Building a startup from the ground up is an extremely demanding task. There is already plenty of advice on the topic, but I think that the advice out there is not serving those tenacious entrepreneurs. This is why I am going to give some honest pieces of advice that hopefully will cut through all that bad advice and put those startup founders in a better position.
There are only Two Things your Business NEEDS to Do!
I am so tired of seeing headlines like “Why Your Business Needs to Invest In Interactive Content” or “10 Reasons Why Your Business Needs To Move To The Cloud”. At best, these contain valuable advice wrapped in hyperbole. At worst, they are full of lies that will lead your business down the wrong path.
It is time we began ignoring them. At the end of the day, there are two things that every business needs to do, if they want to survive that is. They need to deliver something that is valuable to some people or organizations and make that value profitable. That is the core of any business outfit. We all cater to our group of people and make money doing so. Anything that does not contribute to doing those two things is going to slow you down.
Make something valuable and sell it for a profit. Everything else is negotiable. Doing too much of that “everything else” can and will distract you. Distractions can and will kill you and your business. When you see or hear somebody tell you that there’s something that you are not doing that you “need” to be doing, don’t feel guilty about it, and do not deviate from the strategies you are testing until you know if they are working or not.
Relationships with Smart People will Save Your Business
You are going to fall into a lot of valleys of despair along the startup journey. Some days, some weeks, some months… just are not fun. Having people I could turn to for smart guidance has saved my tail more times than I can count. Any even in the good times, those relationships have led to incredible opportunities for us.
A relationship with another founder led to one of our key products. A mentor of mine also introduced me to people who have now become business partners with my company. Networking matters. But probably not in the way you might think. A lot of people think networking is just trading business cards.
But it is not, and the reason why is that your business card has no value. Relationships are built on adding value to each other’s lives. Building your network is about delivering value to as many of the right people as possible so that when you need something, somebody in your network will be happy to help you get where you want to be.
Your Product is a Commodity
You are selling a commodity. While that may not have been true ten years ago, today, that is how the world works and increasingly so as time goes by. Sure, there are exceptions, but they are few and far between. For the vast majority of us, if your product is not already a commodity, it will become one in the next few years.
It Has Never Been Easier and Less Costly to Build Things
Sure, it was a big deal when the cloud made it possible to start up without needing to buy your own physical servers. But that is just one huge example that everyone points to. The reality is that these sorts of technical and operational advancements happen every year, making a range of parts of running a business more cost-effective all the time.
Each one may be on a small scale than cloud computing, but there are tons of them, and together, they have combined to create a snowball effect where building a product is getting so much easier than it used to be with each year that goes by.
Anyone who builds a successful product now risks commoditization from a couple of directions. One, from below, where new startups can quickly “copy” the product you have validated in the marketplace. Or two, from above, where cash-rich businesses who cannot or will not acquire you can throw money at the challenge and build a similar product.
Ultimately, the world of business is a tough, consistently changing, place. If you are not willing to keep on top of where your market is moving and do not make the relationships to keep you closely tied to your business ecosystem you will quickly be out-done by someone from above or below.