When starting a business, you’re going to make mistakes. Even if you’ve done it a handful of times (successfully or not), mistakes are common. Of course, you will learn a ton from the mistakes you make; but there are plenty of new mistakes left to make.
Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom. Far from it.
There are plenty of reasons to create a startup, and few mistakes are really death knells. Plus, there are tons of great resources online where you can learn from the mistakes (and successes!) of others. Granted, learning from reading isn’t the same as learning from experience, but it doesn’t hurt.
Simon Tennant writes a wonderfully titled post, 10 Habits of Highly Effective Founding, where he relies on his own experience to provide ten tips on how to better found a startup.
I agree with the bulk of what Simon says, but wanted to extend the conversation just a bit…
Who are your customers?
“Confirm your customer constituency before you start. Developing your idea for an imaginary group of people will never work. Make sure you have a customer base. Confirm that your idea solves a problem of one of your close personal friends, or someone you know, before you even start.”
Close, personal friends are tricky sources of information – they’re often “yes” people; saying “yes” to almost anything because they’re friends. Family tends to be the same. So be cautious of that when approaching friends for insight into your business idea.
There are other ways of assessing the market.
Make a list of potential key clients, industry experts and potential partners. Network your way into relationships with these groups, casually, and see if you can’t get some feedback on your idea. With Standout Jobs, I’ve been speaking to HR people, HR experts and others to get interesting input back.
A product with no market is useless. But one thing you’ll likely discover is that your original idea changes several times before you launch. Simon makes reference to this but only in terms of strategy. For a lot of startups, their core product ideas change. So focusing too heavily on potential customers only to shift your product significantly a few months in could be wasted effort.
Looking over your shoulder at the competition
Next, Simon tackles the important issue of competition:
“Assume competition is already out there
Since ideas are cheap and easy to come by, assume there are at least five competitors already working on yours. And assume they have a 6 month start on you. Depressing eh? Sure, but preparing yourself this way will help you.”
At the very early stages of a company, it’s best to just ignore your competition.
If you focus on competition, two things will happen:
- You’ll constantly have the holy crap reaction to competition which instills fear and panic; and,
- You’ll start copying your competitors, playing the “me too” game.
It may be impossible to ignore competition completely. And you can gain some valuable insights by paying attention, just don’t overdo it.
Don’t Just Mimic, Get Help
Simon has a good piece of advice when it comes to finding help:
“Mimic people you admire. Sometimes you won’t know how to best use your time; what task to prioritize over all the others at a given time. Here’s a trick I use when I’m struggling: Think of someone in your industry whose work you admire – how would they be using their time? Mimic them.”
Take that a step further: get a mentor.
There are too many stumbling blocks, pot holes and pitfalls starting a business to not bring on board a mentor. No mentor is perfect, but find someone who’s “been there, done that” and can help guide you through the startup minefield and open doors to key relationships and clients.