9th Dot is a consumer insight platform that gives individuals a “blank canvas” through which they can share their innovative ideas for improvements with businesses, and rewards consumers for successfully doing so. From the businesses’ perspective, they receive insightful information in the form of answers to questions they often don’t even know to ask. Last week, they offered up some advice for the interviewing process. Today, they share what to consider when starting your own business.
So you’re ready to take the plunge? You’ve got a great idea for a product or service that solves a problem with a huge market size, you’re well underway with developing the technology and have written more code than you ever thought possible, you’re already crafting your go to market strategy and you’ve thought through a business model that will scale seamlessly as your startup grows like a weed. Think again, and again after that.
Starting your own business is one of the most gratifying things a person can do. Take it from us, we thought careers in banking were exactly what we wanted until we had a taste of what entrepreneurship had to offer. From seeing your app published in the app store to hearing your first potential customer express interest in your product, starting a business will give you countless ups, but also plenty of downs.
The advice we never received, well, maybe we never sought out, is what exactly to expect before starting a company. Hindsight, 20/20 as it may be, will never provide all the answers, but it’s certainly given us some perspective that we’d like to share with other budding entrepreneurs.
With that in mind, we asked ourselves, what would have been most helpful for us before we started out?
First, for any milestone you set or any hurdle you want to cross in which you think things will become easier, guess again. For all the progress we’ve made, from writing the business plan, developing the technology, getting covered in TechCrunch, receiving a formal offer to join an accelerator program, and delivering our first demo to a customer, we’ve continued to learn one thing – it doesn’t get easier. No matter what your strategy for building your business, whether it be widespread user adoption, monetization from corporate clients, or a combination of both, be prepared for a long slog ahead with progress likely to come at a rate slower than you expect.
The reality is that it takes time to build a business. Viral marketing, hair on fire problem solving and growth hacking are all great buzz phrases, but none will be your cure all panacea as you look to build awareness of your startup and the problems it solves. Be creative in your go to market strategy. Ask friends and family what they think – they’ll likely give you feedback that will lead you to think and rethink ways in which you position your product in the marketplace.
Talk to your co-founders and then talk to them again. Communication and candor is paramount. As most investors will tell you, the number one reason startups fail is due to differences in opinions that co-founders are unable to reconcile. Founders agreements and incorporation papers are a great start, but nothing takes the place of addressing key questions early on:
– Do all of the co-founders share similar risk appetites? The idea of launching a startup is appealing to everyone, but tolerable by few. Make sure from the get go that everyone is prepared to give your startup the time and attention necessary to succeed before doing anything else
-Do all of the co-founders have the financial cushion necessary to give it a shot? No matter how much progress you make, and how quickly you make it, you’re a long way from being comfortable. Assuming you all have the patience to remain uncomfortable for a while, make sure everyone is prepared to forego a meaningful income for a while.
– Be prepared to change and change often. Pivoting is another one of those buzzwords in the startup industry, but it’s much simpler than that. While plenty of companies do truly pivot, in many cases more than once, we learned to simply not commit to anything other than having a clear vision to experiment and experiment often. We thought we had it figured out – our idea solves a major problem, a problem we vetted across several major VCs by sharing our business plan before embarking on our journey. We thought, “let’s get a little bit of media coverage and run some campaigns over Facebook and Twitter and we’ll be off to the races” – were we ever mistaken. Dampen your expectations and then dampen them again. Building a business and a brand takes time, endless amounts of energy, and above all a passion to see your idea grow into a business. Regardless of how good you think your go to market strategy is, think of as many ideas for building awareness for your product or service as you can, you’ll test them all and then think of some more.
Above all, don’t launch your startup because it’s cool to say you launched a startup or because you want to make a lot of money – neither of these reasons are likely to lead to success. Start a business because you see a solution to a problem that will only seem obvious after you’ve exhaustively told your story to customers and investors, and likely the rest of the World. We started 9th Dot, a crowdsourcing consumer insight platform, because we saw a tremendous opportunity to create a “win-win” situation for both consumers and businesses. Creating a platform that enables consumers to deliver insightful solutions to businesses and rewards them for doing so made a lot of sense to us, but it was the realization that we couldn’t live with ourselves if we did not that made us decide to slog it out. As we were told by one VC investor early on, “Remember, entrepreneurs are mostly irrational, driven by a passion for creating something where there was nothing and realizing a vision they couldn’t ignore. It’s like jumping off a cliff and having to build a plane before you hit the ground!”