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Serial Entrepreneur Damian Michael Shares His Top 3 Startup Lessons Startups aren't a sprint – they're a marathon, littered with failures and lessons. Learning from those who have come before you can help you navigate tricky challenges.

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Sarah Schäfer

Vital Stats

As an entrepreneur, before attempting to start any business, Damian Michael wished he had known more about accessing markets.

Damian is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Innovo Networks. His experience spans multiple start-ups and industries, and his lessons have been rich and varied.

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"Any business needs customers or access to customers in a market," he explains. "You could have a great idea, product or service with a few customers. However, in order to grow your market share, revenue and profitability, you will need more customers.

"Gaining access to new customers and convincing them to take up your product or service is tough though. Business models are changing and therefore businesses of all sizes should be aware of this; as a startup, you need to be able to adapt to this shift."

The Right People Are Critical

Another big lesson that Damian learnt is that while startups will often hire anyone they can – particularly if their salaries are affordable – the cost of a bad hire is 15 times his or her annual salary. It's therefore incredibly important to get the selection process right, even as a startup.

"Attracting and hiring A Players, at all levels of the organization, is as critical as landing the right customers," says Damian. "This requires the active participation of the marketing function in the recruiting process and the use of a methodology in the interviewing and selection process.

"You will have a huge pool of candidates from which to choose enough "strange' people (who fit your differentiated strategy and culture) to drive the business.

"A KPI details a person's purpose for the job, the desired outcomes of this individual's work, and the competencies — technical and cultural — required to execute it. You need to attract the largest and most capable talent pool excited about the job and willing to accept the salary package.

"Being specific about outcomes allows you to directly evaluate each candidate's capacity to actually deliver these results. Another key element is the list of candidate competencies that align with your culture and strategy.

Related: 5 Startup Lessons That Will Secure Your Industry Status

"It's more important to hire for this kind of fit than for specific skills, so long as a person has the capacity to learn and grow."

Failures and Successes Are Both Great Teachers

During the planning and launch phase of the business, we tend to dive in and miss quite a few key components to building a business. These were Damain's top 3 learnings:

1. Ideate is the mode in which you generate radical design alternatives

Ideation is a process of "going wide' in terms of concepts and outcomes — a mode of "flaring' instead of "focus'.

The goal of ideation is to explore a wide solution space — both a large quantity and broad diversity of ideas. From this vast repository of ideas, you can build prototypes to test with users so that you can be different in the market, stay competitive and relevant.

2. Register your trademark

There are ramifications of not having the level of protection for your intellectual property.

This helps you have control of what you can use and represent in the market place so that in the event that someone does infringe on your rights, you are protected.

I've worked hard to build my brand only to find out that I must refrain from using the name. However, having a great trademark lawyer helped me win the battle.

3. Be patient

We live in a quick fix, microwave society. Millennials, who have grown up with social media in their hands, scroll through Instagram and twitter and see the fruit of success. It appears that success is instantaneous with a few clicks.

Nothing can be further from the truth. A successful business takes time and patience to build. You need long-term strategies to sustain you and weather the storm. Running a business requires patience; it is not a sprint but rather a marathon. You need to pace yourself when it comes to spending, planning, leading and building.

Related: The Path To Start-Up Success

Nadine von Moltke-Todd

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor-in-Chief: Entrepreneur.com South Africa

Nadine von Moltke-Todd is the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur Media South Africa. She has interviewed over 400 entrepreneurs, senior executives, investors and subject matter experts over the course of a decade. She was the managing editor of the award-winning Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa from June 2010 until January 2019, its final print issue. Nadine’s expertise lies in curating insightful and unique business content and distilling it into actionable insights that business readers can implement in their own organisations.

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