Controlling the Uncontrollable
In the fast paced startup world, it’s often easy to expect everyone to move at your pace. You’re excited about your business, your idea, and your product, so why shouldn’t everyone else be excited too? Sometimes the other businesses you rely on are restricted by external factors such as high demand, production speed limitations, or a limited supply of materials or labor. Other times, those businesses are just not as passionate as you are about creating something new. Unfortunately, relying on other people or other businesses is often a necessary component of innovation. At the end of the day, you need these vendors to get your idea off the ground.
Here’s how to overcome the challenges that arise from relying on external inputs:
Develop the relationship and gain credibility. When you’re starting up, it’s incredibly difficult. Developing a strong relationship with vendors (and with anyone you work with) is a core component of success. That’s a given. As entrepreneurs we all know that businesses are built on relationships. But beyond that, when working with vendors, it’s important to continue to build credibility so they see you as a valuable partner.
For instance, I am in the midst of launching my second venture, a performance-focused men's business sock called GoodFoot Socks. Why would any sock mill give us the time of day when all we have is an idea, and they’re currently manufacturing hundreds of thousands of socks per year for giants like Walmart? Luckily we found a company who saw the value in our idea and view the relationship as a true partnership. They recognize that if they help us become successful, they too will see success.
It’s important that as we move forward, we continue to grow that credibility and show them that we are a valuable partner in the industry.
Build a buffer. Again, it’s easy to think that everyone is as passionate about your idea as you are, but it’s important to remember that they are not. To combat this, always prepare for the worst. Assume that production delays or supply shortages will be passed onto your business. Assume that the timeline your vendors give you is inaccurate. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver to your customers, so building in a buffer protects your company even further. Tell your customers to expect your product in a year, but tell your vendors you need it in a month.
Innovate ahead of the curve. This is probably the toughest part about relying on other businesses. As entrepreneurs, our ideas are always cutting edge. We always want to produce something that consumers didn’t yet know they needed. We believe we are always creating the next big thing. And we can. The process just needs to start much earlier. The final product can change as the innovation cycle is occurring, but the cycle needs to start far in advance from when you need to deliver.
For me, it’s difficult to start thinking about what socks we want to launch for the holiday season when we haven’t even finished our first production run. But the fact is, if we don’t plan it now, there will be no holiday season socks. Sometimes this means taking a gamble on what consumers will want. Most often it means asking consumers the right questions in order to best predict their needs. It always means studying past successes and looking at where the trends in your industry are headed.
Although relying on others requires additional work, it also forces you to keep your business organized, and your strategy thought out in full. With the right strategy, it is possible to overcome the difficulties of relying on vendors for the success of your business.
Sarah is a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis where she studied systems engineering and entrepreneurship. During her junior year she opened Green Bean, an eco-healthy salad restaurant. She is now in the midst of launching her second business, a line of performance-focused men's business socks: Unfettered Socks. She was a finalist in the Entrepreneurs' Organization's Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in 2012. Find more about her on her website.