critical to growing your company. Hence, hiring the right people in the right positions is vital to the success of start-ups.
- Investor Management
As a founder, you have to manage your investors. You can’t ignore them, because they may have useful insights. But neither can you let them run the company; that’s supposed to be your job. Start-ups have to learn the balancing act of treading this tightrope of pleasing investors versus caving in to them if they want to strike gold.
- Get comfortable sharing your “Big Idea”
Young entrepreneurs generally feel like their ‘big idea’ is all they have, and they guard it fiercely like a mother hen nestling her eggs. They also tend to be of the notion that others are lying in wait to pounce upon it the moment they get wind of it. What they fail to understand is: first, whatever the idea is, rest assured it’s already occurred to someone somewhere before. Secondly, there’s not much of a market for ideas. No one trusts an idea till you embody it in a product and use that to grow a user base. Also, you’re going to need help and guidance from more knowledgeable people, so you better get comfortable sharing your million dollar idea. Failure to do so proves detrimental to their success.
- Keep the initial spark alive
Most of the young start-ups that face failure are flameouts that couldn’t manage to keep the initial spark alive. Start-ups tend to fail not because they made a humongous mistake but because it didn’t do much of anything. From being a spectacular project that had the potential to reap million it ends up being some unobtrusive project a couple of guys started on the side while working on their day jobs, but which never got anywhere and was gradually abandoned. In order to succeed, start-ups need to avoid irresolute, tepid efforts and put their mind, body and soul into their venture.
Having listed out some of the glaring common mistakes that young start-ups make, it remains to be stated that no start-up can hit bull’s eye on their maiden venture. “Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world”…that is how the sequence plays out. You need to fail often so that you can succeed sooner. And provided one follows this cheat sheet of success strategies, young entrepreneurs can surely be guaranteed of realising their dreams.
So Keep Calm. And Carry on Young Entrepreneurs!!!