It’s not often that we get a chance to reflect on the journey of entrepreneurship, but sitting here on a Friday night, I felt so inclined to jot down a few notes about starting your own company.
Starting a business is never easy. Whether a high-tech software company, a local small business, or anything in between, it’s a challenge from start to finish. But being able to sit back and look at everything you’ve built is a truly incredible feeling, and one that I hope I can help more people experience over time.
While still very much on this journey myself, there are a handful of themes that continue to surface in everything that I’ve learned about entrepreneurship. Here’s a few of those thoughts.
It all starts with solving a real problem for your customers. If you aren’t solving a problem that your customers are dying to have solved, you will not succeed. Even if that problem is they need more joy in their lives, focus on the unique challenge your service or product addresses, because that will be your guiding light.
It’s much better to find out why a business won’t work before you spend a load of time and money. If you’re scared of the answer, those are the critical questions you must ask yourself, because if you don’t figure out an answer to those questions, the market will, and usually not in your favor. One of the biggest differences between success and failure is the entrepreneurs willingness to face the questions that could ruin their business.
You can almost always find a cheap and easy way to find out if your idea will work or not. Take Dropbox, for example: Drew Houston made a 4-minute YouTube video and got 70,000 sign-ups overnight. That’s validation that cost nothing. And no matter how grand your idea, you can almost always boil down the basic concept into something that you can test without lots of time or money.
Far too often in our current business climate, an entrepreneur will have a great idea, only to be halted by the thought that they must raise capital in order to succeed. That is a false calamity, propelled by the big headlines that result from large money raises. You will more often than not be better off doing some patched-together testing first, validating the concept has merit, and then figuring out if you need to raise money or not.
When I was first starting out on my own, I had to grapple with the fact that building a company is a long slog. It takes years to build a successful business. If you’re building something that solves a problem for today, by the time you have built it, the world will have blown you by. It’s the job of the entrepreneur to see a problem the world will face, and figure out a solution they can deliver at the exact time the market will accept it.
It’s extremely hard to compete on just “better”, “faster”, or “cheaper”. While there are many examples of successful companies that found a better, faster, or cheaper way to do an existing solution, an incumbent can always compete on these angles -- and their marketing budget is bigger than yours. The most successful companies come from entrepreneurs who can look at a problem in the world and solve it in a way no one has before.
It’s so tempting early on to think that your solution will be the best thing ever, and every person on earth could use your product or service. But it’s so important to niche down and focus on solving a very specific problem. An inch wide and a mile deep. You will have time to expand later, after you’re successful with your initial customers.
Hopefully you have a loving support network, and are surrounded by people who want to encourage you and see you succeed. But those words of encouragement can be a death sentence. Your friends and family cannot make up a large enough group to sustain your business indefinitely. Eventually, you will need strangers to give you money. And those are the people who you should really be listening to. Use your mom’s encouragement as fuel to find the courage to go out and talk to your real customer.
In the words of Adam Savage, “The only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down”. When an idea is just in your head, it’s impossible to keep track of when it morphs and changes. Once you have something on paper, it’s real, it’s concrete, but most importantly, it’s measurable. You have a stick in the ground that you can then measure success or failure against.
Your mind is more powerful than you know. I’m sure it sounds a little insane, but it really is all about your mindset. If you go into something truly believing you will be successful, your mind will work in ways you never thought possible. But more than just believing in your success, keeping yourself happy and mentally healthy through the entrepreneurial journey is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your company. The only way this whole thing works is if you keep your sanity.
I love talking about entrepreneurship, and I love helping people. Feel free to reach out on Twitter (@porterlogic) or connect with me on LinkedIn (in/jonathanpporter) if you have any questions or comments, or if you just want to chat about your journey.