Successful Startups Have This One Thing in Common
Here's how you can earn the support your new business needs.
No matter how much you bring to the table, whether it’s money, experience or enthusiasm, there’s one lesson every entrepreneur has to learn sooner or later: You can’t do it alone. Visionaries like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk might be at the helm of some of the world’s most exciting companies, but Musk isn’t in the production plant assembling Teslas any more than Bezos is fulfilling shipments in an Amazon warehouse. The reality is that it takes a village to get a startup up and running, and while you’re well aware of the genius of your idea, the people around you probably aren’t.
That means that your new job as a founder is finding a support network, inside and outside the office, to help you go from ideation to successful execution. This network will include your friends and family, mentors, potential customers and investors. Here’s how to cultivate buy-in from the key people around you.
1. Find a solution to a problem, not a problem for your solution.
Without a solid product that’s actually needed in the market, you’ll struggle to get customers and investors behind you. When it comes to winning the support of an accelerator, for example, “Don’t recite a laundry list of problems your solution might solve,” advises Dan Lauer, founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate. “Instead, focus on the most important one and detail step by step how you came to that conclusion.”
You need to prove to your investors that your problem exists, using market research as evidence. You also need to show potential customers how you solve their specific problem. If you’re struggling to find a problem your idea solves, it might not be worth pursuing. And if you go down that path despite this obvious red flag, you could be doomed. After all, according to a CB Insights study, lack of market need accounts for 42 percent of failed startups.
2. Show your true self.
Investors and customers expect authenticity from the companies they back and the brands they support, and both can spot a fake from a mile away. Be genuine in your pursuit of your company mission and you’ll be more apt to see success. Want proof? Just consider Dove’s authentic commitment to its “Real Beauty” campaign to empower women. After 10 years of the campaign, the personal-care giant had increased its sales from $2.5 billion to $4 billion. When you’re trying to “sell” the idea of your startup to investors or supporters, the rules of engagement are no different. Let your passion for your idea shine through. Your tribe of potential supporters will take notice.
While passion is one way to show your true self, humility is another. When someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, resist the temptation to make something up. Acknowledging that you don’t know everything can actually help build trust, and it gives you the perfect reason to follow up with the person after you’ve done your research. “Populist politics may suggest that the myth of the strongman still resonates, but in business, the infallible leader is an old-fashioned idea,” says Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of beverage brand Hint. “Being open about your weak points demonstrates an authenticity that people will relate to, while asking for help empowers them to take the lead.”
3. Invest in meaningful relationships.
You doubtless have close friends, but if you haven’t spoken to them in a while, they probably won’t be ready to invest their hard-earned cash in your startup or show up when you need a last-minute hand. If you want to win real support, financial or otherwise, you need to actively nurture relationships. Schedule weekly phone calls with possible investors, and take potential employees out to lunch to show your interest. Look for experienced mentors who can help you achieve your goals. When you find these individuals, respect the time they invest in you by showing up and taking their advice to heart; never forgo an opportunity to reciprocate their gestures.
Don’t focus solely on your professional relationships, either. Deepening your relationships with family and friends is key to creating the support system you’ll need to survive the challenges of the startup journey. According to a study by California university researchers, entrepreneurs are significantly more likely to experience a mental-health condition, and they're twice as likely to report depression compared to non-entrepreneurs. Having a strong support network outside your business is vital to combating these statistics and improving your overall well-being.
Coming up with a great startup idea feels like a breakthrough, but it’s only the beginning. The next step is truly vetting your idea and getting others to buy in. These supporters are your first real customers, and if they’re willing to invest in your plan, you’ll be off to a great start.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor