Nov 18, 2015

From Start up to F**k up - What I Have Learned

I wonder when and why startup businesses became such a big thing. Maybe with the easy access to high tech, available funding and more people got convinced they could develop their own product to kill the market and buy the Hollywood life. However, despite all the books and gurus on the matter, starting a company from scratch is bit more difficult than installing an app on your phone. I am not a doctor but you can trust me on that - year and half ago I co-founded a company and went though the almost full specter of problems and emotions that come with it. The company is focused on retail analytical services and providing BI solution that addresses the specific challenges in that industry. I have recently terminated my tenure there and have the time to reflect and share some of the lessons I took. After all, isn't it a crime if you are in a startup and the world does not know about that?

Start with something small and keep building from there
Some of the ideas in a startup are relatively complex to materialize. Getting everything right from the start is close impossible. Also, most startups do not know their customer and their market that well - no matter how beautiful their presentations are and clever the t-shirt of their presenter. A reasonable start is a simpler offer with clear message and focused on one set of problems. New features should be added on next steps considering the demand and customer feedback.

Provide adequate funding
People in startups are naturally optimistic and tend to underestimate the expenses and overestimate the income when they need to do exactly the opposite. Estimations of required resources and turnovers are usually based on previous experience with similar projects in better known environment and markets so it is easy to make a serious mistake in budgeting. Word of warning though - too much of safety cushions and the investors will never come. Finding the right balance is matter of luck and careful consideration.

The right investor is a key
Not everyone offering money is a good match for your startup. The investor have to understand the business case, share the company dynamics, be involved on every stage and have some business ethics. It sounds mind-numbing but it is so vital that has to be repeated over and over.

Build audience before the release
One might think that sale process should start after or close before the product is ready for delivery. As sales have to start coming in as soon as possible one has to start building awareness and interest as early as possible. Meet potential customers, talk about your business and most importantly, listen to them.

Do not invent the wheel
... Or discover the hot water. Using as much as possible of existing technology and infrastructure saves tons of time and money. Also, reproducing something you can buy is takes time and money and for sure it will not be that good.

There are many other lessons I will take with me after this startup - like be ready to change people, technology and markets as well as keeping open mind for opportunities, build stronger alliances, be faster in making decisions and so - I can keep going. Each startup has its own unique challenges and these are the ones my company faced. I have not pointed out any external factor like the one the company tries to make its way in a very small and conservative market in a very small and conservative country. I listed some of the issues within control.Or maybe the biggest problems stem from not wearing clever t-shirts, not using any Apple laptops and not drinking enough coffee. I will try to eliminate those in my next move and will keep you posted.

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