5 Things You Need to Know Before You Launch Your Own Business
You have your idea. You have your dedication. You have the decision before you: Are you going to go for it? Are you going to take your idea and figure out how to turn your passion into a business? Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a one-day conference for non-techy wannabe-founders called HustleCon. The conference featured 15 already-founders talking candidly about what has and what hasn’t worked for them to a room of 500 people, who traveled from all over the world (we’re talking five of the seven continents). If you’re someone who is trying to pursue your dreams and start your own business, here are tips from aspirational entrepreneurs who are out there in the trenches, hustling with the rest of them.
Finding your core community starts before you have a website, an app or a brick and mortar. Your core community is filled with the people who believe so deeply in your mission that they will eventually become evangelists for your idea. But these people aren’t just going to fall into your lap. Matthew Brimer, founding partner of General Assembly, built such a strong core community that they took his idea of creating a collaborative space for entrepreneurs and startups and helped him create the successful business that he runs today — success being 19 locations in six different countries.
How did he do it? The answer is surprisingly obvious: When you find someone who is excited about your idea, build that relationship. It’s a matter of 1:1 coffees, group dinners, giving insider space tours or previews to whatever it is you’re working on, manually building your email list with every email you come across and letting these people be the first to try your product, whether that’s through pre-sales or advance memberships. If you’re thinking, “I have way too much to do; I can’t be off having coffees and going to dinners with people,” rethink that. Your core community is going to offer you thoughtful and invaluable feedback and the personal endorsement and word of mouth advertising that is so essential to the success of your business. Take the time. Get a drink. Get a dinner. It’s really not that bad.
Know That It Takes Time to Do Something Right
If you think you’re going to build something in six months and it’s going to have a million users the day after you launch it, prepare to have your bubble burst. Every speaker at Hustlecon spent years building their product before they even pushed it to market. When they did push it out, the backend was often akin to looking behind the curtain and seeing the not-so-great and not-so-powerful OZ. Read — they were doing things very manually. This doesn’t mean that you’ll build continuously for a year or two in the void. Your job is to do rapid prototyping, show it to as many people as possible, collect feedback and reiterate. If something is taking you longer than a week to build with no feedback, it’s taking too long. Jank something together, show it, get feedback, make it better, make it right —- do you see how this process could take time?
Since the idea is to not invest a lot of time or money building something that is just a prototype, rather than bringing a top-notch programmer in at $150 per hour, Arum Kang, founder of Coffee Meets Bagel, suggests contracting someone overseas for around $15 per hour. The code might not be beautiful, but it will let you test and validate your idea before you invest in higher-level development after you know your idea is a success.
Leaving the security of a steady paycheck and health insurance for an idea you have — whether that’s making a necklace, opening up a tea shop or developing an app — is going to sound crazy to most people — and that’s because it is. And if you’re crazy enough to still go forward with it no matter how many people tell you you’re nuts, then you, my friend, are an entrepreneur. Stubbornness is a trait that innovators the world over posess.
If you’re wondering just how irrational you should be, let Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, be your guide. In 2001, Westergren was in need of some Series B funding. But the market had just crashed, and there was no funding to be had. Rather than throwing in the towel when everyone told him it was over, Westergren racked up $500,000 in credit card debt and convinced his 50 loyal employees to continue working for him… unpaid… for two years. Westergren said he just felt so certain that he had something that could really change the world and the way we listen to music.
In 2005, he got $9 million in funding, paid his employees the $2 mil he owed them in back wages, (yes, he owed them TWO MILLION DOLLARS) and built the behometh that Pandora is today. That’s what being irrational (and maybe a little crazy) can get you. But let’s not confuse irrational and stubborn for pigheadedness. Westergren remained flexible when it came to what the application of his idea would be. At the time of the company’s crisis, Pandora didn’t even have a product, Westergren didn’t know what to do with The Music Genome that he had built and he and his team tried lots of things before they figured out the right application. So be flexible with that wild, yet genius, idea of yours.
Pitch Your Story to Everyone. Continually Refine It.
No matter if you’re trying to get funding or not, refining and developing your story is part of starting a business. People have to understand what your mission is, and to do that, there needs to be a real human connection — something that makes you want to get involved with that company or product. The first time you tell your story, it’s not going to be your real story. The second time you tell it, nope, still not there. The 100th time? You’re getting closer, but you still might be missing the emotional element.
Finding the story that sticks, connecting people with you and your brand and making them want to be a part of it is hard to refine. Adam Draper, founder Boost VC, says that if you’re not willing to tell your story to your friends and family, just assume that your business is dead in the water. And while not everyone needs to get funding, if you do end up throwing that into the equation, you need to get your story down pat before you even think about talking to investors. You should be excited about your idea and want to talk about it nonstop. Eventually, you’re going to find the right mix of words and hit a chord with people.
Grow Some Thick Skin and Embrace the Rollercoaster Ride
It goes without saying that if starting something new was easy, everyone would do it. As Elon Musk quoted, “Starting a company is like staring into the abyss and eating glass.” So saying your next few years might be rough (but oh-so worth it) is putting it lightly. And while you’re venturing into those uncharted waters and trying to figure out what the heck you’re doing, there’s a chance you might need funding.
Before Adam Draper started Boost VC, he too was in the market for funding. Just to paint a picture of what that might look like, he told the crowd that he sent out over 3,000 emails, got over 300 in-person interviews and heard back from just a little over 30 of those people. So expect to hear “NO” a lot, potentially over 3,000 times in one year. But you’ve got a good idea that you’re determined to make work, so you can handle it. Show the passion you have for your project, get your story down, tell it to everyone you can and eventually someone is going to give you that golden yes.
What tactics have worked for you before you launched a business or project? Let us know in the comments below!
It can be intimidating to step out on your own and build a business from the ground up. As part of our collaboration with Office Depot, we're talking with Selfmade alum and solopreneur Colette Lawrence, the faith-based motivator and relationship builder behind The M.E.E. Movement, about ways in which women in business can find success.
B + C: How did you know M.E.E. Movement was your business to start?
The M.E.E Movement represents motivation, empowerment, and encouragement for women. It is what represents me. I did not know at first that it was my business to start, but then the thought of monetizing what I loved came to me. It scared me, however. I registered the business in July 2020 and have been slowly building my wings since.
B + C: What's one strategy that's helped you start your business?
Thinking through and researching what the requirements are to start my business, and then asking questions of people who are in the business. Not all advice worked; however, it helped me to figure out what I needed to do and not to do.
B + C: Did you always know life coaching would be your entrepreneurial path?
(Smiles) No, I did not. I 'stumbled" on it. I knew that people were always coming to me for advice and I found that I loved having conversations with them, especially with women, young and old.
B + C: What was your most valuable takeaway from Selfmade?
My most valuable takeaway was the first day of training: Get out of your own way. There were a lot of great moments and important takeaways from every presenter. However, getting out of my own way, pushing past doubts, was for me my most valuable takeaway. Doing something that I had never done before took courage. If I do not focus on what is happening with me mentally then I cannot deliver to my clients successfully.
B + C: What's one piece of advice you would give to female entrepreneurs on the brink of starting?
Get out of your head. You have something to offer. You have what you need to succeed so go ahead and do it.
B + C: How do you stay motivated?
I stay motivated by listening to music and listening to motivational speakers, and sometimes someone will just reach out and talk about the impact that I made in their life. That adds the extra juice or sauce I need to pummel through the day.
B + C: What's your best organizational tip?
Keep a diary and journal. It's the best way for me to keep organized and it also provides a source motivation as I record not only my "losses" but my wins as well.
B + C: Who inspires you in the entrepreneurial space?
Shirley Toliver – She motivates and empowers and makes me always want to show up.
B + C: What has receiving the Office Depot scholarship to Selfmade done to help you start or grow your business?
The scholarship was a blessing in that all the areas that were covered offered valuable information that I needed, from social media to HR. As a new business owner, I needed to know this to increase my own personal awareness in what it takes to run a successful business. The candidness of the presenters made it easy to see myself in their shoes and helped me to realize that I can also get there.
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Head to Office Depot's Selfmade page to check out even more amazing business resources (and discounts!) to help you accomplish more on your entrepreneurial journey. These offers are available for a limited time only, so be sure to take advantage of all this goodness while supplies last. Want to join the next Selfmade cohort this summer? Check out all of the scholarship details right here.