Starting a business has never been easier. Traditional barriers to entry — such as access to a distribution model, the availability of online traffic, or the abundance of funding capital — have been lowered, which has made life easier for entrepreneurs.
By the same token, however, life has been made easier for everybody and competition has increased. The net effect is a crowded playing field where there are few winners and many losers.
Here are 10 ways you can stand out and succeed, drawn from our book Shortcut Your Start-Up. Just make sure you’re willing to put in the work and are comfortable with slim odds.
1. Get Into the Trenches: Investigation
Focus on the investigative work that needs to be done before launching a product or business, rather than solely relying on high-level research. Use this time to strategically evaluate the feasibility of your. There are numerous areas to explore during this time, from determining your pricing, to learning who your ideal customer is, to identifying your ‘hero’ product. While none of the work is particularly flashy, getting into the trenches early will save your company valuable time and money down the road.
2. Know If You’re a Speedboat or a Sailboat: Business Strategy
Business strategies are not created equal, and not all companies take the same route from point A to point B. Is your company is a sailboat or a speedboat? Speedboats are first movers in an industry that sprint to the finish line and define success by finishing first or second. On the other hand, sailboats head in a general direction, waiting for the surrounding winds to take them. Discovering what type of vessel to use—and sticking to it—is essential to your business’ success.
3. Obsessively Take Advantage of Your Unfair Advantages: Market Differentiation
Advanced knowledge of artificial intelligence, strong access to a supply chain, and a relationship with an influencer who will promote your product. What do these have in common? They’re all unfair advantages that can give your company a leg up on the competition. Whatever it is, everybody has some form of an unfair advantage, but simply having one is not enough! You must ruthlessly capitalize on it.
4. Do What You Do Best, and Outsource the Rest: Specialization
There’s a misconception that a great company or a great CEO must be great at everything. This could not be further from the truth. Focus on your strengths and outsource whatever is possible. If you’re a poor marketer, there’s no need to struggle and attempt to reinvent the wheel: outsource the functions to a marketing firm! This keeps your company lean, allows you to form valuable partnerships, and lets you focus on what you do best. The result is a quicker and more efficient workflow.
5. Build in Flexibility and a Diversified Focus: Iterations and Pivots
Sometimes, an original business plan doesn’t work out neatly. In fact, most of the time, the original business plan doesn’t work out neatly. Iterations and pivots are a natural part of any business, and it is crucial to remain flexible both mentally and physically with the structure of your business.
6. Think Milestone, Not Time: Operational Efficiency
Having goals for your company is great. However, too many companies focus on the wrong goals. They pay attention to receiving X dollars of funding, or having Y months of runway remaining. Instead, focus on tangible, measurable goals that affect your company’s operations, such as reaching a target churn rate or particular revenue amount. Thinking in operational milestones is more effective than using time or funding-based goals as you can pause and evaluate your paths along the way. Keeping a wide perspective and open mind is a key to success.
7. Nail It Before You Scale It: Model Refinement
Once you launch your product and company, the next step is to rapidly scale, right? Not quite. Many companies unravel during the scaling process. You need to ensure your company is strong enough to handle this stage. Initially having a great product that serves a few customers is much better than having an unpolished one that serves everybody. Working out any and all kinks during this period is crucial. The time for scaling will come, and when it does, your company must take the airplane, not the stairs.
8. 1% Better Is 1,000% Better: Relentless Improvement
Runners finish races within seconds of each other. The differences in times are miniscule — sometimes fractions of a second — but there is only one winner. Running a business is similar, as tiny details can push your company beyond the competition and give you the leg up. Identify these seemingly insignificant ways to improve your business, and the resulting effect of these improvements will compound greatly down the road.
9. Gain Buy-In With Heart-Based Momentum: Storytelling
Think of a few of your favourite companies or products. Odds are that you like them for a reason beyond the quality of their product and service. Maybe you love a company’s message, such as its decision to donate 1% of its top line revenues to those in underserved communities or countries. Customers are more focused on brand image than ever before and are increasingly buying based on emotion. Focus on what your product and company stand for, and create a brand that differentiates your business from the competition.
10. Success Doesn’t Equal a Successful Exit: Strategic Sales
Having a successful business does not always equate to having a successful business that people want to buy. In fact, it has become increasingly difficult to get acquired in recent years. Now, cash flows and profit are not enough to move the needle — your company must be strategic to potential acquirers. There are ways your company can catch the attention of acquirers though, from a novel distribution model, to new and innovative technology, to access to a particular demographic. The key is determining early on why a potential buyer needs you more than you need them.
More tips can be found in Shortcut Your Startup by Courtney and Carter Reum is published by Random House Business Books, £14.99.
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