We share the best advice for startup founders that we gleaned from our experiences with successful entrepreneurs.
Many young entrepreneurs want to build their own businesses for similar reasons that young actors still flock to Hollywood by the busload.
They want to the glitz, the glamour, the pool parties, and the recognition.
Yet, most do not make it in the end and we compile pieces of advice that we, ourselves, have received from those who have done it before.
Here’s a list of advice that will get you started on your entrepreneurial journey:
Polish your Public Speaking Skills
Learn public speaking. If there is one skill that is universal, and critical to every situation, it’s the ability to communicate effectively verbally.
It is the one skill that I have found is common to all the great entrepreneurs I have ever met – and is also a skill that is very underdeveloped in most adults.
“A-Players Hire A-players, B-players Hire C-players.” – Steve Jobs
Surround yourself with the best talent you can, the top people you can find. They are worth the cost. Do everything you can to hire, retain, and motivate them.
Find partners who are experts in an area you aren’t, who possess the talents that you are lacking. As a first-time entrepreneur, your idea is going to change.
The monetization strategy may pivot, consumer adoption may stall, and things could get dire. You will need a solid group around you to successfully build your idea and execute.
Why is hiring A players critical?
Like attracts like. A top notch database designer is going to bring in a top notch web designer, who will attract the top sales and marketing team.
A-players are attracted to working with a talented team that can execute. They will set the culture of excellence at your company early on. You want the A-players leading and setting the tone.
They aren’t threatened by people who know more than them.
Instead they want to work with people smarter than them.
They are quick to admit what they don’t know, and learn from those who can teach them. They are working for long term growth, not short term ego boosts.
They aren’t afraid of sunk costs.
As your idea, strategy, and goals change you are going to incur sunk costs.
It is better to cut bait quickly and move on.
Always make the best decision now.
A-players are less prone to being swayed by decisions, time, or money they’ve already lost.
To get more of Steve Jobs’s insights, we have written about Lessons to Learn from Steve Jobs for your Startup.
Carve out a niche
Despite what mass media would lead us to believe, you don’t need to be the creator of the iPhone, or Facebook or the electric car to have something unique to offer the world.
Some ideas simply do what’s always been done but cheaper or better. Some ideas come along and try tackle an existing problem from a slightly different angle. And yes, some ideas are brand new and revolutionary in what they have to offer the world.
Wherever your idea sits on this spectrum is far less important than why YOU and YOUR BUSINESS are uniquely positioned to offer your customers something they simply can’t get from anyone else.
What that something is will be entirely up to you.
Are you better? Faster? Cheaper? Friendlier? More available? The possibilities are endless. What matters is why customers should choose you over others.
Understand your competition and what makes you different, but focus on what makes YOU great – not them.
Every problem has a solution
When your default starting point is the belief that every problem is able to be overcome, the ensuing next-steps are naturally…
Understand the universe of available options
Weigh up their relative pros and cons
Make the best decision that’s available to you here and now
Don’t fix your problems. Fix your thinking. Then your problems fix themselves. One of the greatest advice for startup founders that I’ve received personally.
You’re not the first one to have that problem…
Unless you’re Einstein spelling out the laws of relativity or Newton discovering why stuff falls to the ground, there are very few problems for which you, or I (or anyone for that matter) will be the first person that’s ever needed to figure it out.
We live in fortunate times – in the age of information, ignorance is a choice. And the sort of problems aspiring business owners need to solve on a day-to-day basis are commonly problems of a technical or informational nature.
Need to source the cheapest product? Google it!
Need to understand how international shipping works? Watch a YouTube video.
Need to learn how to code? Enroll in a free Udemy online course.
As an example, I received quotes for building the Pad Lifter website that ranged between the “cheapest” option of $12,500 through to an upper-end of $42,000.
After signing up with WordPress for free, learning basic coding, finding some free (or near-free) plugins, and teaching myself how to create explainer videos; I ended up building the entire site for a total cost of $517.07.
To build a website, you will need a domain name (around $9/year) and a web hosting account ($5/month). Then you will setup a WordPress site on your hosting account. For hosting, we recommend using Siteground given their robust support ticket system that includes live chat.
In addition to the financial savings; I now know about Content Management Systems, web design and development, SEO, web hosting, graphic design for web and online marketing – just to name a few new skills.
All of these are as a result of having learnt off the time-tested knowledge, skills and capabilities of experts that live and breathe these things on a day-to-day basis. I plan on leveraging these new skills in everything and anything I continue to do.
Be resourceful. Seek out expert (often free) advice and save yourself from re-inventing the wheel in overcoming each and every little hiccup you encounter.
Knowing what doesn’t work is as important as knowing what does
It’s one thing to pass the chemistry test by memorizing the textbook. It’s another thing to pass it because you understand how atoms and molecules actually work.
Taking the time to educate yourself on the universe of options and their relative pros and cons is an investment in ensuring that the answer you arrive at is the right one for the right reasons.
It is also an investment in your knowledge domain that’ll build the necessary experience and context that makes making future decisions easier too.
As an example, there are many pricing table plugins available for WordPress. The leading plugins are all very similar, yet each offer something slightly unique (they obviously read Lesson #1!)
Deciding which one was right for me required downloading the trial versions from a top-5 shortlist and simply investing some time in road-testing each to determine fit and suitability.
Much of the CSS coding I learnt in making modifications to the “wrong” four that weren’t selected taught me the skills I needed to make near-exact changes in minutes – not hours – to the “right” one that ultimately was selected.
As long as you’ve done your due diligence, and made the best decision off the available information, don’t mark yourself too hard on a less-than-perfect outcome. In many instances you will not get it right the first time round.
And so long as you learn from your mistakes and make better decisions next time, you’ll be better off for having made the wrong decision for the right reasons than the right decision for the wrong reasons.
It’ll get lonely
Somewhere along the way, something will have triggered a desire within you to transform an idea living in your head into a living, breathing (and hopefully profitable) operational business.
The operative word here is ‘your’.
Whether it was a light-bulb moment in the middle of a salsa class, or a visit from the ghost of great auntie Beatrice in your sleep; the point is – they are your ideas.
Don’t expect others to fully conceive of the vision or share your passion. Don’t let the absence of a live and operational business dilute your drive or determination. Don’t allow self-doubt or hesitation to replace your hunger and appetite.
Maintain the resolve to build the world-class business you’ve envisaged from day-1 and let its success be testimony to what you’ve been able to see all along.
If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not pushing hard enough
If it were easy, someone would’ve already done it. That’s how easy things work. And building a business is hard; building a successful business even harder. It may sound cliché, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Without the tenacity and determination to plow through the challenges, the best you can hope for is mediocrity. And bad news… great is the new good (which means good is the new average).
But here’s the good news… there’s no substitute for getting your own hands a little dirty.
Your scars will be evidence of the battles you’ve overcome, and each battle you fight makes you better prepared for the next one that’s inevitably waiting around the corner.
Line up all your ducks
After the obvious requirement of having a product the market actually wants; the success of any business will be a function of maximizing all of the variables that are within your control, minimizing the variables outside of your control, and adapting accordingly by rolling with the punches.
The likelihood of success within each of these spheres will be naturally heightened by doing as much groundwork and pre-planning as possible to mitigate any gotchas that lurk in your blind spots.
When you combine your passion with your likely bank balance, it will be tempting to launch your business by yesterday and simply course-correct on the fly.
Make sure that prior to launching, you’re not misled by false economies of a quick buck made today at the expense of big bucks lost tomorrow.
As an example, a strategic decision was made to hold off on Padlifter’s formal launch until completing the build-out of a bank of free hosting tips. This was despite having a fully-functional site with market-ready products and a backlog of referral customers knocking at the door.
Aside from wanting to shoot the lights out on our competitor’s hosting tips and resources, why was this decision made?
We understood that we’d simply have less bandwidth to dedicate the time required to producing the high-quality outputs we wanted and needed these to be once live. They were crucial to our integrated marketing plan, and provide cumulative marketing benefits that we needed to become the beneficiaries of sooner rather than later.
So what seemed on paper to be a large upfront delay was in reality a strategic investment that’ll enable us to simultaneously grow the business whilst focusing without distraction on what we do best – helping Airbnb hosts make more money.
Ensuring that you’ve dotted all your i’s, crossed all your t’s, and thought through how everything is going to come together will save you a ton of headaches, prevent lost efficiencies and drive profit down the track.
Prior to launching your business, pause momentarily to ensure that you’ve front-loaded the things it makes sense to have completed, tested your products and processes, and future-proofed your business to the fullest extent you’re able to. You’ll thank yourself shortly for taking this startup advice to heart.
Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. And whilst being able to boast about a long string of all-nighters, or the 25-hour work days you pull may seem like a badge of honor, they are actually evidence of an inability to create a healthy, viable and sustainable business operation.
At some point, you’ll need to graduate your thinking about work from something that sitsalongside your life, to something that sits within it.
You’ll gain benefits from maintaining social connections and non-work pleasures that you simply can’t get from running – even succeeding in – your business; no matter how passionate you are about whatever it is you do.
The flow-on effects of these positive vibes will feed the resilience you need to carry you through the tough times and build the business you inevitably want to build.
Extremes are easy. Work towards balance.
Small victories are more important than big ones
In the pursuit of success, it will be tempting (and necessary) to continue reverting back to daydreams of sipping piña coladas on your private yacht in the Mediterranean.
But on a day-to-day level, you will need to ride the waves of satisfaction that come from far less grandiose victories.
These will be the fuel that’ll carry you through the daily trials and tribulations of simply taking a business from concept to reality.
The big victories are too few and far between to provide you with the sustenance you need to maintain your resolve throughout the long game.
If you forget about people, then you can forget about profit
You may be driven to build your business for any number of reasons. At the end of the day, the distinguishing feature of businesses from any other organization type is its pursuit of profit as its principle raison d’être.
Despite this, never forget that at the center of everything and anything the business will do, does do, and could do; are PEOPLE.
PEOPLE will be its profitable customers.
PEOPLE will be its hard-working employees.
PEOPLE will be its suppliers that offer favorable pricing.
Do not be fooled by the legal fictions we create that businesses are the same as the people that operate and interact with them.
Treating your people well – whomever they may be – is about the closest thing that comes to a golden rule of good business.