Startups are hard, The hours are long, the pay is low – or non-existent – and failure is a constant threat. Plus, for most of us, there’s no training for them in school. Even if you succeed in developing a product with strong customer acquisition, you might fail at building a profitable business (just look at the majority of startups).
If you’re lucky enough to have a co-founder, you’ll have someone to share the challenges with, but even so, there are 10 things I wish I’d known when I was building my first startup:
- It’s OK to quit your job — but not required
- You can always try again 👈 So important to remember this!
- You don’t need that much money
- You don’t need that much help
- Find your users and talk to them
- Pick a niche and dominate it (or die)
- Simple beats complex (most of the time)
- No plan survives contact with reality
- Being busy is not the same as being productive
- You’ll never feel ready, so just launch it
A lot goes into the creation of a successful startup. It’s not just an idea, it’s a company. And it takes far more than a great idea to build a great company.
The journey of creating a startup is daunting. There are so many things to do and there are so many ways to screw up. Most entrepreneurs fail at their first try, but you don’t have to be one of them.
Before you take the plunge into entrepreneurship, here are some of the other things I wish I’d known before building my first startup.
- You need to really know what you want, and why you want it
- Learn how to come up with great business ideas
- Pick a niche and find out who loves that niche. Listen to what they say competitors don’t provide them.
- Test your idea for free before you dive in
- Stop being a snob about no-code
- Figuring out the size of the potential market
- First impressions matter – the importance of branding
- Cash flow, or managing your finances
- Don’t expect a magic bullet for success
- Doing things right the first time is more important than doing too much at once
- Key takeaways
You need to really know what you want, and why you want it
Every good idea starts with a great question: Why? That’s true for businesses and it’s true for the people who run them. Before you can succeed in business, you need to really know what you want, and why you want it.
If you’re starting a business because you’ve got big dreams for how it will change your life — and make you rich — you’re probably setting yourself up for failure. It’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy of what it might be like to be successful. But that’s not how things work. Starting a business is hard. It takes a lot of work and sacrifice, and not everyone who starts one is cut out for the journey.
To create a successful business that fulfills the vision you have for it, you first need to understand what you want. This can help you turn an idea into a business. When you know what your goals and dreams are, it will be much easier to find the right path and set up a company that can reach those goals and dreams.
It’s also important to understand why you want what you want. What are your motivations? Are you frustrated with your current employer? Are you bored with your current job? Are you tired of being made redundant every time your company goes through a restructuring program?
You’ve got to get really clear on what it is that’s pushing you into starting a business. Is it that you want more money? Is it that you want more freedom? Is it that you want to have no boss? Or are there other things that are pushing your buttons, other than just the money or the freedom or the flexibility of not having a boss?
Everything starts with understanding. Focus on figuring out exactly what it is that you want, even if that means writing down your thoughts or making a detailed list of everything that comes to mind. This may not always be easy to figure out, especially if this is your first time starting your own business. But getting really clear with yourself on what you want will make starting your business much easier. Once you have an idea of where you are going, it will be much easier to get there!
This is especially important when working with investors. You don’t necessarily need investors in order to start a business, but if you do, you’ll need their money and their expertise. They’re going to want to know what you want your business to become, so they can decide whether or not they think you have the ability to make it happen.
Understanding how your idea will play out in the future isn’t always easy, especially when you’re just getting started. But even if you have some uncertainty about how things will work out, that won’t necessarily hurt your chances of getting investment capital.
Investors are typically looking for potential more than they are for certainty. They want to see that there’s something there worth investing in before they put their money on the line.
Learn how to come up with great business ideas
A good business idea is about more than just making money. It needs to solve a problem and provide a service or use of product that people will want and need, and it has to be something that you can actually do.
If you’re looking for business ideas, you can mine your own experiences and interests or look to the needs and desires of your community. Perhaps there’s a hole in the market that needs filling or a problem people in your area would like solved. What can I sell? What do I like? What do I know? Often, the best business ideas come from things we enjoy doing or are interested in, or from things we need or wish we had.
There is no single secret to coming up with great ideas. Some people might come up with a great business just by doing what they love, but others need to draw on what they’ve learned in the past in order to do so.
If you have trouble coming up with just one good idea, try following the below steps:
- Make a list of all your skills, passions and hobbies
- Keep a notebook and keep a list of every time you encounter something that frustrates you
- List out the best and worst experiences you’ve had when dealing with other people or businesses
- Review these lists regularly!
If you’ve got an idea about how to make some money from something that interests or excites you – give it a shot. Even if it doesn’t work out right away, it will be great experience for when your next idea comes along.
Pick a niche and find out who loves that niche. Listen to what they say competitors don’t provide them.
One of the biggest challenges for new business owners is figuring out how to turn a great idea into something people will buy. This is especially true for those who have been working in a corporate environment and have never started a business before.
There are plenty of things that can help you turn an idea into a reality. One of the most important is doing your research. You need to learn everything you can about your market, who your competitors are and how they’re doing in the industry, and what your customers want.
The best place to start? The internet.
Business ideas are not difficult to come by. If you have a good idea, you will be able to find others who have already done it. Whether you’re planning on starting a blog, setting up a storefront or trying to make some extra money on the side, there are plenty of resources online that will help you learn about potential customers and discover the best niche to target.
So what’s the key to finding the right niche? Get specific. Find a small, narrow segment of the market you can serve well. If you do it well, you can grow from there. Finally, don’t try to reinvent the wheel every time. Look at existing review sites to learn what people don’t like about your competitors. Are you sure your product is better than theirs? Are you different enough to stand out? Are you doing one thing really well, or a number of things well?
Any website where people can post online reviews of products or services can be a good place to start. If you hear more than one person complaining about the same thing, there’s probably an opportunity for you to create something new and better.
To make the most of this research, you don’t want to just read existing reviews on G2, Amazon or Yelp. Make sure to include sites with lower barriers to entry for writing reviews, like Reddit or Quora.
These tend to attract more people who are passionate about an issue. They might not always be representative of the average customer, but they can be more engaged and loyal than the average consumer survey respondent.
Test your idea for free before you dive in
Everyone has ideas. Some are good, some are bad, but the only way to find out is to test them in the real world. We’re not talking about testing your idea on your friends and family; we mean finding out whether they would actually buy what you intend to sell, in sufficient quantities to make it worth setting up a business.
The simplest way to do this is simply to spend some money marketing your product or service, and see if people buy it. This isn’t always easy for a startup, especially if you have a limited budget, but it’s a good rule of thumb: spend a little time and effort testing your idea – and see if anyone bites – before you spend a lot of time and effort creating what you know will be a great product!
That’s essentially what the Lean Startup method is. By getting your product in front of real customers as early as possible, you can find out what they actually want and how much they’re willing to pay for it.
You don’t need a lot of money to get started. Even if you do have some cash, the best way to spend it is on making your prototype better and better until people are clamouring for it. Then you’ll know your business is ready to grow.
Here are the steps in the Lean Startup method:
- Identify your customer segments so that you can target them more effectively.
- Create a minimum viable product (MVP) that will do just enough to satisfy early adopters.
- Test the MVP with real customers for validation and refinement of your business model assumptions.
- Based on customer feedback, adapt or pivot by iterating between steps two and three until you’ve found product-market fit.
- Continuously improve by conducting further market tests (pivots) until you reach escape velocity or achieve high growth rate.
Three essential tools for testing your startup idea
Test your startup idea quickly and cheaply using these three methods.
The Elevator Pitch
Give a clear explanation of what you’re doing in about 30 seconds. Your elevator pitch should explain who your target customer is, what problem you are solving for them, why the solution is unique or better than alternatives, how you are going to make money, and your business model. If you can’t explain it in 30 seconds, try again until you can.
The Business Model Canvas
Use this tool to demonstrate how the business works at a high level. It’s a visual representation that shows how different elements work together to create revenues or profits for your company. The Business Model Canvas forces you to think through all of the major parts of your business model upfront instead of figuring it out as you go along.
Create an initial version of your product or service to test with customers before investing too heavily in it over time. Prototypes are useful because they force you to focus on creating something tangible rather than writing long-term plans that later come back to haunt you when real customers are involved.
Stop being a snob about no-code
Most people who want to start a business have a great idea for a product or service. They may even have a market in mind. But they don’t know how to go from an idea to a full-fledged company with customers, revenue and employees.
Most of the time, the missing link is technology. A new entrepreneur needs some way to take her idea and create a real product or service that customers can buy. And she needs a plan for getting those first customers and turning them into repeat buyers.
There are three approaches to building a new app or website: DIY, outsourcing to professionals, and no-code platforms.
Many entrepreneurs enjoy learning to code and use DIY (Do It Yourself) tools to create and launch their own product. This is a big decision because it requires a lot of time and knowledge. There is a steep learning curve associated with coding, and you could spend months or years learning how to build your own website.
The investment of time isn’t the only drawback, either. By using DIY tools, you’ll need to make sure you have the right technology for your project. You also need to require certain skills — such as interface design — that may not be part of your expertise set.
When you’re getting started on your business idea, building a good MVP can be tough. You might feel like you need to hire some developers to build you a simple prototype website, but that’s often not the best way to go about it.
If you’re serious about building a real business around it, then you need people who are just as enthusiastic about your idea as you are, and that means not hiring contractors or agencies who will likely lose interest once they get paid for their work.
What’s more, if your app or website is successful, it’ll grow fast and get more complex over time. It’ll become harder to work with freelancers, because they won’t be able to keep up with its development at that point. They’ll also likely be less motivated than an in-house team that’s vested in the success of the business too.
Which leads us to no-code!
No-code platforms are bringing down the barriers to entry for startups. These tools were developed to allow non-technical founders to launch a side project with ease. Now, these same platforms are being used to launch full-fledged businesses.
The best no-code platforms have two primary benefits:
- They allow you to create a functional product without needing to code. This allows you to get your idea out the door quickly, instead of waiting for an engineer to build it for you.
- They are affordable and scalable. No-code platforms are significantly cheaper than traditional software development shops because there is less overhead.
These benefits make no-code platforms the best choice for new founders who want to develop their idea into a profitable business without hiring an expensive team of engineers.
Figuring out the size of the potential market
This is a tough one for a lot of founders, but it’s key to turning a business idea into a million-pound company. You don’t need to know everything about your business idea before you start it up, but it helps to at least make an educated guess at the size of the market you’re aiming for.
The first step is to figure out how many people are already buying something like your idea. Then, think about how many would be interested in switching to your version.
Here’s how it works: Let’s say you’re thinking of starting a dog-walking business. One way to estimate the market size is to look at the number of dogs in the city and then multiply that by your price per walk.
That’s one way of doing it. A second approach would be to find out how many dog owners are already paying someone else for walks, and then try to convince them that they can get a better service by hiring you.
With this method, you might look at what percentage of dog owners use professional services versus private individuals or groups of friends who take turns walking each others’ pets. Then, think about why they might prefer one over the other — maybe professional services are more convenient or less likely to cancel last minute?
Once you know these numbers, you’ll be able to make a better assessment about entering this particular market and whether or not it’s right for your business idea.
First impressions matter – the importance of branding
There are a lot of ways a small business can go wrong, but a few tips for success can make a major difference. There are always going to be risks, but if you understand what those risks are and follow best practices, your chances for success will increase dramatically.
A lot of entrepreneurs get so wrapped up in what they do that they forget about how they do it. That’s a mistake. Your business is more than just the product or service you sell — it’s the entire customer experience.
An entrepreneur can get so caught up in their idea that they forget to think about how it will affect their customers. That’s why branding is so important — it gives you a chance to tell people about what you’re doing and why, and lets them know what to expect from your business.
The easiest way to start building your brand is to create a logo that reflects your business’s image. People don’t judge a book by its cover, but they do make snap judgments based on how your business looks and sounds. If you want to be taken seriously, you need a professional-looking logo, a simple and clear website, and a company-style email address.
Another important thing to remember is that branding extends beyond what your company looks like online. When meeting with potential investors or other professionals, be sure to represent yourself well. Take time to prepare for meetings; it shows that you’re committed to doing things right and handling your business carefully.
Cash flow, or managing your finances
How you manage your cash flow will play a big role in the success of your business. I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but many people fail to realise how important it is, and they end up getting themselves into trouble.
Cash flow is the term used to describe how money moves in and out of a business. It’s an integral part of any business because it helps you predict future financial performance and avoid surprises.
Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business, and it’s particularly important for new businesses. If your business is new or small, cash flow can be challenging to manage because you don’t have much in the way of assets or regular income to draw on. Without enough cash on hand to keep your business running, you’re in big trouble. That’s why you need to pay close attention to cash flow before, during and after launching your company.
You’ll need capital to start your business. It may be as simple as using credit cards or lines of credit for short-term expenses, or it might include getting a loan that will require collateral, such as a car or house. Regardless, you need to know how much money you’ll have at your disposal during the launch phase.
Watching cash flow also involves staying on top of all the bills related to your business. Make sure you know when payment is due on utilities, rent and other expenses that are critical to the survival of your company. Pay particular attention to making sure you always have enough money in reserve to handle unforeseen expenses that could end up sinking the company if not paid promptly.
During operation, monitoring cash flow is crucial because even successful businesses can often go through periods of tight cash flow due to unexpected expenses or slumps in sales. You can plan for these situations by keeping close tabs on revenue versus expenses over time so that if things are starting
Don’t expect a magic bullet for success
Starting a business is risky, but it can also be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. No matter how good your idea, starting a business isn’t easy. It takes hard work, dedication and persistence.
The following are some tips to help you succeed:
- Don’t quit your day job. If you have one, keep it. You’ll need the steady income to support yourself while your business gets off the ground.
- If you don’t have a business idea yet, start by doing research to find out what types of businesses are likely to succeed in your area. Look at similar businesses that are already up and running to see if there’s room for another similar company in the area. You might also want to ask yourself whether starting a business is even necessary or whether you can make money without owning an actual company. For example, if you have technical skills or experience with certain products or services, you could offer consulting services on a contract basis instead of trying to open your own shop.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If people think you’re over-promising just so they’ll buy into your idea, they won’t trust anything else you say either. Instead, be realistic about what you plan to accomplish and try not to promise
Even if you have a great business idea, there’s no magic bullet for success. If you’re an entrepreneur, your journey to becoming a successful business owner will be filled with ups and downs. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to just sit back and watch the money roll in – becoming a successful entrepreneur takes hard work and dedication.
We live in a world where people want solutions. We want to be told what to do and how to do it, because the idea of doing it on our own is just too daunting.
In business, we have a whole industry of experts who promise they have the secret to success — from the guru who promises “seven steps” or “five steps” or even just a single magic bullet that will solve all your problems.
The real world doesn’t work that way. The path to success is hard — hard because there’s no single solution, hard because you have to work hard, and hard because good things take time.
So don’t look for easy answers. Look for a system that matches your goals and skills, and then get started putting one foot in front of the other. The results will come as you go.
Doing things right the first time is more important than doing too much at once
Whether you’re starting a new business or expanding an existing one, it’s important to do things right the first time.
Many entrepreneurs rush into launching their idea without fully analysing the situation and making sure they’re ready, because they want to beat their competition to the market. If you do this, you might be successful in the short term, but long-term success will be harder to achieve.
A lot of startup failure can be traced back to not doing things right the first time.
Here are some of the most common reasons startups fail:
No market need
Do your research and make sure there’s demand for your product or service before you spend all that time and money on it. A lot of businesses fail because they spend too much time developing something nobody wants.
If you don’t have enough money to get your business off the ground, it’s going to be extremely difficult for you to succeed at all. You can’t expect investors to constantly bail you out if your business is constantly running out of money.
Things like failing to properly estimate startup costs, choosing an unproven location for your storefront or failing to find good employees are all examples of poor planning that lead to failure.
There is a lot that goes into starting a business, but in reality, it can come down to just a few things. These are things that you may already know, but when you are in the beginning stage of your startup, it is important to keep these in mind.
The first thing when starting a business is to make sure that you have the proper mindset. You need to be able to take any type of feedback or criticism and learn from it. You should never get so discouraged from failures that you give up on your dream of being your own boss. The best thing about being an entrepreneur is being able to create something from nothing and knowing that you do not have anyone else to rely on but yourself.
You also need to ask for help if you feel like you need it. There is no shame in asking others for advice on how they have accomplished their goals or even just asking them what they think of your idea. Other entrepreneurs have been where you are and they can offer great insights on how they got started, what worked and what did not work for them.
Once you have a solid idea of what direction you want to go, make sure that you focus on building relationships with those around you. Having good relationships with those around you will only help your business.