Setting Up a Business: Here Are Some Real-life Challenges You Will Need to Tackle

A wall in LxFactory, where Pier 31 office is located

The world of entrepreneurship is filled with success stories which had a rather unexpected start: engineers turning side projects into profitable websites in their spare time, university dropouts assembling revolutionary machines, friends setting up companies in their garages or bedrooms.

Indeed, the path that leads some businesses to worldwide prominence can be compared, in some ways, to that of music legends. Today, founders and CEOs are not simply business owners, but public idols who are spreading powerful mission statements and innovative visions; and just like rockstars, they are looked up to by a community of passionate followers.

Image credit: Websummit

All this is certainly inspiring and contributes to identifying strong role models who are going to orient our goals and aspirations. However, stepping away from such scenarios and observing the reality around us might be equally helpful and motivational. A good starting point is focusing on the real, tangible challenges that entrepreneurs face at the very initial stages of their business journeys.

While setting up Pier 31 Technologies, we gained a lot of valuable insights and practical advice by simply introducing ourselves to newborn businesses around us and asking people how they got them up and running. It started as an icebreaker, but we quickly noticed patterns in the replies we were getting. We have been collecting insights ever since, in order to relate our experience to those of other small and medium businesses.

Space: where do I start?

Taking the leap, devoting your full-time attention to a project, and figuring out an initial timeline might be less complicated than it seems.

However, one basic yet often overlooked need is finding an office space that fits your company needs. As the EatTasty team said:

“The biggest challenge we faced was finding a cool workspace in Lisbon where we could feel comfortable, work on the constant improvement of our service, share our vision with others, drink a beer, plant a sunflower — and plan how to deliver the best home food in Lisbon.”
The EatTasty team

In some cases, finding a permanent home for your team might not be the most pressing issue to deal with. In a fast-paced and increasingly “nomadic” world, grabbing business opportunities often means bouncing from one place to another. That’s precisely the aspect that Andreea and Hisashi from HotelHoppers highlighted:

“One thing we learned as an early stage startup is to be ready to pack your bags at any time! A pitching competition, an incubator, an investment or a partnership can put you and your team on the road more often than not. So it’s important to be flexible and get ready to move as the opportunity arises.”
Hotel Hoppers reached Lisbon

Their team started off in Germany, then moved to the Netherlands and finally landed in Lisbon, where they are currently residents at Fábrica de Startups. Another very international team, Optishower, said they faced similar challenges:

“Our challenge at beginning was to be flexible, quick and ready for unexpected situations. We have been to South Korea, then we came to Lisbon to participate in the Smart Open Lisboa program. We have also been selected for the Sharing Cities project and the Web Summit. This is a highly dynamic situation but we learnt how to organize ourselves to get most out of it.”
The Optishower team

People: who will be part of the team?

The founders of archPaths told us that one of their major challenges was associated with their team: “We have been struggling to find a developer as our co-founder”.

Many companies feel that they still have not found the perfect synergy with their Chief Technical Officer (CTO) or their developers in general, and it seems hard to find good candidates to fill such roles in the first place.

Overall, finding and retaining “tech talent” is a thorny issue. and the LIFE project (Learning Incrementally from Failed Entrepreneurship) investigated the situation in Europe, raising an interesting question: is there a tech talent shortage or rather a hiring problem?

According to Dan Hynes, Partner and Head of Talent at Atomico, “the number of programmers, developers, and engineers isn’t the challenge but rather the way companies engage with prospective talent and how they hire people.

The actual issue is gradually moving away from the sphere of talent alone. Founders now have to take into account a series of aspects that ultimately lead to the definition of a company culture.

“The culture of a company determines who joins, who succeeds, how people behave, how teams run, and how the company performs.”
Project Include

Vision: what benefits can the business provide?

None of the company founders we interviewed mentioned encountering obstacles during the idea generation phase. Once the what is established and the mission and vision of the company are defined, a key challenge is communicating them to the outside world.

Image credit: startup commons

Nobody’s Fool founders Irene and Max are determined to modernise traditional working structures and methods with a growth hacking mentality. The concept is not as familiar as it might seem and often requires some clarification, especially outside the tech industry:

“We have to make sure that people understand it’s not strictly for the tech people in organisations. It’s about creative problem solving and unconventional strategic thinking throughout the company.
Max and Irene, Nobodysfool

Ideas might be original, innovative and smart, but their execution and the way they are spread have an even greater disruptive potential.

Motivation: why am I doing this?

All these challenges risk shaking the very foundation of a business: personal motivation and grit. As Alexandre and Nuno of archPaths put it:

“The main challenge for us — maybe not the hardest, nor the most painful, but the one we consider to be the the most important — is being able to find the motivation and resilience to cope with all the other challenges.”

Luckily, there are plenty of quality resources to help one address all these challenges, including direct advice and mentorship from legendary CEOs.

It’s true that workspace matters, but if you are determined and daring enough to start your own business, you can make yourself comfortable pretty much anywhere.

Spoiler alert: this is how we are dealing with office space at Pier 31, before we move to a bigger space next month!

As for tech teams (something that we deeply care about), there are excellent developers out there and it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to find them. Once this is done, their curiosity needs to be nurtured, their problem-solving skills constantly challenged, and their entrepreneurial drive encouraged. That’s the only way you can turn a good developer into a great CTO.

And that’s actually what we are doing here at Pier 31. Our fields of expertise is software engineering, but what we are truly passionate about is people and we encourage everyone to share their challenges or achievements with us, either in person or online.

Do you want to show us your new work space or your remote office? Did you experience any obstacle along your entrepreneurial journey? Which benefits does your business intend to bring and how are you making people aware of them? Get in touch and let us know!

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