Today’s startups have access to powerful tools unheard of only a few years ago. Yet at the same time, some parts of the entrepreneur’s life have remained constant. That’s one of the things we discovered during a series of conversations we had with successful entrepreneurs who shared some of their advice for those just starting out.
“Kickstarter has changed everything” for would-be entrepreneurs, says tech legend Philippe Kahn. The inventor of the camera phone and founder of software firm Borland among other companies, Kahn says the crowdfunding site allows businesses to get going in a completely new and different way. It also is a source of all-important market validation of entrepreneurs’ ideas. Kahn calls it, “a way to test the waters and get real feedback.”
Entrepreneurs shouldn’t expect to get much sleep, according to Tristan Louis, whose all-night experience includes founding Internet.com, Net Quotient and MovableMedia. Gaming company KeepSkor is his current startup adventure.
“Startups are all about spending every waking hour making your company succeed,” Louis says. “If you’re not willing to do that at a minimum, you may not be a good fit for startup life.”
Timing is Everything
Serial entrepreneur Keith Teare, whose current project is social startup just.me, believes nothing can replace having the right product at exactly the right time. “It is all about product-market fit,” Teare says. “Great engineers can engineer and visionaries can dream. But the first may not be focused on a need and the second may be too far in the future.”
“For example, EasyNet, which I did in 1994, was perfect timing,” he continues. “The first ISP in the UK market. And RealNames was great timing as the first multi-lingual naming system at a time when China, Japan and Korea were coming online in 1998. TechCrunch was also great timing. The Web 2.0 birth pangs were still evident and the community needed an organizing center. TechCrunch became their vehicle for self-expression.”
On the other hand, advertising platform edgeio was poor timing, Teare observes. “The effort was to aggregate classified ads and make them into paid ads. The vendors were happy to aggregate but not ready to pay. We ended up selling the company for a song.”
Teare’s best advice? “If you’re doing a startup, make sure it isn’t the wrong product, or the right product too early or too late.”
Though it might seem obvious, not giving up avoids a trap many entrepreneurs fall into, says Kevin Surace, a former Inc. magazine CEO of the Year and CEO of testing company Appvance. “You need to wake up every day and believe you can absolutely achieve success, even though many days deal you with a failure,” he observes.
“There will be brick walls in the way, and cliffs and lakes and monsters. Persevere through them with humility as well as strength,” he tells new entrepreneurs. “Many people will say it can’t be done or won’t work. Honor them, but go forward and instead listen to actual customers and solve their pain points. Your plan will change five or 10 times until you hit the golden product. But if you persevere long enough you will get there. Guaranteed.”
Another important point: Managing your burn rate is critical to having the staying power necessary to achieve success.
“Shipping is also a product feature,” Kahn says. Adding features to new products – so-called “feature creep” – can delay delivery, delay revenue and start a company down the slope of failure. Missing a ship date is widely considered a sign of an impending meltdown.
“Out of shipping, quality and feature set, you only get to pick two,” he told us. “Quality is a must, so you choose: shipping or feature set? Hence shipping is the most important feature: Cut that feature-set early!”
In the Worst Case…
When despite this advice – and all the other “help” that can rain down on startups –entrepreneurs find themselves with a failure on their hands, take heart.
According to Teare, “the chances of your startup succeeding are relatively small, so you have to be ready to handle a lot of rejection if you expect to make it.” Kahn goes even further, saying failure is not only expected but is also a learning tool. “You learn way more from failures than successes,” Kahn observes. “Cherish them, get up and try again.”