4 things to know when starting a startup

Forbes has dubbed 2021 the ‘year of the entrepreneur’, with hundreds of thousands of small businesses being launched in the wake of the pandemic. Our CCO and co-founder Adam Gillett, a man who has been there and done it when it comes to growing a startup, covers what the entrepreneurs of the future need to know.

The fact is there’s never a bad time to launch a startup if it’s a good idea. You could launch during the middle of recession, but the questions are still:

Is there a need? Is there demand? Is there a gap in the market? Is anybody else doing it? Will you be first or last to market? What resources do you require? Do you have the time?

1. Research, research and research

Before you begin your journey, this is a crucial step.

Something I see quite often is people listening to their friends and family and ending up in an echo chamber.

Don’t listen to the echo chamber. Find out whether there really is a demand for your business and products via external research, which is relatively cheap to do via social media or using the likes of Survey Monkey.

You need to find people outside of your own bubble to tell you honestly whether your idea is good or sh*t; and you need those people to be in your target audience.

If it’s parenting, you need to find new parents that you don’t know. If it’s travel, you need to speak to avid travellers. If it’s a generic consumer product, anyone can answer with the exception of your friends.

2. Learning from others

What you can see is that if you look at the stories of most of the biggest startups, the journeys have actually been choppy and turbulent.

There’re people that have been left by the wayside, challenges and situations that may not be mentioned by the official PR or founder biographies.

The most common pitfall I see from new startups is people thinking they have the best idea, but then pigeon-holing themselves straight out of the gate by not being open-minded.

Overambition is another big one. Being absolutely certain that your idea is the best thing since sliced bread and doesn’t need changing at all, that’s another downfall unless you’re the one in a million that gets it right. Ego can quickly get in the way of reality.

At some stage you’re going to have involvement with managing people, personalities and shifting priorities. So it’s less about individual traits and more about the collective and getting the right people on the bus.

In the case of FanFinders, what we’re doing is fairly transitional from the original idea for the business, so there is an element of being receptive to evolution and embracing change – even if that might mean something different to what you first conceived.

3. Scaling your startup

Startups work in many different ways.

If you’re funded and have capital to burn, your objectives may be focused on building brand and reputation first.

For us, being self-funded, it was about direct outreach with clients to scale. However, that process does have a natural ceiling and eventually you realise there is an order in which to grow your specific business.

Regardless, it comes down to ROI and financing.

Scaling and scaling sustainably are two different things: there are many businesses out there that are chasing scale without profitability in the belief that, if they get enough people using their product or enough visits to their website, they will make money.

But for all the businesses that do succeed that way, 90%+ fail. If you have capital behind you, you can just throw money into certain areas and that’s another reason so many startups fail, the money tree stops producing.

When growing entirely without external support, the primary objectives should be getting the right people aboard, reinvesting in the future and making sure that when you do scale, you have a firm, clear plan behind it and know when to rethink if it’s not working.

4. Ego is damaging

The best advice I can give is learn to let go.

You can’t manage everything. I’ve spent a lot of time climbing the walls and doing 20-hour days trying to solve every problem in the world, but the reality is you just lose focus.

You have to prioritise and let the little tasks that don’t matter go. They might be annoying, but work on things that really move the needle, otherwise you won’t get to where you want to be.

Building a successful business takes all sorts of voices and personalities.

In the past I’ve been described as a bit of a bulldozer at times or completely focused on getting stuff done and, while that can lead to success in lots of business scenarios, it can also be damaging.

The real power is in being able to step back and think.