When I moved to London to earn a master’s degree, I figured I’d be entering a new world: one of fish and chips, beer, and British accents. What I didn’t account for was the other new world I would discover: the world of start-ups.
I had the chance to intern and fall in love with a small start-up whose mission I really believed in. I went to conferences and studied many different entrepreneurs who dared to break free from the corporate mold and create their own direction. And here are the 10 best pieces of start-up advice I learned:
1. Start simple
Your business concept should be easy to understand. Focus on doing one or two things and doing them really well. Too many features can actually confuse users and make them less inclined to use your product or service. Plus, as you mix and mingle with investors and other founders, you’ll put yourself at a disadvantage if you can’t pitch your basic idea in 30 seconds or less.
2. Consider partnership
Starting a business on your own can be terrifying, so grab a buddy. Make sure you work out the contractual terms and how you will divide responsibility ahead of time—and get it in writing. If you give someone 50% of your business, make sure they are actually and contractually responsible for 50% of the work.
3. You don’t need to live in a start-up hub to have a start-up
Silicon Valley is not the only place to be. Outside the San Francisco Bay Area, computer science graduates and aspiring businesswomen don’t yet seem to realize that working for a start-up is an alternative to financial services and consulting. But according to the start-up superstars, there’s a huge untapped market of companies looking for people, especially developers.
4. You don’t need to be the first one to be the best one
It’s okay to enter a market where competitors have entered before you. If you can refine your product and make it sharp, there’s no reason why you can’t become the best in your field. Think: Netflix and Blockbuster. Facebook and MySpace. Gchat and AIM.
5. You don’t need to be the best one to be a great one
Just because you’re not Facebook doesn’t mean you can’t be a viable social networking site. Just because you’re not Ticketmaster doesn’t mean you can’t be a viable events ticket site. The world is large. Figure out what makes your company unique, and focus on your target user community
6. VC backers will demand a large user community
If you’re expecting venture capital to help build your business, focus on developing a large user community first. VC firms want to invest in companies that show strong promise of developing and maintaining a large user base. It may sound like a Catch-22, but users are the key to your capital.
7. If your start-up isn’t growing, change
Growth is the first and most vital part of creating a successful start-up. If growth isn’t happening, reconsider your concept and alter your plan of action.
8. Talk to people
Over and over again, successful entrepreneurs give the same advice: “Get out there and talk to everyone you can in your industry who has been in your shoes.” You won’t get anywhere fast without the insights—and help—of people who’ve gone before you and know your space.
9. Bootstrapping is hard
The saying goes that if your business plan predicts something will take three months, double that and then double that again to know how long it will actually take. And those months are going to seem even longer when you and your co-founders are living on your savings and Spaghetti-O’s. Don’t rule out looking for a separate source of income while you’re bootstrapping. Or, consider goingSilicon Valley for financing, where capital for start-ups is more plentiful.
10. Keep going
Start-ups don’t get off the ground over night, and many start-ups face huge set-backs during their early days. Don’t get discouraged. Keep going, and keep learning!
Photo courtesy of Bruno Cordioli.