Students today and aspiring entrepreneurs are mesmerized by starting their own tech company and creating the next unicorn. Of course it is easy to be dazzled by the funding numbers you might read, the success stories that universities and tech accelerators promote. You would almost believe it is as simple as connecting to the right university, accelerator or vc to set you up for sure success.
5 min read – or rather listen? ?
You are different and know this isn’t true. You know it is not easy – but are determined to build the next successful software brand. You are not one of those entrepreneurs that are considering copying a successful model or technology and trying to modifying it into the next new thing. You want to create the real thing, real innovation, solve a real problem, create a real company. You want to build a business not a funding vehicle.
A checklist to see if you got what it really takes.
So here’s a few checks to see if you got what it takes or what you still need to work on.
1. Exploring powers
So you’ve got a great idea – your mom likes it – your friends do – so let’s check if it fixes a real life problem or adds value to real life people. There are a few ways do do that. First you need to get out in the real world, interview, test, market validate. Start interviewing potential clients, build a landingpage to test or a prototype of your product.
There are easily accessible software platforms available you can use – or professionals you can hire. These are some of the platforms that you might find helpful:
- https://www.strategyzer.com platform and services to clearly understand customers, create better products, and grow businesses.
- https://mailchimp.com for setting up test landingpages
- https://surveymonkey.com for creating customer / market surveys
2. Legal & contracting skills
Chances are you cannot do all this on your own. You at least need someone to build a prototype, help with market validation or give you feedback on results. But for that you need to tap into your legal and contracting skills. If you do not know at least some basics – get a reliable lawyer to help.
It pays off to get legal advice in early, like how to protect your brand and IP, how to contract the skills you need or – if you a co-founding: how to draw up a contract between founders to clarify roles, valuation of skills, collaboration, shareholder rights and prevent nasty break ups.
3. Team lead skills
Up your team lead skills, communicative skills are an important part of that. You need to be an excellent communicator to get your vision and ideas across. Create an environment where the people who work on your product feel safe enough to share their ideas, give meaningful feedback. Your team should not be afraid to ask you anything. Learn from them and let them learn from each other.
4. Confidence to sail by your own compass
Neither get distracted or disillusioned by disappointing results, nor by well meant advice of others. Take in what makes sense make your own decisions. I discussed two helpful questions in my previous blog that can help you make the right decisions throughout your journey.
Here are some examples of successful companies that sailed using their own compass. These companies declined funding and bootstrapped their way to success.
Atlassian: Atlassian, based in Australia, bootstrapped its way to a $13 billion dollar market cap, but if it had easier access to funding, the team might have chased low-quality growth and gone under before they figured out how to scale efficiently.
eClinicalWorks was founded in 1999 when the mantra was “get big fast,” and many of its contemporaries crashed and burned. By focusing on excelling at the dull, yet profitable work of managing clinical data, the company survived and now employs over 4,000 workers and generates $320 million dollars in annual revenue.
SimpliSafe: People scoff at the idea of trying to bootstrap a hardware business, but SimpliSafe’s Chad Laurans did it. He raised a small amount of money from friends and family and then spent eight years building a self-install security business, literally soldering the first prototypes himself to save money. Eight years later, the business has hundreds of thousands of customers, hundreds of millions in revenue, and $57M in VC from Sequoia.
For more stories on companies that started with little or no money check out this article on Hackernoon
5. Business (model) skills
Real innovation comes from changing business models not from copying others. Alex Osterwalder – founder of Strategizer the company that invented the business model canvas – describes basically three different objectives when it comes to innovation:
- Increase the efficiency of the established business: e.g. by improving business processes or increasing people’s productivity with collaborative technologies.
- Sustain the established business: e.g. by introducing new products and services that replace old ones or by implementing marketing and advertising innovations.
- Create new growth engines: e.g. by experimenting with entirely new value propositions or business models.
“When you innovate to create new growth engines historical data is often useless and you might need to question the value propositions and business model(s) that worked marvelously so far, but might not be a fit for the future. There are a lot more unknowns to deal with. Uncertainty is a lot higher. Hence, the risk of failure is also more important.”
“Very rarely do you see companies that invest in new value propositions, or business model innovation. But it’s in combination with the right value propositions and business models that new technologies create substantial growth.”.Alex Osterwalder – Strategizer
If you are serious about creating your dent in the universe – you should try to change the status quo by experimenting with an entirely new value proposition or business model.Tweet
6. Curiosity and ability to learn
From the start this skill will benefit your earliest research, validation, business development and growth.
Curiosity is a natural tendency to want to know more about how things work. Always want to know at any point in time how for instance your technology, a solution or a customer task or problem works. Keep asking questions at the right time and take the time to really listen. Most entrepreneurs I know have an insatiable inquisitive mind.
The ability to learn applies to how you do everything in your power to enable access to and process the data that you can learn from. Ranging from knowledge about your potential market, your user behaviour, customers, team, business, operations.
In the beginning your learning will be from face to face interviews, studies and market reports, but quickly you will add behavioural analytics to your toolbox.
7. Embrace loneliness
When starting and building an innovative business – there quickly are major decisions to take. And all of these decisions depend on you and the vision you have – so you need to be able to cope with that. No one can take that weight and responsibility of your shoulders.
But it is helpful at times to have someone you can confide in. You can find like minded entrepreneurs you trust and share your challenges or hook up with a coach who can provide meaningful feedback.
I tried an advisory board once. Did not work. Maybe it was too early, maybe it wasn’t the right mix, I got sidetracked, but I did get value out of it – mostly it made me more confident that I needed to follow my own course.
8. Accept failure is part of the journey
You don’t set out to fail – but you know it is part of building a business that wants to change things. You need to be ready to accept that risk. Real heroes are the ones that are not afraid to show their vulnerability – dare to dream big, put in the work and learn every day. Real heroes dare to do things that can fail miserably and create things others shy away from.
Now – Change the world
There you have it. Eight checks to prepare yourself for what’s ahead. And remember: If it was easy – everybody would do it. So go be your own super hero.