Don’t get me wrong, sometimes good will and endless energy burst is just not enough to cut it. There is a reason why among successful startuppers there are lots of people in their 40 & 50-ties – cause they already know if, what, how, with whom and when to do.
While digitizing my clients’ businesses nearly 20 years I’ve seen that some projects took off. Some didn’t. I’ve witnessed how people burnt investors’ money without a blink and then start again and again without any ethical conflicts in them. Younger founders are even more careless with investors’ money. I’ve experienced struggles with my staff, clients and changing markets a lot to learn the hard way and the even harder way.
1. Research & setup
I am constantly approached by startuppers due to my experiences and contacts. And this is OK. I can help you with research, setup, planning, marketing, sales, MVP, accounting, legal if needed.
Pitch and financials, my own expertise and understanding of the context tells me usually what’s the real challenge. For some I’ve asked help from my partners – to conclude “NO”. As an advisor I perhaps can advise to dig deeper and present compelling data, to extent that a proper market research has to be done. Founders are usually optimists, yet real life is at least 4x times worse. Small problems and ideas don’t make it anymore.
Another neglected part is business around the service or product. Even if product /service itself is cash-flow-positive then keeping up the whole structure that’s needed to operate the business takes much more resources. Starting small is smart, to grow fast you need manpower and if you can’t afford it then you die bootstrapping or need to give away equity till the point when business loses it’s point to founders. So yes, I look at pitches and give feedback. Improving these means I am already working.
2. Idea Validation
First thing I always help to do is to validate the idea. Just try asking yourself these questions first.
– What is the problem, what is the solution?
– Try to understand is there any money and how much for how long?
– How you get it, what exactly do you have to do to get that money?
– Do the math to get an approximate understanding if your idea is worth your time digging any further. Draw financial calculations that describe what it takes to run this business. And what it takes to start one.
– Most probably there are competitors who have realized exactly the same idea at exactly the same time as you. They may have gone further or not with their developments. They might differ from you in details. Find out, list them up. Ideas are worth nothing without proper execution!
– What is the process, exactly. All details matter. Sometimes it takes just another approach to be success ot failure.
– What you have today, what you have to buy or make to get it up and running? How much it’s gonna take time, money and expertise, what you don’t have?
– Are you capable of doing it all by yourself or you need co-founders? There are serial entrepreneurs, venture agencies helping newcomers to succeed.
Yet for me the most important are first 10 paying clients. Whatever you say or claim, they are your proof of concept. Not just 10 1x deals, but recurring payments. Without consistancy there’s no business.
There are a number of techniques how one could get a cutting edge strategy. As for sure there is always a catch – what works for others does not work for you. Sadly I’ve been investigating few startups where everything seemed to be in the place but these didn’t fly. You can’t build something doing having “me-too” in mind. Just copying someones brilliant billion dollar idea isn’t going to work as contexts change and so do you. You gotta have your own DNA what differs you from others and makes you believable and trustworthy.
I do not believe in “Fake til you make it” strategy. I believe in research and strongly motivated team with a problem that is addressed to be solved as there is a demand and clients are willing to pay money for it.
Bigger picture you look at, more options you start to see. More complex it becomes. Yet World has changed already and little problems don’t attract nor clients nor investors. How to address problems in a way to provide the biggest possible impact, covering all contextual problems – that’s strategy. Sounds simple, right? Try that after you have gone through all materials and financials, all challenges that the business context has.
Describe 5 of your friends and I’ll tell you who you are! Well, yes and no. Business network is sometimes much more fun to develop as you have people’s interests written in their business cards or linkedin profiles. The only thing is to approach them with good enough valuable proposition. And sometimes it just is so god-damn-time-consuming work, so we tend to hire sales guys to do it for us. What I’ve discovered is that networking might bring you the knowledge and expertise much faster if you knew what are you looking for. To get random contacts isn’t so hard, but to get meaningful contacts in no-time that accelerate your business, yeah… that is called hard work. One could think of a right network as a foundation to your future business. Right people open doors for your if you are realizing their ideas matching yours. So having a strategy that connects people you have much higher probability to get connected with right people. We all are after the value and energy, after all!
5. Marketing & Sales
10 years after I founded my company someone told me at one marketing conference that I was not in software business, I was in digital marketing business. That was a kind of shock to me. But then I studied marketing at MA course in Estonian Business School and it came clear to me that I’ve been in marketing since 1992 not knowing of it myself. Marketing classics say you should ask to whom, what, how to develop your marketing strategy. By mistake it’s assumed that marketing is always towards clients. But one should consider marketing as a daily event we all do all the time.
At some phase some people compete trying to claim marketing is more important than sales etc. Fact is, no part of business process are independent. Each of them holds specific role and responsibility. Now, off from my daily businesses I can clearly see my misconceptions and faults, where I neglected my own given advice to others. Here are my marketing takeaways.
Frequent Consistent Repetitive that’s sales. In current World we can no more rely on random actions that take us to random results. Cash is the fuel and once one has solved the client’s problem definition and there’s a solution for that – start selling. One might ask what is the best sales system – I’d say the one that brings the money 24×7. So why haven’t you set up one of your own? There are several best practices out there, most of them selling high tickets to that knowledge themselves. How to navigate, how to develop your own cost effective system with right KPIs? How to find right type of people who are motivated, etc? Defining that all by yourself can be done, it just takes time.
6. Project Management
Depending on the nature of the project there are several options and tools how to run it. Once you have the goal, you should define criterias how you get there. What resources you need and how are you willing to use these. We all have seen unsuccessful projects been led by too many people. Actually there are few simple principles to take guidance from. After you follow these rules, it seems easy. Yet finding a suitable software for that led me to develop my own and that was too expensive. One could also use pen and paper to do it or outsource everything and then taking full responsibility for others.
7. Product development
Running a software development company for 20 years I know myself extremely well how much of a pain it can be, to get things done cheap, fast, properly. And if it’s getting more expensive every day, even the tiniest software development, not mentioning sophisticated solutions.
Probably can give you other views how to look at tasks in front of you. Usually there are more than 3 alternatives, each containing its own risks. What have been my learnings, might save your time, money, skin.
8. Raising funds
Planes don’t fly without money, so don’t startups. Even-though internet is full of coaches and free or paid pitching templates, still too many startups fail preparing pitches that address investors’ fears. My work with startups has taught me – it’s not too simple to develop a really good pitch unless you know all the details of the business fully. It has taken me from few hours to few months to give advice that helped. Positioning and messaging differs for possible investors, be them angels, VCs of family offices investing in different rounds.