If you’re on the journey of founding your first startup, you’re most likely putting in your heart and soul into making it a success. You might have aspired to become one of the many looked-up-to ‘unicorns’ of the world, or perhaps studied the sudden collapse of other startups in an effort to avoid common pitfalls.
Yet in the early, fairly unglamourous stages of setting up your own business, you’re rarely told about the smaller lessons and insecurities from those who’ve been in your place – the things that are more likely to keep you sane and make you feel less alone.
Opening up the dialogue, five of the founders from the Simpleweb startup community have shared some of the things they learned, the advice they would give to other founders and the things they wish they’d have known if they were to go back to the early stages of growing their businesses.
I wish I’d known that there isn’t a single silver bullet
Tessa Clarke (pictured above left) is the co-founder of food-sharing startup OLIO. The startup was founded in 2015 and completed its Series A funding round at $6M last year.
Tessa says: “To coin Ben Horowitz, I wish I’d known that there isn’t a single silver bullet – just hundreds, if not thousands of lead bullets. I think that would’ve managed our expectations better.”
Validate the business model before trying to scale up
Tom explains: “If I could’ve done anything differently it would be to cost twice as much and take twice as long.
“All jokes aside, it is important to take time at the start to understand the customer and really identify the need you’re solving. Ideally, also validate the business model before trying to scale up. I used a lot of time and money ramping up sales on a business model we eventually pivoted away from.”
He adds: “I could have saved time and money upfront by carrying out more customer research and doing more testing right at the beginning.”
Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you
Van is the co-founder of Space for Arts, a US-based platform that’s solving one of the biggest problems for photo and video production professionals – finding and booking photo studios for high-end photoshoots.
Van suggests: “Don’t allow yourself to be blinded by the purity of your own vision. I’ve seen too many folks that are so convinced that their vision is pure and presents the best and only solution to a problem that they fail to see that their original assumptions are flawed.
“Being an entrepreneur requires great intellectual curiosity but also intellectual honesty. You really need to be sufficiently nimble, humble, self-aware and honest to adapt and recalibrate. Drive and focus are vital but honesty and the ability to process what you are learning, even if it means you need to call it a day and move on, is critically important.”
- Meet Space for Arts: The startup that’s re-booting the professional photography community
“This moves directly into the need to listen”, he adds. “Listen to all your constituencies. What are potential users, customers, clients, members, partners, vendors and others telling you, both directly and indirectly. Process this information and adapt.
“It’s also important to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. You need to be sufficiently confident to empower every member of your team through mutual respect.
“It is going to be hard and will take longer and be more difficult than you think. You will be surprised by both the upsides and the downsides.
“Finally, remember that it’s important to let go sometimes. Entrepreneurs need to be able to handle a large degree of uncertainty not to mention a bit of chaos and a lot of rapid change. The process defies the control that some entrepreneurs crave.”
I wish we’d founded Giki sooner
Jo Hand is the co-founder of Giki Badges. Founded in 2017, Giki is a sustainable shopping companion app that informs you about the products you buy and the companies you buy them from.
Jo tells us: “I wish we’d founded Giki sooner because it is so satisfying and enables us to do something we truly believe in. However, had we done it when we were younger, we would have missed out on all the great life and professional experiences that have made things just a little bit easier.”
Gather proof points as early in the process as possible
Steve is the founder of Invite Agents a platform founded in 2018 that helps homeowners to find and compare local estate agents so they can find the right one to sell their home.
Steve says: “ Proof is everything – whilst you and your nearest and dearest may think your idea is the next unicorn, others will be more sceptical. One of the key things I have learnt throughout our journey so far is to try and validate the idea and gather proof points as early in the process as possible.
“Not only will this make it significantly easier to gain access to funding but it will also invariably provide feedback from your customers that will help your initial idea to evolve. The initial ‘Invite Agents’ has changed significantly over the past 6 months of testing and only now are we in a strong position to raise funds.”
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If you’d like to discuss your startup or project, get in touch with Simpleweb today.