Just a few short weeks ago, I started my startup. My initial idea was only 12 months long before I found my app on the App Store. These were the 12 most exciting, challenging and fun months in my entire life.
Before we dive deeper, a quick disclaimer. My startup it’s not a “standard” startup – I bootstrapped, I formed an LLC and not a corporation, and I don’t plan to sell it in a few years.
My experience in global technology consulting and manufacturing spans 15 years. The good news is I am familiar with engineering. However, the bad news is that I did not know about other aspects of starting up a business. I was forced to do it again (and still am!).
Below are the lessons that I wish someone would have taught me one year ago. Enjoy!
1 – Good ideas need space
I once was listening to an entrepreneurship podcast, and the podcast host said, “95% of my ideas came to me in the sauna.” And I thought to myself, “That is 100% true!” In December of 2020 I felt that I was ready to start my own business. The only problem was – I didn’t know what business I wanted to start.
After thinking it over for several weeks, I finally came up with something. It didn’t work. And then I was laying on the tattoo table getting my tattoo done, staring at the ceiling and doing nothing, and this idea, this perfect idea, just popped into my head – and I’m not even kidding.
So next time you are trying to come up with an idea, or make an important decision – go get a tattoo. Joking! Joking aside, it’s important to slow down and allow your mind space to breath. You can trust me.
2 – Choosing a brand name is harder than you think
Alright, now you have this awesome idea, let’s pick a name for your future company! For me, it was certainly more challenging than I imagined.
It’s not just finding the name that is catchy, matches your brand and your vision and is not used anywhere yet (which is already pretty hard!). Did you consider the domain name as well? What about your social media accounts as well? Oh, and by the way, don’t forget the trademark!
My first attempt at naming my startup failed. I hired someone to help me. The investment was well worth it.
3 – You need a team from the start
It’s so tempting to do everything by yourself, especially if your budget is tight and/or if you are an expert in your area. My technology experience led to many people asking me (and still asking) if the app would be developed by me.
From the beginning, I understood that it was better to be a visionary than an executor. First, I hired an agency to do the design and secondly for the development. Again, it was worth every penny.
4 – Hold on to your vision
You have to start with a clear vision. You know exactly what you want to achieve and why it’s important.
Next, you can start taking small steps towards turning your idea into a product. Each step makes sense. But, you may find yourself looking at a half-baked product after only a few months.
The danger here is that every step might in fact be a tiny deviation from your vision, but it’s so small you don’t notice it. These steps are cumulative and eventually, deviation will become noticeable.
This will help you avoid it or minimize its impact. If necessary, adjust.
5 – Pick your partners not just for the talent, but also for maturity
After falling in love with the work of this agency, I decided to hire them. The agency had very skilled designers. All the designers quit the agency in 3 months, as the founder of the agency treated them and me poorly.
Thankfully, we managed to finish the design, but it’s definitely a lesson learned for me.
6 – Your budget will increase
Add at least 25% contingency to any plan. Add 50% to any estimates that you get from vendors.
It’s probably not what you want to hear, but it’s better to be prepared and to have this buffer ready for when it’s needed (and it will be needed, trust me), than try to urgently find more money while in the middle of the process.
“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” – Thomas Edison
7 – Talk to your future users
Each interview is important. You don’t have to throw enormous budgets into the user research (absolutely do it if you have it though!You should at the very least talk to those potential customers.
Is your product able to solve the problem they have? Are they actually having a problem? It’s amazing how many insights you can get by talking to even just a few people.
8 – Cut your MVP. Next, cut again
Imagine this amazing product. Your vendor tells you it would take thousands upon thousands of dollars to bring your product to market. Alright, it’s time to start cutting the scope for MVP (minimal viable product).
It’s not easy, and at first it will seem like every piece is essential. If you look deeper you’ll find the core, which is what you must keep, then everything can be cut.
You should be ready to repeat this entire process multiple times.
9 – Pivoting is your best friend
More “good” news for you here. It’s not just about cutting your scope, but also about changing it to reflect the actual people’s needs and the reality we live in. Sometimes you may overlook an important detail.
Remember – having to make changes is not a sign that your product is a failure. In fact, it’s the opposite – it gives your product a much higher chance of success, and it makes you a much smarter founder.
10 – Set your priority wisely
You will always need to have multiple roles as a founder of a startup. Finance and data privacy laws, product development and testing, marketing and PR, user acquisition and user retention – just to name a few of the things that will keep you up at night.
But remember – your capacity is not unlimited, so focus on one priority at a time. Feel free to switch between them weekly, but don’t try to multitask.
11 – Launch when you are ready, not when you have to
It is likely that you will still have the launch date in your mind. This will make you feel pressured into launching when it was originally scheduled. But don’t. You can take as long as you need to finish and test your product.
Remember – you can only make the first impression once!
12 – Launch is just the beginning
Think again if you believe that just launching is the most difficult part. You can be creating as many hypophyses as you want, but it’s only when you start receiving real data and real feedback from your costumes, that you can finally prove (or disprove) your theories.
I cannot stress this enough – data is your best friend when it comes to making your startup successful. Spend the time and set up all the analytics tools you need in order to fully understand what’s going on with your business at any point in time. Funnels, conversion rates, retention, not to mention financials, – it might feel overwhelming (and trust me, it is at times!It is important to have everything in order and be ready for anything.
And it’s really hard to navigate the fun and challenging startup world being blind.
Addicted 2 Success first published 12 Things I Learned Working in My Startup for 12 Months.