words | Eran Shay & Ayelet Mamo Shay
Everyone has at least one idea for the next big thing. What makes start-up founders different is their willingness to take action to make one of those ideas a reality. The great thing about the Internet Age is that even a small start-up from tiny Gibraltar can reach potential customers from all over the world, so given the right ingredients, the sky is the limit. If you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, and want to start a start-up, that’s great! That’s also just the beginning… Here are a few steps and an actionable guide on how to start:
Dream big, start small
Starting a fast-growing tech business is incredibly challenging, and requires a variety of skills. Yet what separates start-up entrepreneurs from other business people is their visionary character, their ability to think big, creativity and being highly motivated. As they say “only those who dare, succeed”.
Don’t keep your idea to yourself
It’s tempting once you have your idea to keep it to yourself. Other people might steal it, but if you’re not confident in your idea or that you can assemble the best team to execute it, then maybe that idea isn’t right. I don’t expect you to tweet it but if you’re making freelancers or advisors sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) before you tell them your idea, you’re not confident in it. Even if you do get everyone to sign NDAs, once you launch your idea what is to stop someone seeing it and making a better version? Google was not the first search engine and Facebook was not the first social network. Your start-up needs to be the best-in-class, not necessarily the first to market.
Research your potential market
Conducting market research is the first step to determine if you really do have an idea worth pursuing. Begin your research by writing down what you think the problem is that your business idea would be solving. Physically write it down and keep it in front of you. Figure out how many people are having this problem that you’re solving and go talk to them. Consider writing up a survey for these potential “customers” to take and see what they have to say. After you get your results, check out the competition and figure out if you are different enough (in a good way) to do battle with them.
Have a business plan
A critical component for setting your start-up off on the right path is to have a good business plan. You can write it yourself, but using specialist advisors may actually be more beneficial as they can provide insights on strategic directions, point out possible business models, prepare financial forecast and act as a professional sounding board to your ideas. They can often connect you to potential investors and other reputable professional service providers (lawyers, accountants etc).
You can do things as a solo founder but it’s harder. Lots of investors don’t like investing in just one person for various reasons but there are examples of doing it alone. If you are considering it, make sure you get decent support on the areas you’re weaker. For example, if you’re a businessperson, find design and tech advisors.
Design a prototype
Most of your thoughts, even the best ones, will never see the light of day, sadly. The only exceptions are those thoughts you prototype. Make them physical, if they can be – program them, design them, do anything that makes them more than just thoughts. Most people will stop right here. So, if you do this, you are already ahead of the imaginary curve. Once you have your prototype, test it in the “real world” or get a critical mass of people to critique it. Although a few people will get it right on the first try, the odds are, you will not. So prepare to redo everything from scratch.
Apply for an accelerator program
If you need some additional resources and expertise, consider applying for an accelerator program. A start-up accelerator program, like the one offered by Benefit Business Solutions in Gibraltar, helps speed the growth of the company by providing a mentor network along with sector-specific links to enable your product/service to be formally introduced into the market. These programs can also give their companies the exposure and funding contacts they very much need in order to grow and expand to new markets.
For many start-ups, taking it to the next level requires a financial investment in the company. Founders give equity in their company to angel investors or venture capital investors in return for money and, sometimes, advice. The resources can be an enormous help, but don’t be tempted to accept any investment. Ensure to obtain a professional valuation of your start-up, so you don’t end up giving to much equity in return for the investment amount.
Build your brand and grow
Branding goes far beyond selecting your start-up’s name, logo, symbol, design and any other communication (e.g. product packaging) that your company has with the market. Branding for start-ups becomes even more important as your company grows as it reflects the core value propositions of your business. Advertising, promotion, thought leadership and other direct and indirect marketing activities play a pivotal role in converting people into customers. These customers will fuel further growth and as long as you can retain existing customers and attract new ones, your path to success is secure.
The launch is just the start. Keep going. Keep iterating. Try out features. Change the design. Talk to your customers. Enjoy the journey. Any founder will tell you, start-ups aren’t meant to be fun. It’s hard, stressful work and you’ll hit a lot of obstacles along the way. One day you might want to pack it all in, the next you’ll totally love it. You might become rich and famous or you might crawl out of the rubble of a failed start-up. Don’t be scared off by failure. It’s better to try and fail than never try at all.