In general, startups are super hard. If this is your first startup, it gets more complex because of double-uncertainty – a) you don’t know whether your startup has legs and b) you don’t know whether YOU can pull this off successfully.
As you are struggling through things, experts around you have a field day of pointing all the gaps that exist in your thinking, execution and support structure. It is not hard to blow holes in a first-time startup. There is a laundry list of things that can go wrong.
Just take a few minutes and think about what all could go wrong. Here is what I came up with in twenty minutes:
1. Your assumptions may be wrong about the market, customers and the product need
2. A big company may be working on solving the exact same problem and could crush you to pieces (not literally, of course)
3. You may not able to attract the right team to grow.
4. You may not be able to raise capital on time
5. You may not be able to get along with your co-founders causing heartburn for everyone
6. Your first few hires may be wrong bringing down the whole company
7. Markets may move making your product or solution irrelevant
8. Customers might change their behavior and stop needing your product
9. You may price the product too high leading to lack of traction
10. You may price your product too low leading to “death by good growth”
11. You may not know how to price your product in international markets
12. You may be infringing on other patents causing legal troubles
13. You may spend a lot of time filing patents forgetting to build the business
14. You may not spend any time filing any patents exposing yourself in the process
15. Your product may not scale
16. Your product may have security holes causing heartburn for your customers ultimately bringing down your own business.
17. You may not know how to position well
18. You may be spending too little on marketing causing slow growth
19. You may be spending too much on marketing before you are ready for growth
20. Your product user interface sucks
21. The best prospects for your product may be in another country where English is the second language and your product is not internationalized
22. You never gave enough emphasis for first-time use of the product leading to early abandonment from your users
23. You may get backlash on social media and you goof up big time by the way you handle those issues.
24. Your website is broken
25. You don’t have the courage, confidence and charisma to win deals without the “complete” product.
26. Your product may become a feature for another product from someone else
27. You are addressing a very small niche and even if you WIN, it won’t be a big business
28. You are addressing a super big market so the product is diluted in value
29. Your current investors are not friendly and you are spending inordinate amount of time managing their expectations
30. You don’t have a well rounded advisory board to help you fill all the gaps
31. Your advisory board is too big and you are getting conflicting advice from different team members
32. Decision makers at your pilot customer change and the project gets scrapped
33. Your pilot customer gets acquired and the acquiring company has no need for your offering
34. Something comes up in your personal life and everything gets re-prioritized
35. Something comes up in the personal life of your key partner and everything gets re-prioritized
In summary, the “cost” of helping you may be too high AND the chances of “getting good returns for that help” may be too low.
But, you could change that!
What can you do?
Well, one sure fire thing you can do is to be a humble student of the craft and soak up learning from the right people.
Here are some ideas to increase your chances of winning this game:
1. Understand and prepare for rising levels of friction along the journey
When the idea is in your head, it is almost frictionless. Friction steadily raises as you move from your family to close friends to prospects to investors in a logarithmic scale. That’s the nature of the game. Rather than complaining about it, you can understand the phenomenon, prepare and be ready for it.
2. Learn to pierce through the “request overload to get good help”
It is imperative that you need good help. But unfortunately for you, the people who CAN provide that good help are overwhelmed with “requests for help.” To make matters worse, there are a lot of people who are more qualified than you in the same queue. Unless you can work hard to “stand out” and make a compelling offer to those who can provide that good help, you don’t stand a chance of getting that much needed help.
3. Stretch relationships beyond projects, causes and initiatives
It is common sense but sometimes we forget this – Long term relationships take a LONG time to build but it takes one bad move to break them. Startups are stressful and sometimes you may get tempted to get results at the expense of relationships. This is ALWAYS a bad move as you don’t lose a relationship, you lose a network of that person. Do that a few times and you are history in the startup world.
4. Accumulate “good karma” way before you need it
It is never too late to do a good deed and make someone’s day. Yes, there’s a moral reason to do it but more importantly there is a practical reason to do it as well. The world’s most powerful force is reciprocation and doing good karma consistently is the fastest way to unleash it.
5. Master the art of leverage
Since you most probably are working for a company before you start your entrepreneurship journey, there is no way you will find a soft landing. As an employee, you took a number of things for granted because there were so many players around you. Here, the buck stops with you every single time. This means sooner than later, you will experience a request overload and if you don’t know how to manage it well, you will experience a burn out. You have no choice but to master the art of leverage (Apply for this course if you are interested)
6. Lower the cost of working with you
A CEO friend was sharing his frustration with one of his direct reports. He would ask that person to create a plan and that direct report would reach out to him at least a dozen times for interim opinions to ensure that he was going in the right direction. By the time he got back that report, my friend (CEO) would be exhausted. It felt like he wrote most of the report. That is an example of “high cost” of working with someone.
There are “costs” to work with anyone. It is in your best interest to keep the costs of working with you very low. This would make it super attractive to help you.
7. Gain capacity to help them first!
Yes, it sounds ridiculous at first as all you are looking for is good help and you don’t have the time to do anything else. It is rarely a question of “time available” and is always a question of “current capacity” to move the needle in a very short time. When you see people who has this skill, you will feel like you witnessed magic. But they didn’t get this skill overnight and neither will you. In fact, if you don’t invest in building that skill, you never will get it. It is never too late to start investing in acquiring “more capacity to move the needle in a short span of time.”
When you do have that skill, it makes it easy to keep helping lots of people first (without breaking your back) and sooner than later you will start getting support for your projects even without you asking for it.
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