The introduction of the cloud for hosting web applications has made it easier than ever to have a new idea, build a new technology and start a new company. Open a major news publication any day and it feels like you’ll see a new app or platform announcement. However, as anyone who has ever bootstrapped a company can tell you, startups are never easy, no matter what generation you fall into.
Certainly, looking forward, it’s clear that millennials are entrenched as the next generation of leaders; the “new wave” entrepreneurs are here. They’re loud, disruptive and completely and utterly connected. Yet, while they’re paving a new path and the rules for how to build a startup from a laptop anywhere in the world, they’re still realizing that it’s not all about “how many followers” you can get.
Instead, the core elements to building a startup begin with an unwavering belief in your product and the courage to know when your ideas are total crap. The remaining core elements include things like networking and relationship-building when all you want to do is keep working on your product or go home to sleep.
Having built and run several successful companies myself during the past 20 years, and maintained a strong commitment to mentorship, I can offer some “old school” advice for the incoming freshman class. They’re going to need it. It’s more competitive than ever out there.
1. Cash is king.
Conserve it and, even if you’re investing in tomorrow to buy profitable customers today, don’t forget that cash today is what makes payroll tomorrow.
2. Don’t believe your own BS.
While you must exude unwavering confidence, don’t forget to maintain that critical eye toward your product or services.
3. Seek out and listen to good advisors.
This is key; don’t ignore it.
Do this even if you hate it – because relationships are key and businesses are never built in a vacuum.
5. Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and others.
Denial is your worst enemy; strive to find flaws in your ideas or processes and eliminate them.
6. Believe in, and have a passion for, your business.
This will come through in everything you do. Following tip number 5 makes this even easier.
7. Ask yourself, “What pain am I solving for the customer?”
This gets to the heart of what you’re offering. Is yours a great business idea or just something you like?
8. Follow the “ABC” rule.
Always Be Closing. Like it or not, as an entrepreneur, you are a salesperson. If that’s not your natural skill, read, practice and learn.
9. Complement your weaknesses (yes, you have some).
Hire the most talented people you can find. Don’t be afraid that they will outshine you. Even if they do, that’s the best possible outcome for your business.
10. Share your equity generously with early team members.
When everyone has a meaningful stake in the outcome, they will have the same 24/7 commitment you do. You don’t have to be an “island” once you get to the top.
11. Remember that every reason to quit is just another roadblock on your path to success.
Tell this to yourself – over and over – when things look bleak.
12. Know that you will continuously change business processes as your company grows.
Instead of sticking to an old winning formula, be on the lookout for the first opportunity that tells you your old process may no longer be efficient.
13. Keep in mind that customers are your best advocates.
Even if everything feels chaotic in your business, and you don’t know which fire to put out first, remember that the number one priority is customer satisfaction. In the spirit of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, customers are your business’ “air, food, and water.”