How many times have you heard or suspected that a certain entrepreneur was just lucky? Without fully discounting that random good things sometimes happen, I’m a firm believer that great entrepreneurs make their own luck. The smart ones get some extra support early on critical decisions, and work a bit harder on issues that are common startup killers.
As a member of the advisory board for several startups and a mentor to other entrepreneurs, I’ve accumulated my own list of strategies and recommendations on where “going the extra mile” can save you from disaster or supercharge your startup for maximum growth under any circumstances. Here are a few:
1. Surround yourself with help rather than helpers.
Helpers do what you tell them, but you need help from people smarter than you and can do what you need in areas outside your expertise. Helpers may be cheaper and quicker to find, but they cost you dearly in managing, coaching and error recovery. Team strength trumps team size every time.
2. Manage outgoing cash flow personally.
In the heat of a thousand daily crises, it’s too easy for an entrepreneur to delegate expense management. The objective is not to delay payments, but to avoid the expense or capital payment altogether, by working in house, bartering for services or just doing without.
3. Cushion your investment requirements.
Do your homework to realistically size development, marketing and staffing requirements, and then increase the number by 50 percent. Subtract the amount you are able to contribute to find the amount you will need from investors. Don’t wait for the first cash-flow crisis to start talking to investors.
4. Assume your initial strategy will be wrong.
That means you need to maintain a mindset of constantly adapting to the realities you see. Those entrepreneurs who build a plan then put their head down and charge will find themselves with flat growth and no resources or energy to recover. Smart entrepreneurs always have a plan B.
5. Be stingy with your energy and time.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” with a smile on your face. Saying yes to everyone will kill you. Keep some reserves for a focus on the urgent priorities of strategy, attracting customers and beating competitors, rather than the crisis of the moment. Learn how to delegate, seek outside help and balance your life.
6. Choose advisors as carefully as your executives.
A good business advisor who is an expert in your domain and has built a startup like yours is often more valuable than any C-level executive. Resist the temptation to be defensive, and don’t assume you are somehow smarter than the competition. Actively listen to mentor and customer feedback.
7. Register intellectual property early.
If you can’t find anything innovative in your user interface, process or algorithms, you need to think again and add something for a competitive barrier to entry and increased valuation. Any intellectual property will help, including trademarks, copyrights and domain names. No proprietary content is death.
8. Start marketing before you have a product to sell.
With today’s social media and crowdfunding platforms, you can effectively test the waters before you build. If you see no traction, it may be time to pivot before you spend time and money on something that is not going to work. Great marketing is often more important than a great product.
No matter how great your idea, remember that building a successful business is all about speed. Make decisions, get things done and move forward. In most cases, any decision is better than no decision. Any startup that is not moving forward faster than competitors and the market is idling.
Above all, don’t count on luck to make your startup successful. There is no substitute for non-emotional realistic goals, productive relationships, good planning and hard work. Super-focused entrepreneurs build supercharged startups, which turn into successful businesses. How solid is your plan to get lucky?