What I have learned from having a startup

The goal of a startup is not being one, it is to grow and be as successful as any other company

Nowadays it’s hot to have a startup and I must say it’s the toughest and most exciting thing there is. But I was starting to loose interest for a while. I caught myself saying things like: “The aim of a startup is not being one, it is to grow and be as successful as any normal company. It’s not a goal on itself. It’s like people saying it’s so cool to prepare for a sportmatch, or it’s so cool to follow driving lessons. Yes maybe, but isn’t it a little bit nicer to have enough players, a club, a sponsor and total focus on the match itself. Or just cruising around in your car with your driver license in your pocket?”

Before you even think of starting or joining a startup, keep the following things in mind.

Do YOU have the best solution?

Let me rephrase that: Are there people out there willing to pay for your solution to their problem? You have to find out if your potential target customers experience it as a problem. And you have to find out if they are willing to pay for your solution. Every problem has more than one solution. Some of them are quick fixes and they cost nothing.

Don’t keep your idea secret, tell everyone!

One day a friend came to visit me. He had an idea and wanted some advice. When he entered my office, he showed me a contract. It was a confidentiality agreement. I was surprised, but not impressed so I signed the contract. He was thinking of starting a website where people who travelled could review places the have visited. I could see his disappointment when I showed him the site tripadvisor.com. He could have found this out much earlier if he just told everyone his idea.

People are too busy with their daily jobs and are not interested in stealing your idea. But you might find out that they appreciate it if you share it and therefore they will help you in any kind of way.

Do you have a buying customer or people who have the intention to pay for your product?

I know it’s tempting to start sketching, brainstorming, prototyping and make your idea become a reality. But to succeed you have to find people who are willing to pay for your solution. To convince your potential customers you might need a presentation or a demo. In the startup scene its called a MVP, a minimal viable product.

So invest as little as possible to find out if there is a market for your solution.

Make sure you don’t skip this part, because the next phase of your startup will be hard: no income, a lot of insecurity, a lot of problems you have to solve and you have to keep your team motivated all the time. And above this all, this phase will always take longer than that you expect. Knowing that in the end people will pay for your product is a big motivation to keep going on.

Oh, and by the way, friends and family don’t really count as paying customers, sorry.

Do you have focus and discipline?

I found out that focus is the most important thing you need to have. Focus combined with discipline. Along the way things are not going the way you expected it: you run out of budget, suddenly a competitor shows up, or a team member quits, your friends think it’s better for you to get a job. At times like these, you wish you had never started.

So before you start, write down your expectations. Make them measurable and realistic. And read them everyday till you 100% believe in it.

Do you have a team?

You are not a team. A team in my opinion needs at least 3 people. You need a creative/visionair, a developer and a salesman. A creative/visionair stays a dreamer if no one will be building or selling his idea’s. A developer alone will make a technical working solution, which looks awful and not ready for use. And a salesman on it’s own is someone who sells a lot of air, and people will soon find out his lack of technical or market knowledge. A lot of startups think they don’t need a salesman, because they will sell things automatically by having a webshop or Facebook or Twitter.

Having a webshop, Facebook or Twitter on itself is like having your company in the yellow pages: You still need to market it.

You might need a budget

Don’t worry there are plenty investors waiting to give you millions of dollars for your idea, right?

Reality check: unless you have really good connections, a disproportion of luck or you are born salesman, investors will not give you money. As an investor you want to take a calculated risk. Watch a few episodes of Shark Tank. They want to know how your product looks, how many you have sold, what your revenue is and when you are going to make profit. Same for apps, apps can be copied easily but it’s the amount of users which give value to your app. Whazzup was not worth 19 billion because of the app itself, Facebook had the infrastructure and people to copy it easily. They where after the 60 billion active users and a strong position in the social market.

So start making a sales plan, you need it anyway if you want to attract investors.

Stop thinking, start doing!

I wouldn’t consider my first business a startup. I was good in making websites and the time was right to make a living out of it. Although I graduated as a Product Designer, having my own company and doing things my way, was tempting enough to continue with it. Looking back I considered myself more as a freelancer.

My first product was Begle. It was a simple way of keeping your projects and administration organized. Although it had potential, we where not able to find enough buying customers. The freelancers where looking for free alternatives, and the big companies where committed to Sharepoint or other big brand CRM’s and company regulations didn’t allow employees to start using our product. In July 2014 we start making a website builder. It’s different in the way Joomla and Wordpress works. We focus on responsiveness and user-friendliness. Our competitors products are well know and ‘free’, so it’s really hard to take some marketshare, but we see that our customers are loving it, and we start making money and we are more motivated then ever.

You regret the things you haven’t try. So if you think your product idea is making people lives better, take a leap and start!
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