My start-up, Kamber, is nearly eight months old and it would be an understatement to say I’ve learnt a few things during that period.
Some have been difficult lessons while others have been very pleasant surprises.
Overall, the business is a lot further ahead than I had anticipated based on the key indicators: clients, revenue, headcount and some less tangible stuff.
But, it is only a (relatively) small sample and obstacles can come from any and every direction.
Anyway, here’s my (very honest) account of my experiences thus far:
1. Getting past the initial doubt is the biggest battle
A story which exemplifies this the most is the time it took to develop a name and brand identity for the business.
The first 10 days of operation was dedicated to coming up with something that ticked all the boxes (URL availability, business name availability etc), but it was painful.
Eventually a name and identity was settled upon, but feeling like you were failing at the very first hurdle (for 10 long days) was quite deflating.
However, once the breakthrough happened, it provided a shot of confidence too. It made me feel like I could navigate anything that came afterwards.
If you have doubts about starting something up, that is natural, both just before and just after you get started, but having confidence in your personal history of problem solving is paramount.
2. Don’t wish the first six months away
About 6 weeks into this thing, I said to a friend it would be so much easier if I could just hit a fast forward button and get to the six month mark and get the foundation stuff under my belt.
But, as my friend so perfectly pointed out, I’d miss some really cool things too.
The sign going up outside the office.
The first client being signed.
The first client cheque coming in.
The process of the first hire.
It didn’t provide me with a whole lot of solace at the time, but looking back now, skipping past that period would have been a mistake (plus I don’t think that technology exists…yet).
3. Strip back your marketing strategy, and strip it back again
Every start up is different (clearly).
In some situations, funding enables revenue to be a lesser focus in year one while establishing the brand / product takes precedence.
However, in most cases revenue is what enables growth, but how do you generate it if no-one knows who you are or what you do?
This makes marketing a really difficult balancing act.
Our natural inclination is to do as much as we can in as many places as we can, and as a start up that is a very powerful urge.
Limit that urge.
Once you’ve developed the first cut of your marketing strategy, strip it back. Review, tweak and strip it back again.
There are so many things going on your head, especially during the first six months, so I found having a very focused marketing strategy allowed me to do one or two things really well, not eight things OK.
Keeping it simple is one of the world’s oldest pieces of advice, but I found it has been a terrific beaconn.
4. Think about what your offer will look like in three years, seriously
We live and operate in an era that is categorised by change. Rapid, rapid change.
I feel like I’ve got a good idea of what our offer will look like in three years and that influences every decision that is made.
But, it is a difficult balancing act between developing a business that can fulfill the immediate needs of the market versus being ahead of the curve.
I don’t think there is any magic formula to this, and it takes a degree of belief to think in that way all the time, but it has really helped me make decisions with more conviction.
In short, I’ve learnt pretty quickly to let the future influence decisions as much as the immediate priorities do.
Even if those decisions don’t turn out to be the right ones, at least you have a criteria in place to be more decisive.
5. Just say no
I reached out to my friend Mat Singley just before I made the ‘jump’ and asked him if he had any advice.
His big thing was having the confidence and common sense to say no to things.
The last thing you want to do is say yes to something you can’t deliver on.
Over time you might be able to add additional service layers to your offer, but to begin with, do the things you are good at doing.
Closely linked to this is saying no to clients if they’re not right for you, even if they present a commercial opportunity.
This is a tough thing to do as a start up, but the more time and energy you expend on something that isn’t right, the less you are focusing on the parts of your business that can help bring the right things in.
I still struggle with this one but am getting better at it, and I can’t advocate it enough.
6. Know exactly what you are selling, and use feedback to your advantage
This seems like an obvious one, but I often visit websites and have no idea what I’m being asked to buy.
While the blog is the heartbeat of our website, it is the product and services pages which enable people to make an educated decision about potentially working with us.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed those pages or how many times I’ve wanted to bang my head against my desk because people still weren’t sure what we did.
But, this feedback has been important, it constantly reminds me who my audience is and what I need to provide them.
More importantly, this feedback has helped refine the core offer of the business.
7. Question everything and confront the uncomfortable answers
This is something I learnt very early on, even before going live.
What is genuinely different about this business versus the competitor set?
Is that contract / agreement really suitable?
Why are you going to that event, really?
Do you really need to develop that new tool?
Being small is great and it enables you to adapt quicker than big organisations.
But, your resources are limited, and it puts a premium on your time and energy.
Asking yourself questions along the way, and being honest with yourself (even if you don’t like the answers), helps hugely.
This is something that I haven’t been great at, but of late it has really helped me even if it has involved tackling some not-so-pleasant things.
8. Step back and turn it off
It’s true, a start up camps out in your mind and takes up residence at the very top of the street.
I’m an over-thinker too which is a recipe for sleepless nights.
The best way to deal with this (in my experience) has been to do things that disconnect you from the business and the sector it is in.
I’ve made doing things on my weekend a priority recently and have found I am a lot more productive during business hours.
This, again, might seem like a common sense observation but common sense if often ignored.
What’s applicable to you?
I find it harder and harder to write things like this because what is applicable to me may not be even slightly relevant to you.
In fact, one of this things that the social web has spawned is a million experts who position general advice as life changing.
The best advice is provided when a specific situation is being assessed, leading to specific and relevant solutions.Not general ones.
In saying that, there might be a couple things here worth keeping in the very back of your mind if the start up scene interests you.