6 Tough and Timeless Startup Lessons
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
No one is born equipped with the skills to start and run a business. It takes hundreds of misses and trials in order to get to somewhere close to the initial idea that you have envisioned. Understanding the “why” of your idea is necessary and the “how” to go about it is penultimate. Keeping that in mind, here is a little cheat-sheet on five things that you should absolutely consider while you start a company.
1. Write a business plan.
Your business plan is a formal document that lays the foundation of who, what and why your company is. It is a step-by-step guide that will include your company goals, business model, product cycle and the marketing strategies you will use to achieve traction. It is also a window through which your business is shown to investors and financial institutions to raise funds.
However, an overlooked benefit of developing a business plan is that it gives ‘you’: clarity of thought and vision, more than anyone. Before convincing others, you have to convince yourself about the validity of your company and its raison d'être. Only then can you hope to encourage people to help you, work with you and fund you.
Related: Business Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide
Once you have a well thought out business plan it is time to…
2. Rope in a mentor.
Mentors ask the hard questions concerning the robustness of the planned product benefit and the go-to market strategy. This helps you focus on areas which need more attention.
A mentor can provide brilliant advice on refining your business and operating cycle with their experience and industry knowledge. Look for someone who has acute understanding of the customer/user and market schema that you are preparing to target. These evaluation exercises get feedback from someone ‘who has been there, done that and can help you replicate their success. They can provide insight on streamlining your business model to make it scalable while maintaining a sustainable cash flow.
After you have fine-tuned the business plan with inputs from the advisor, it is time to...
3. Get the right kind of investors.
Investment’ is not as important as investors. The ideal investor shares your vision of the company and offers feedback rather than interfering in the operations. Set clear expectations with regards to the timeline for product maturity and when can the investors expect returns, subject to the company’s varying business cycle.
Avoid investors who coax you into breaking commitments with others by offering higher investment. Partaking in such unscrupulous actions lay the groundwork for unethical behavior and will put a dent in your reputation, so steer clear.
Related: How to Attract VC Investors
Now that you have the right people on board get to...
4. Committing to aggressive PR.
When you are starting out, you need traction to sustain your business cycle and as proof that your product’s solution is actually filling a gap in the market.
To create traction, make your product benefits visible through PR, emails, social media shares, user testimonials, product demos, word-of-mouth and more. These platforms are instrumental in generating positive buzz. Apart from these, positive customer testimonials establish your product’s credibility which then leads to stronger investor confidence.
Also, learn to deliver your product pitch in less than five minutes and start pitching at public events.
Once you have the investment and the product se, be ready to...
5. Don't flinch at feedback.
Brutal feedback can make your business better. I use "brutal" when people give unvarnished feedback without indulging in niceties. Accept feedback as valuable for improvng your product or business cycle, not as a personal judgement.
Feedback is instrumental in inferring details like - from the efficiency of the business model, to the expectations of the user. It helps in improving product features as well as polishing financial and operational processes.
6. Take calculated risks.
Entrepreneurs run risks, within reasonable limits, by challenging the market system and, in some cases, the "best practices."
Apply your mentor’s knowledge and the accepted norms to make progress but don’t let the treat stop there. Find out the wiggle room to try something new which differentiates you from the competition in product features, work culture, marketing strategy etc. While raising funds, we ran a successful "cold" email campaign to get us access to investors.
As Sara Blakely, SPANX founder said “Embrace what you don’t know, especially in the beginning, because what you don’t know can become your greatest asset. It ensures that you will absolutely be doing things different from everybody else.”