by Festus Okubor
Building a business from scratch is hard. No one tells you about the loneliness, the hours spent developing an idea and strategy, the effort it takes to get people to even notice or care about this product you’ve created, and the fear that drives you every day. Here are some quick lessons I’ve learnt I’m my journey so far.
A – A Problem: Okay, maybe I’m cheating because this should actually fall under P, but it just underscores the importance. It’s the difference between a sustainable business and a hustle, or a deal, or a dream that never really comes alive. If your business is not out to solve an existing problem, no one really cares about it.
B – Board: Not just your formal board of directors, I use the term to include your mentors, your support system. Building a business is lonely, hard work, and it goes a long way to have people to bounce ideas off, who can sit you down and tell you when you’re being stupid (even though you’re going to ignore them anyway)
C – Crisis: Or chaos really, it’s a word you have to become familiar with. Before you start a business you think you’ll spend most of your time strategizing and implementing but in truth, a lot of your time will be spent putting out all sorts of fires. You quickly learn to think on your feet.
D – Demand: So you’ve identified a problem and you’ve thought through a solution. You’’ll have to dig a little deeper now. Ask Who is complaining about the problem I’m trying to solve, how many people face this problem? Are there enough people complaining about this to make this worthwhile or is it just a couple of really loud people who think like me? If your answer to the last question is a resounding yes, you’re about 30% on your way. The next step is how you go about satisfying the demand.
E – Experiment: if you’re even going to stand a chance, you’re going to have to learn how to experiment very quickly. The startup is formed to address the problem you e identified, in a sustainable, repeatable (read scalable) way. You will find that the only way to discover your business model is to experiment.
F – Funding: In my experience, there are basically two times to raise money for your startup, the first is when all you have is an idea and you need funding to start building, the second is when you already have a product that’s got some traction. I always tell people that the latter situation is what you should go for. Bootstrap your way into your completed prototype, your first customers. Funding for your idea will only come if you have a solid track record, or from your rich daddy, or from someone you probably shouldn’t be taking money from. Funding on traction gets you a better valuation, better terms and
G – Growth: your watchword. How will you gain new customers? How do you deepen your relationship with your existing customers? How will you enter new markets? How will you deal with risk? What are your personnel needs? Why? How? What?
H- Humility: if starting a business in this economy doesn’t teach you humility, nothing will.
I – Incubator: Maybe you need one, you probably don’t. While it’s nice to grow in a supportive environment, with the chance to tour the angel investor circuit and present on demo day, there are few people/programs who can teach you the things you will learn by roughing it out on the streets.
J – Jack Bauer: Because this is who you become, from the moment you get your first customer.
K – Knowledge: No one really tells you how much time you’re going to spend Googling things. The first time you realize it you might be taken aback, but its okay. To run a successful business you have to know a lot about a whole bunch of things, and Google is your friend.
L – Lawyers: Get a lawyer. Get a Lawyer friend. Do not sign that contract without one. God bless.
M – Measurement: when you’re running a business you must be able to measure everything. You have to keep score. Whether it’s how much it costs you to acquire a single user of your product, or its your websites Alexa rating, accounting, metrics and numbers are things you’re going to need to be familiar with.
N – Network: This can’t be overstated. It’s how you get your customers, how you get your mentors, how you get funding, how you get word of your wonderful product out. It’s how you get to know that your power wasn’t just disconnected by coincidence, it’s how you stay ahead of your competition. There’s a lot of opportunity out there, and you really never know until you meet the right people. Don’t be shy, say hi.
O – Optimize. Everyday. Learn from processes, feedback from customers, regulators, random passers by.
P – Product. Price. Promotion. Place (Distribution method). People. Processes.
Q – Question: you must constantly seek to learn and improve yourself. Albert Einstein said ‘Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning’
R – Rest: You’ll never look at the word the same again.
S – Start: You’re going to spend a lot of time listening to people tell you why you shouldn’t, and most of the time the moment you decide to do something, you’ll get a job offer, or some other distraction. You’’ll doubt yourself, you’ll second guess your model. Just start.
T – Technical skills: As a non-technical founder this is one of the trickiest things to handle. How do you make your dream product come to life when you can’t code your way out of a box? I would recommend sweating your existing contacts. If you don’t have a friend who can work on a low tech prototype, there are lots of websites that could help
U – Users: How do your users experience your products? Will they recommend it to their friends? Your users are kings and queens. Treat them right or its off with your head, eventually.
V – Values: This is who you are, it goes such a long way in building long term relationships and associations between your brand and your customers. Have a set of values that your brand stands for, articulate them and never compromise on them. It’s easier said than done, but completely worth it.
W- Win: building a startup is not for everybody. That’s the truth. You have to fight to survive everyday, you have people dependent on you and your decisions, and you have competition trying to suffocate you from day one. You have to develop a winning mentality or you’re toast.
X- X factor: Tell your story differently. It’s what differentiates you from Simbi down the road.
Y – You: Like I said before, building a startup is lonely, thankless work for the most part. A lot will come to depend on you and your belief in yourself, you should never let go of that. Advocate for yourself, allow yourself mistakes, reward yourself. Someone has to.
Z – Zenith: If all else fails, dust up your CV. When they ask you to ‘mention a time you took responsibility’ you just smile and tell your story very well.
Festus is a finance professional with a particular interest in energy, technology and impact investments. He is a co founder and adviser to a number of startups. He publishes The Stuff Weekly, a weekly roundup of the most interesting writing across tech, Economics and other topics. He blogs at www.thestuff.space
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