Founding a successful company is hard. Actually, founding any sort of company – successful or not – is immensely challenging. Yes, the cost of starting up has fallen dramatically. Yes, seed money may be more accessible today than ever before. And yes, you may have the best idea since Amazon or Facebook. But don’t let the hype or stories of inflated valuations and enormous exits fool you.Starting something that is built to last and gets traction is a grind. And from Bangalore to New York, and every thing in between, there are some truths I think every entrepreneur should accept before taking the plunge.
1) Chances are you will fail – Here’s the unfortunate fact you probably need no reminding off. Most start-ups fail. In fact, 75% of even venture backed companies’ fail. The point here is not to be pessimistic – that’s probably the worst thing you can do! The point is to realize you’re never just “bound to succeed”. If you’re going to make it work, you have to go above and beyond. Being average is not an option – whether it’s your team, your relentless execution, or your expertise in a specific function, it’s got to be different from the norm. If it isn’t, anyone can do what you’re doing – and that’s something to always keep in mind.
2) You need to work your a** off – Down the corridor from our office is another start-up that always has its lights on when I leave in the evening. One day, I commented to one of their founders how they must be working incredibly hard. He replied, “Working when other people are not is the simplest way to stay ahead.” His point was obvious and simple, but it really struck home with me. Just like anything in life, you’ve got to put your blood and sweat into your company if you’re going to make it work. Tradeoffs have to be made and you’ll often fight a work-life balance goal in vain. Accept that. If you need any more convincing, read this short blog post Ed Zimmerman, a leading venture lawyer and angel investor, wrote in the Wall Street Journal recently.
3) People will constantly doubt you – Potential investors, friends, family, classmates, the random neighbor you make small talk with – all at some point will poke holes in your plan or tell you what you’re doing won’t work. In fact, there’ll be times when you doubt yourself as well. And that’s fine. As long as you believe in a larger vision, your own abilities, and are up for the challenge, the rest is irrelevant. You need to decide who is worth taking advise from and who’s not. Ignore the noise. If you listen to everyone, or worse still follow everyone’s advice, you’ll never move forward. You might also just go plain crazy.
4) Never fall in love – Once you start building, it’s easy to fall in love with your product. It’s easy to think ‘why the hell wouldn’t people use this?’ I wish it were that easy but you can never count on virality. You need to earn each and every user –and customers, especially the early ones, never come easy. Listen to your early users; they’re your best lead to other users. Be responsive to changing things around and iterate on the product constantly.
5) Your story matters more than ever – The difference between average entrepreneurs and the rock star entrepreneurs I’ve met is often simply the story they’re able to tell. As an entrepreneur, you’re always selling – to your customers, to your investors, to the media, and to your employees. It’s always easier to sell when you have an interesting story to tell. Try and weave a riveting narrative around what you’re building. For example, instead of your story being “we sell diapers online”, it’s far better to say “We’re all about taking the pain out of parenting. We understand how much work it is to become a parent, and we aim to reduce that burden by letting parents buy baby essentials conveniently online”. Off course, this is just an arbitrary example but the point is that creating a story gives your company an emotional connect beyond just a functional value. And that’s important if you want all stakeholders to buy into your vision.
6) Always punch above your weight - Time is crucial for any venture. One way of staying ahead of the game is by always thinking ahead and portraying your company to be a little bigger than it actually is. I don’t mean doing that just for the sake of hype – though that’s important too – but also for everything else. For example, start talking to investors before you’re actually raising money or maybe have conversations with potential employees before you’re actually able to afford making that hire. Being able to set yourself up for success tomorrow is as important as executing today. After all, in the early days of your company, the biggest favor you can do yourself is to get from point A to point B as fast as you can.
About the author:
Umang Dua is the co-founder of Handybook, an online platform for instantly booking home services based in New York. He can be reached out @umangdua