Lessons I learned in the last couple of years building a startup and freelancing.
I have been fascinated by the Startup Weekend concept the first time I took a part in it, back in 2012 in Aarhus, Denmark. Since then, I have grown significantly on the matter of entrepreneurial mindset, improved my networking and people skills, connected with so many inspiring individuals and their unique stories, failed a lot, discovered new things and learned to enjoy my life no matter what happens.
Last weekend, on the 20–22 November of 2015, I’ve participated in my 4th Startup Weekend, organised by Hubud, a co-working space in Ubud, Bali. One thing was different, I’ve been honored to be one of the coaches that help people with their idea validation, business model, value proposition, design and execution.
Below are 21 powerful business lessons for first-time entrepreneurs, I have learned in the last couple of years building a startup, freelancing and working with Fortune 500 companies. Hopefully, these lessons will help you avoid the potential mistakes and save you lots of time and money.
Build a rockstar team
Ideas are good, but only a great team will execute it in the world class manner. Don’t be blind when forming your team, find out what fires them up, what are their dreams, ask the following question “If you had all the money in the world, what would make you rich?”. Listen to your gut and form a rockstar team. I’ve worked with top class professionals and I can tell you that attitude always wins over skill.
Invest in design
No matter how innovative your solution, technology, business model or vision is, it has to be presentable. According to research by 3M Corporation, “90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text”. Great design is invisible, it has an emotional connection with the receiver, sends the message on a deeper level. As Steve Jobs said, the design is not just what it looks like and feels like, the design is how it works.
Have a clear vision
I’d often talk to people or potential contractors who have an idea for an app, website or a business and they wouldn’t tell me until I’d sign the NDA (non-disclosure agreement), basically meaning that I can not tell anyone about their idea. The thing is, it’s naive to think that someone will steal your idea if that’s the case, your idea is not so good. Forget about that and focus on your vision. Everyone can copy features, but your vision and execution is where you will excel.
Is it a painkiller or a vitamin
Business is a very simple concept, you provide value by solving a problem and people pay you for that. If your solution is not killing the pain but just postpones it, chances are that no one will pay you money for your product. When creating a product ask yourself a very simple question “Is it a nice to have or must have?”, if the answer is must have, then move on.
Do things that don’t scale
The first thing fresh entrepreneurs want to do is to hit big. First of all, distill your idea and apply it on the small focus group, test your MVP (minimum viable product) and work on getting the perfect market fit. If it means personally emailing your first 500 users, do that, if it means hard-coding a static prototype, do that, if it means manually handling payments, do that. Once you do things that don’t scale you don’t waste time on building something that might work. Instead test-proof your concept and perfect your sales funnel as well as customer journey to get to know your strongest and weakest points that can be fixed once you’re ready to scale up.
Do less, but do it better
Every beginner entrepreneur wants to have more features, be cheaper and that way win against the competition. The thing is, doing more and offering it for cheaper doesn’t get you more of an advantage. Better focus on a single problem, master solving it and become the best at it. Once you design it and decide to sell it, do your marketing part better. It’s all about these small details and quality.
Focus on a big market but take a unique approach
Instead of focusing on say, accounting, narrow it down and focus on accounting for freelance makeup artists, your product will essentially be the same but you will have a clear audience and easier marketability.
Don’t get caught in the $0.99 game
Focus on value-based pricing instead of being the cheapest option in the market. It’s better to have fewer customers who pay you big bucks rather than having thousands of customers who pay you cents.
Listen to your customers and nail your USP
You may have heard this before “I am the target audience, I am the customer, I know what I need”. Don’t assume things, skipping validation will set you for failure. Come up with basic hypotheses and unusual tests to test them. It’s better to invest time in validation and fail miserably than invest years and dollars to find out that nobody cares about your product.
Be patient and prepare for 3–5 years of hard work
This is what people tend not to talk about. It will certainly take you 3 to 5 years of hard work to start seeing some signs of success. You will have to develop that sense of building the right team, talking and listening to your customers, analysing the market, nailing your sales process, networking, pitching your idea and learning from your own mistakes.
Listen to your team
As previously mentioned ideas don’t determine success. A balanced team is more important than ideas. Focus on creating a perfect environment for your team to first enjoy life and then do the work. Miscommunication, value conflicts and general interest can destroy your startup at a very early stage.
Be the leader that everyone wants to become not the one everyone fears
Leaders are not meant to be praised, work the least and take all the rewards. Leaders are to serve, to support, to go the extra mile to make sure everyone gets what they want and contributes to the shared vision.
Don’t stop learning
When I talk to the old school businessmen and mention one of the previous concepts or ideas they just laugh at and tell me “boy, don’t tell me how to run my business, I know the best”. Yes, you may know what is the best for your business, but constant learning and improving will take you to the new heights and will allow you to not only grow your business but evolve as a person and have a more enjoyable life. Read books, take courses and trainings, hire a coach and become the best version of you.
Opinions are like a**holes, everyone has it
Believe in yourself and your ideas. Pursuing dreams is not easy and everyone will try to tell you something about it. It’s good to have someone advising you, but it can become harmful. Listen to opinions and make notes but don’t blindly follow everything people tell you.
Don’t take your business too personally
Your business won’t take care of you when you get sick or feel down, your friends and family, however, will. Focus on your health, family and friend relationships.
Don’t get defensive with your ideas
It’s all about your ego, it thinks your idea is the best, or the right one. It does’t matter if it’s the best one you want just to be right. Become more aware of it. It’s ok to like your ideas but learn to let go and focus on getting the best of the collective minds.
Don’t blame yourself for mistakes
You will make mistakes, often when you start, realise that failure is a part of the learning process and fail fast and often to learn the most in no time. Things may not go well for your business and you will start beating yourself for small things that happen in your personal life too, don’t do that, accept them, learn and adapt. No need for excuses and explanations.
The world still turns if you fail and no one cares as much as you do
Accept the fact that no one cares as much as you do, and it’s ok, people have other interests, beliefs and motivations. Be confident with your idea and actions but don’t overreact when things go wrong and you face failure.
Practice public speaking
Public speaking is a huge part of a successful pitch, practice pitching to anyone, a lot, anytime you can. Many times you will have an idea but no right words or experience to fire up other people about it and gather the best supporters possible.
Focus on the team culture
Build a welcoming and enjoyable environment. Give autonomy, organise parties, go outside and play together. Make it so unique that people would talk about it and wait for the next working day.
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Change the world
You’re responsible for making our world a better place. Making money is fun, but living to your purpose, making a positive impact & making money is way more fun. Give back, stay humble and conquer the world with kindness and honesty, it’s all that matters at the end.
This article was originally published at tomaslau.com on November 25th, 2015