5 Tips for the Early Stages of a Startup

 
Blog Posts, Entrepreneurship

Editor: One of the most enjoyable things I do alongside running Target Internet is teaching on the MSc and MBA programmes at  Imperial College and Cranfield Universities. These are both world class universities and as such it means the students are smart, motivated and many of them go on to start their own businesses. As such, one group went on to start www.theydontloveyou.com, an online magazine/blog looking at interesting and innovative marketing campaigns. They started the site when they were still studying and have faced some huge challenges along the way (and its only just beginning).  They have been kind enough to share 5 of their key learnings below and I have chipped in my opinions and experience as well. Daniel.

Enter Riccardo and Ferdinand……..

Choose the right team

Starting a business is similar to engaging in a relationship: you give and equally expect commitment, passion, and trust. Who you work with is an absolute key decision and one that you should make sure is well thought over. As entrepreneur James Caan highlights, you should always hire people better than you; but this is only the starting point of it. In a good team, knowledge and skills have to be complementary and you should always make sure that the communication is right. Update your peers about new thoughts and arrange personal meetings rather than Skype meetings. Everybody should be able to critique and motivate, and responsibilities must be clearly allocated. At the end of the day, your team will be your family; the people you rely on when you have a bad day and the people you are happy to help out too. In most cases, your team will have a larger impact on your business than you could possibly have yourself. Choosing wisely will definitely make your life easier.

Editor: I couldn’t agree more that recruitment is one of the most important decisions you can make in your business. In fact, we resisted recruiting at all at Target Internet for as log a possible and worked as a ‘lean business’ minimising staff and premises until absolutely essential. This meant we had plenty of time to understand exactly what we actually needed, not what our original plan told us we needed. The challenge really comes though when your business starts to grow and you have to manage your team in a different way. What if you don’t see the whole team that regularly due to remote working or schedules that don’t cross paths? What about when the team needs to grow VERY quickly – will you still make the right recruitment decisions?  This blog on ‘Growing Right’ from Will McInnes at Brandwatch is essential reading.

Value feedback and act on it

Every entrepreneur has experienced this horror scenario: you work for days and nights on this new, groundbreaking idea of yours, but the feedback you receive is nowhere near your expectations. No reason to jump over board! All feedback you receive is meant to be good. Don’t get stuck with ideas that no one, except from you, appreciates. Instead, go out and talk about your thoughts to hear what people would do differently. Try to get different points of view, too. Approach experts as well as non-experts. Obviously, you should not try to satisfy everybody, but find a balance. The more critique you receive, the more you are aware of problems and the quicker you can act on them. You will soon appreciate why the world’s leading companies conduct surveys, in-depth interviews and focus groups.

Editor: A careful balance is needed here. Identify the problem you are solving clearly but don’t necessarily listen to everyone else’s solutions. Decisions by committee are generally terrible. However there is an entire TV genre based on small business owners bing given advice and then stubbornly choosing to ignore it. Just think Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares and you’re on the right path! Part of being a successful entrepreneur is knowing when to listen and bing brave enough to know when not to.

Do what you love

In recent years, companies such as Google, Apple and Red Bull have put greater emphasis on working environments. They allow more flexible working hours, entertain their employees in offices and organise free-time experiences. All this leads back to making work more fun. Numerous scientific experiments have proven that the more you love what you are doing, the greater are your chances to succeed. Productivity increases, too. Therefore, you should carefully consider whether or not you are willing to fully commit yourself to one given idea. Ask yourself questions like: ‘Do I see myself working for this startup for the next 5 years?’ Make sure you are aware of your venture’s up- and downsides before starting. Ideally, it should be your number one passion, but even if this is not the case, try to pull out the areas that are of particular interest to you and try to improve on them. Every entrepreneur will tell you that loving what you do makes your life much easier.

Editor: You need to make sure you really understand what running your business means you will actually be doing on a day-to-day basis. Friends of mine decided to start a tiny art gallery with the idea in mind that they would spend a life surrounded by art and artists. Actually they essentially ended up as shop keepers that had to do a lot of DIY (hanging pictures and painting walls white repeatedly). Will you be able to cover the boring stuff and do you really need to? One of my greatest lessons has been to learn what I am good at (or at least enjoy doing) and then outsource/build partnerships for the rest. 

Ask for support

Building a startup is a tough job and it is very unlikely that you will succeed without the help of the right people. That is why asking for support is absolutely critical. Find any chance you have to expand your network of contacts, leverage your connections and be shameless. You will be amazed by how many people will try to help you in some way. However, bare in mind that networking is useless if you do not have precise goals in mind. Are you looking for technical support? Are you looking for funding? Or simply for someone willing to sponsor your venture? Don’t try to reach out to a co-founder on the first meeting; you are the underdog and you need to build your credibility. Start with your closest connections, your friends, your family and colleagues, and only then reach out to major influencers. Ideally, you should give them a reason to support you; ask yourself: ‘How can my venture be useful to them?’ Networking must be a win-win situation.

Editor: The only reason that Target Internet even came to reality in the first place is because of one or two individuals in my network that gave us a chance. They agreed to do business with us even though we weren’t a fully fledged business yet. This was a win-win though, as we got we needed to get started and they got a service at an incredible price that was flexible and keen to service the account. I really believe in focussing on your relationships as an individual within business and being generous with your  time as it almost always pays back in my experience.

Define your boundaries

Your personal life does not have to end once you caught the “startup fever”. As an entrepreneur, you must be success-driven and ready to put a lot of effort in your business venture, but that does not mean working 24/7. Having a decent work-life balance is necessary to give your brain some rest and keep yourself focused.  This is even more important if you already have another job or if you are a university student. When we launched our marketing magazine They Don’t Love You (www.theydontloveyou.com) we were still Masters students and we had to find the time for our exams and assignments. It is therefore important to stay organized, be rigorous with your schedule and set space and time boundaries outside of which you do not allow work to sneak into your personal life calendar. Working at night will not ensure the success of your startup; it is the quality of work that matters. Furthermore, you need to set financial boundaries and plan an exit strategy. How much are you willing to spend or borrow? What is the “worst case scenario” and how can you avoid it?

Editor: Worst case scenario planning can also take the stress out of things surprisingly! Once you realise the worst case scenario is being broke, you might actually start to consider what that actually means in practice. I’d far rather be broke than spend years doing a job I hate and being miserable (although it took me years of doing jobs I didn’t really enjoy to realise that). A sense of perspective is essential but also be careful of the myth or work/life balance. Work is part of life, and if I separate it off too much I’ll settle for it being not so great. I’m not suggesting that work will not be a slog and exhausting and stressful from time to time. But also don’t underestimate how much of our self worth be derive from what we do, how it can give us a creative outlet and the opportunities for personal growth it offers. Any achievement worth having is hard fought, otherwise it wouldn’t be seen as valuable. I look at the success we’ve had at Target Internet (and we’re only at the beginning of a journey too) and I have realised that much of it is about trying to be focussed while just keeping on chipping away at a goal relentlessly.

I really do wish the whole team at http://www.theydontloveyou.com/ success and I’ll trying to offer support and advice along the way. We’ll keep you posted on how they get on.

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