Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur? Are you excited about the prospect of striking out on your own? And, most importantly, are you prepared for the roller coaster of a ride you are embarking on?
To help you along the way, we’ve outlined five key things every startup entrepreneur needs to know. We also share some advice and tips from experienced, successful entrepreneurs who were once right where you are—in the trenches of an early-stage startup.
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1. Know Your Customers and Their Problems.
When it comes to your customers, you need to know everything you possibly can about them. StartupGrind.com notes that “successful entrepreneurs know their customers’ names, age, income, hobbies, tastes, dislikes, and more.”
Begin by thinking about who will benefit the most from your product. Then talk to prospective customers who meet that description to learn about their routines, their problems, and how they’re currently trying to solve them. Start with 3-5 customer interviews. Write out a description of that person or company. Include as much detail as possible, describing who they are, what they do, what challenges they are facing, and what goals they are trying to achieve. Are there patterns you see emerging around a common problem faced by a certain customer profile? This customer “persona” will help your team members know exactly who they are catering to and how they can best meet their needs.
As you begin building solutions, your customer interviews never stop. You want to constantly be talking to current and prospective customers. By really understanding your customers on a deep level, you will be able to tailor your content to them and better solve their pain points. But keep in mind that you can’t serve everyone–casting a wide net may not attract the qualified leads you need. Instead, think about why you are the perfect fit for a particular customer segment.
2. Know Your Product or Service.
This may sound obvious, but it’s not as cut-and-dry as you might think. According to Eugene Gold of Forbes, too many entrepreneurs make the mistake of assuming they can coast on a cursory understanding of their product.
Just because you understand why it’s great, that doesn’t mean everyone else understands. The reality is that you are the spokesperson for your business and you have to know your product or service like the back of your hand.
You should be able to explain your product or service in detail to someone who knows nothing about your industry. And you need to anticipate and be prepared for any and every question that a potential customer may have. After all, you are presenting yourself as the trusted expert on your product or service—that means you must understand what it is, what it does, how it works, and what makes it unique.
3. Identify Your Competitors, Then Differentiate Yourself From Them.
Competition is a good thing because it means you’re in a growing industry and that there’s money to be made. The key to success is to properly position your company and product in the right space relative to other competitors and to clearly and effectively message that position to your customers.
Chances are your product or service is not brand new, but there is something about it that makes it different from the competition. So how do you find that “it” factor? Start by identifying competitors with similar niches and then research their channels of communication. Look at their product categories, choose the biggest opportunity that separates you from the pack, and figure out how to leverage it.
The goal is to find that niche that sets you apart from—and above—your competitors. Maybe it’s the ease with which a customer signs up and begins using your product effectively with minimal effort. Maybe it’s the crystal clear way in which you’re communicating the value of your brand that makes a lasting impression with customers. Or perhaps it’s that your customer service is second to none, motivating consumers to do more business with you. Whatever it is, lean into what makes your product unique in the eyes of your customers and build on it.
4. Hire the Right People.
You might be a great entrepreneur, but you can’t build a huge business all by yourself. You need a team that can complement your strengths, can challenge you and can grow as your business grows. Whether you want to build software or sell physical products, you need the right team to support you. A fatal flaw of any startup is making mistakes in the early stages of your company. The wrong culture fit or an underperformer in a critical role can cripple your business before it gets off the ground..
Skye Schooley of Business News Daily explains that the first people you hire should have a few key qualities such as flexibility, passion, and trustworthiness. These people need to be willing to take on diverse responsibilities until you can expand further. They (and you) will have a lot to learn, so they should be eager to work together as both a team and as individuals to get the job done.
For additional information on when and how to hire each member of your startup team, check out this article from Forbes.
5. Leverage Your Failures as Opportunities to Learn and Grow.
You’re likely to fail many times on your journey as an entrepreneur as you seek to validate new ideas, features, and products. The key is to use these failures as valuable learning tools. Always be willing to validate and iterate on your ideas and your business until you find a repeatable, scalable model. Build. Measure. Learn. Repeat.
Once you’ve developed the habit of learning and iterating quickly, you are in a position to use any setbacks as growth opportunities. Continue this process of learning and iterating until you’ve found the right model that can scale. Then add fuel to the fire by building out the people and processes required for growth.
Closely examine your setbacks to find out your business’s weak spots and then use this information to test new ideas. And be sure to keep things in perspective. After all, failure means you at least tried—and you wouldn’t be able to move toward success without that experience.
Sure failure feels bad, and it can be tempting to give up altogether. But learning to leverage these failures by building them into the build-measure-learn feedback loop will allow you to use your setbacks as opportunities to continuously enhance your product and your company.
Advice From the Pros
The best advice typically comes from those who have traveled the road you are on before you and have experienced the right—and wrong—way of doing things. Take these tips and quotes to heart—and then take your idea and give it your best shot.
“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
— John D. Rockefeller, American industrialist and philanthropist
“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” — Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft
“If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help them build theirs.”
— Tony A. Gaskins, Jr., author, celebrity life coach, and intercontinental speaker
“Motivation is why the great athletes and entertainers perform so well. Motivation is what makes the difference in business too.” — Richard Branson, English business magnate, investor, author, and founder of the Virgin Group
“It’s very difficult to be consistent if you don’t have a clear vision of how you want to do things.”
— Elon Musk, entrepreneur and business magnate
The Bottom Line
By taking this knowledge to heart, you are one step closer to experiencing success on your startup journey. And if you need more guidance along the way, check out what Harmony Venture Labs has to offer. HVL, a Birmingham, Alabama-based venture studio, is focused on making a positive impact on local, digital, and global communities by building startups and supporting those building technology products.
The HVL team leverages extensive experience in new venture creation and growth to bring new ideas into reality, cultivate talent, and support founders. With the recent launch of our HVL Studio, we are hard at work refining our validation processes, starting with our internally generated ideas. If you’d like to see if your idea would be a good match for HVL Advisory services or a future partnership with HVL Studios, please connect with us.