5 Early Signs Your Startup Will Succeed
If you’ve managed to get through the earliest phases of startup, and definitely don’t show signs of failing anytime soon, you still may wonder, “But are we on our way?” While we agree with Mark Cuban that it’s always important to visualize the competition right on your heels, it’s also important to be grounded in reality and recognize signs of success for what they are, and to double down on the strategies that produced that success. In this article, we’ll examine five signs your startup is well on the way to long-term success.
1. Clear strategy.
A lot of people rewrite histories of companies based on hindsight bias -- we can’t avoid what we know in the present tense. Often a “genius idea” was not exactly that in the first place. Most people know Uber as the app that allows you to summon a ride at a push of a button, but the very first iteration of the company was as just another black car service in San Francisco, with a technology twist called UberCab.
Airbnb is taken for granted as an idea now -- why not sell unused short-term “inventory” like spare rooms -- but the original idea is still preserved in its name: Airbed and Breakfast. Today very few Airbnb users expect either air mattresses or breakfasts to be part of their experience -- and haven’t for years. Airbnb took that early feedback to iterate and pivot to what made sense, not what their “original idea” was. This takes vision, but it also takes humility. Let the wisdom of the marketplace guide you.
2. Consumers found you first.
We often hear about new products and services from our friends, and they may even take the time to send us stories and links, or stand next to us as we download an app they can’t stop talking about. The recommendation often comes with a guided tour. If you got a lot of early traction from your users, not just from an excited press, that’s an excellent sign of marketplace validation. The marketplace doesn’t always know what it wants, but it knows what it likes when it sees it, and social media makes the spreading of good ideas and companies easier every day. Part of any successful launch is consistently thinking in the frame of the end user and getting your product or service into their world as quickly as possible.
3. Positive cash flow.
Shows like Shark Tank and Planet of the Apps have introduced terms like “burn rate” into the popular vernacular, yet on those same shows a low burn rate is always second fiddle to profitability. Indeed, Cuban and Daymond John have often said on Shark Tank that “sales cure all.” If you’ve found an early solution to the old problem of spending less than you take in, you’re in the position to grow responsibly from a position of strength instead of irresponsibly from a position of desperation. Don’t allow the distortion field of recent startup strategy -- acquire users now, worry about profitability later -- take away from the mathematics of tried-and-true business.
4. Great team in place.
High turnover is a sure sign that your company is in trouble. Which is why its opposite, great retention, in part due to having the right people in the right positions, is a sign that your company is thriving. Engaged employees don’t leave companies, and that engagement and excitement is contagious, especially in early days. That engagement is fed and nourished by transparency and communication, not just in the message-based tech tools you use on a daily basis, but by regularly meeting with all the members of your team.
Share your victories, and be honest about defeats, while continuing to ask and listen. Iteration is an external and an internal process. As your company grows and develops, so will the desires and ambitions of your team. Make sure that you’re paying at least as much attention to them as you are to your customers, if not more. If you don’t have the right team, you won’t have the ability to get customers.
5. Focused on why.
Thanks to people like Simon Sinek, asking about a company’s "why" is no longer reserved for the ivory tower of visionaries, but is a common question asked by everyone from VCs to customers standing in line, examining a label and reading a story about your firm. Anyone can engage in a "what," and many can help with "how," but it is those companies that clearly articulate their "why," and show that "why" through every level of the company, that capture the imagination of their clients and customers. An alignment of why also helps keep your team on track in the other signs discussed above. If there’s a clear why, a strategy naturally follows -- hopefully one aligned with profitability.
While any one of these signs is a positive, if you are lacking in any of them, particularly in cash flow and your team, it’s important to make attaining superiority in those areas a high priority. Success builds on itself through intentionality.