If you want to truly prepare yourself for some of the more unexpected and challenging aspects of entrepreneurship, it’s crucial to take notes from those who have paved the way for us.
Here are six crucial startup lessons for new founders.
Stay true to your mission
The path to startup success is the furthest thing from straightforward. As you navigate the often times very murky waters of business, it’s easy to lose sight of your mission. You need to let your core mission and ideology be your guide.
There’s a reason for why you wanted to become an entrepreneur in the first place. That is what drives you every day. You need to constantly remind yourself why you’ve embarked on your journey. This will keep you moving closer to your ultimate objective.
Become a master of all
As the founder it’s your job to make sure the job gets done. Whether it’s sales, marketing, product development, PR, HR, or accounting you’re the one employee responsible for it all. Eventually the company will be in a position to hire individuals to take on these specific tasks. Until then, it’s in your best interest to become an expert at everything.
Let’s say you’re a non-technical founder. When you go out to hire your development team and even a CTO it’s probably in your best interest to learn about the technology right? Of course it is. In fact, any experienced engineer will always stress how important it is to have a manager or boss who has experience building the technology or at least extensive knowledge in it. Learn how to speak the language, be involved in product sprints, and take the time to sit down with your engineers. This also applies to every other job that needs to get done. Remember, you need to become a master of all.
Don’t let your ego get in the way of the company
As a startup founder you’re the one in charge. In nearly every case, you’re the CEO. As you continue to build the business you’ll naturally become more attached to that position. After all, who knows how to operate the business better than the person who started it?
In the early stages of business it makes the most sense for the founder to act as the CEO. However, startups are very dynamic. As the company grows, the responsibilities for that CEO position may change drastically. At that time you, the founder, may no longer be the best fit for the CEO position. Here’s where ego comes into play.
As you can imagine, founders aren’t always so willing to step down. They don’t want to accept the fact that they aren’t the right individual to lead the business. The longer the founder stays as CEO, the more detrimental it is to the company as a whole. That said, it’s imperative that you don’t let your ego get in the way of the company. When the time comes to step down and or change roles, you need to do what’s best for the business and not your ego.
Get in front of customers early
It’s all too common for founders to want to perfect their products or services before getting in front of their customers. The truth is, no product is perfect and no idea is fully formed. Thanks to technology advancing at such a rapid rate, there will always be ways to improve your products or continue to flush out new ideas.
That all said, you need to make an effort to get in front of your customers as early as possible. Let’s say you’re building a mobile application that allows students to receive tutoring help via video chat. Let’s call it the “Uber” for tutoring.
Your ideal customers are pretty clear. You need to find both students who often seek tutoring, and subject matter experts who want to earn some extra dough teaching those in need. The question now becomes, is your product the one they’re looking for?
To test this theory you need put the application in the hands of a few students and tutors. You don’t need to have a beautifully designed app and it doesn’t even need to be fully functional. Determine the minimum viable product (MVP) and start testing!
Listen carefully to your customers
This is directly related to the point made above. The reason why you want to get in front of customers early is because you need to get their feedback on the product.
You’ve probably got an experienced team of engineers, product managers, and marketers but your customers are the ones who truly bring your product to life. They are the ones who know your product inside and out. The feedback they give whether it’s a feature suggestion or a complaint it’s all extremely valuable. In fact, this feedback often dictates what you should be building.
Be open minded to customer feedback. Sometimes they’ll tell you things you don’t want to hear. Maybe they hate the new feature you spent 3-months developing. Maybe they prefer the mobile version over the desktop. Whatever it is, they’re the ones filling your bank account. So it’s in your best interest to listen.
Learn how to say ‘no’
As you build your business you will be presented with new opportunities daily. When these opportunities are presented it may seem counterintuitive to turn them down. As the founder it’s your job to evaluate both the costs and rewards associated with every decision. If you blindly take every opportunity that comes your way it’ll surely cost you down the road.
A great example of this is startup fundraising. One would think, if someone is willing to give you a check it’s in your best interest to always take it. Investors can provide a ton more value than just capital. They serve as advisors who are motivated to make your business a success. In some cases it may be more worth it to take investment at a worse valuation if it’s coming from a more valuable investor. The point is, don’t always jump the gun and say ‘yes’. Even if it involves getting funded.
At the end of the day any and every startup lesson is best learned through experience. That said, get out there and start building!