When it comes to building a successful startup, a little preparation goes a long way.
Today, practically every new business considers itself a startup. The startup ethos—rapid, runaway growth—has been drilled into the collective consciousness of just about every founder.
And while that mentality has led to many successful exits and acquisitions, it’s also led to countless failures and innumerable empty offices.
So, it’s easy to believe that those who’ve shepherded a startup from seed round to IPO are superhuman—they must have breezed through those early years with only a minor hiccup or two.
The reality is quite different. Talk to enough successful founders and CEOs, and you’ll realize they had the same problems and struggles as everyone else.
At some point, they all found themselves asking the same questions: How do I scale a company quickly while keeping enough structure in place to prevent it from crashing down around me? How do we decide when to stay the course and when to make a judicious pivot? What’s the best way to fund this venture? What do I do when a key hire doesn’t live up to expectations?
Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all answers. A large part of surviving the inevitable dilemmas you’ll face comes down to preparation and foresight. You may not anticipate every crisis, but by heading off potential issues before they develop into systemic problems, you can save time, money, and mental effort for what matters the most—growing your business.
With that in mind, here are a few of Minutes’ top contributors on what it takes to avoid some of the most intractable startup problems in the first place.
If you don’t know the way, find someone who does. (Sami Rusani, CRO of ShipChain)
“One of the best decisions our team made early on was hiring a tech lead before hiring any developers.
She sat down and worked out a plan for scaling immediately, which included everything we needed to do to hit the milestones we’d laid out for ourselves. Then, she hired the right specialists to help us reach those goals.
If we hadn’t hired her first, we probably would have wound up hiring a Python programmer, a back end developer, and a web developer all at once, just because we didn’t know the best route to take.
Entrepreneurs tend to have the “ready, fire, aim” mentality. They realize they need to do more marketing, so they think, “Okay, let’s go get a bunch of marketers.” But that kind of haphazard approach leads to chaotic, unsustainable growth.
If you don’t know exactly who you need to help you scale quickly, then your first step should be hiring someone who does.”
Test the market for your product before you go all-in. (Tero Isokauppila, Founder of Four Sigmatic)
“It may sound obvious that you should make a product people actually want to buy, but sometimes founders are so infatuated with their idea that get ahead of themselves. They spend all their money only to discover too late that it’s not what the market wants.
I always say: test with ponies, ride with stallions. In other words, figure out how to spend as little money as possible to test your product on a small scale. If you’re selling kombucha, sample it at the farmer’s market and see if people respond.
You have to test multiple ponies before you know you have a stallion. When you know it’s a hit, that’s when you start investing money and doing A/B testing online. Eventually, you can get your product on the shelf.
It takes patience, but it’s essential to get it right before you go broke.”
Take time to properly vet any potential business partners. (Samantha Radocchia, Co-Founder of Chronicled)
“It’s actually a smart idea to flat out ask potential partners about their motivations and values.
Why are they interested in this venture? Are they trying to build a billion-dollar unicorn, or are they just trying to put their kids through college and make sure everyone has health insurance?
The current startup climate encourages a mindset of constant, unchecked growth. That’s what makes a company “successful.” But success is a relative term, and you have to figure out what works for you and your potential partner.
The best partners that I’ve worked with in the past are humble, and clear about their motivations and values. Understanding where each person is coming from and what your reasons are for working together is of the utmost importance for a long-lasting business partnership.”