Learn from the Best: Make Your Startup Succeed

    By | Small Business

    shutterstock_224143084Launching a startup isn’t easy. Succeeding is even more difficult. There’s no quick fix or remedy to ensure the prosperous launch of your startup. You are, however, at an advantage at the moment. Thousands of other people have launched their own startups. Some of them bombed, while others took off. Now it’s possible to learn from the best.

    Here are a few tips directly from some of the most successful companies on what to do — and what not to do — to ensure the success of your startup.

    Find Your Personal Branding

    Blue-chip companies spend decades strengthening their reputation and working to ensure the name stays strong for generations. Think Ford and General Electric.  These days, things move a lot quicker.

    Instagram was less than two years old when it sold for $1 billion. After disrupting social media, Twitter was comparatively a dinosaur when it went public seven years later. These companies, along with similar other ones, quickly established personal branding that made them leaders in their fields.

    Personal branding is more than just the logo and website. The experts at Marketing Donut say it’s, “the essence of what you are about and what you want others to see you as. It should concisely sum up your brand — without fussy words, lengthy sentences, or explanatory sub-headings, with language that emulates the impression you are trying to create.”

    Hire the Right People

    You have to be picky with hiring if you want to succeed. According to Peter Berg, founder of the October Three consultancy who’s now on Visa’s Innovation Team. Quality is more important than quantity.

    “Throwing more people at a problem doesn’t necessarily solve it faster, but it definitely costs more,” Berg said on Inc.com. “So hire the best people. (And if you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to let them go.)”

    Prepare for the Painful Final Push

    As crazy as it sounds, coming up with the brilliant business idea and getting the right team in place can be the easiest part. Where things start to get difficult is when the product is nearing its launch. Rob Kalin, co-founder of Etsy, knows this all too well.

    “The last 10% it takes to launch something takes as much energy as the first 90%,” Kalin said in Entrepreneur.

    Of course, the work doesn’t end there. The pace can get more frenetic once the product goes public in order to fine-tune and make the necessary adjustments. (Hopefully you don’t mind missing sleep.)

    The Idea Doesn’t Have to Be Sexy – It Just Has to Be Good

    The fastest-growing startup in 2014 is one that most people haven’t heard of. While companies like Uber dominate the headlines, Zenefits has attracted a number of investors and was valued at $650 million in late 2014.

    What does this business do that makes it so successful? As Forbes describes it, small businesses have to buy health insurance for their employees. Brokers are used to making the purchase, but Zenefits gives companies free software for human resource departments to pick their own plans. Zenefits makes the process easier and, since it makes its money on commission, the idea works wonders for them.

    CEO Parker Conrad, a cancer survivor, got the idea for Zenefits at his old job because people were coming to him to ask for health insurance advice. He had done his research for himself and was frustrated by the difficulty of it all.

    “There’s a lot of just administrative work that comes along with having employees,” Conrad told Business Insider. “It was like a couple of hours every month, and it was a couple of hours I deeply resented. I felt like, ‘Man, if this stuff was all connected up and all integrated and all worked together, then a lot of this stuff would go away. It could run on its own.‘”

    Don’t Be Afraid to Change Everything

    Graveyards are full of failed startups — metaphorically speaking, of course. What might surprise you is the number of well-known brands that were on the brink of failure before turning things around. One of the biggest examples is Pandora. Music startups were launching left and right years ago — how many do you actually remember? — to offer an alternative to illegal downloads. Pandora was nearly one of these failures.

    With things looking bleak, Pandora was willing to change its entire business model. It switched from subscriptions only to free and made the wise move to mobile. Pandora kept its personal branding — providing customized music channels that catered to the users’ preference. It just modified the fine details.

    “We were in a pretty deep dark hole for a long time,” Tim Westergren, co-founder of Pandora, told the New York Times in 2010. “But now it’s a pretty out-of-body experience.”

    Westergren and his team were willing to look at everything to make sure the company succeeded. Not many other companies have the humility to do that.

    Don’t Bog Down the Product

    When it comes to startups, few can match up to Instagram. As mentioned earlier, the company sold for $1 billion to Facebook in 2012 even though many people thought it was an app just for turning photos into ‘70s-era Polaroids. These people didn’t get it.

    The reasons for the company’s success are many, such as having perfect timing and a lean team that was able to react quickly. One particular reason for its success, according to ReadWrite, is it didn’t bog down the product with useless features, ads and other annoyances. From its humble launch today, Instragram looks clean and focused.

    Think of once-successful products that were crushed from their own weight. Don’t let that happen to you. Reputation is important, and users will lose respect for your brand if you annoy them.

    Protect Your Brand

    With all the other things going on during the launch of your startup, don’t forget to protect your brand. Neglecting to consult with a patent attorney can lead to big problems down the road. Think of what happened to auto manufacturer Tesla when a Chinese person “borrowed” the Tesla name and trademarked it in the country. Things were eventually settled in court, but it was a major headache nonetheless – and you may not get so lucky. Avoid such difficulties by working with a patent firm or focusing on patents in specific countries where you plan to do business.

    Be careful not to let your guard down once you’ve launched, though. Keep making moves to protect your brand and your company. It’s not just jewelers and banks that are at risk, small businesses are too. Invest in security, like a closed-circuit television service, to protect your business and employees, deter internal and external theft, and even save money on property insurance premiums.

    Be Prepared

    Anything can happen when launching a startup, and there are moments when it feels like Murphy’s Law — whatever can go wrong, will go wrong — is in full effect. This isn’t a unique situation and it happens to everyone. It’s how you respond and react that will determine your success. Even mature companies are going through similar things. Remind yourself of your startup’s personal mission and work to fulfill that goal.

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