Launching a business is an intimidating venture, but it’s also an exciting one that can attract a lot of attention and advice from friends and family. As a serial entrepreneur though I’ve listened to everyone from my business partners to my children and learned the hard way that while all advice is well-meaning, it isn’t all useful.
So, who should you listen to? In my experience there are only two types of people who can give you sound advice for building a successful business – your customers and other entrepreneurs. I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years…
1) Keep a contacts database
An online database will help you keep in touch with prospective hires, co-founders or investors and there are some great CRM tools which integrate with your email to make contact management a breeze. A reliable address book may not seem like an essential growth-hacking tool, but can prove invaluable when fundraising or recruiting.
2) Don’t neglect your personal brand
Potential investors and employees will most likely research you before making a decision, so close down your old social media accounts and polish up your LinkedIn profile today. A website on your own domain is an even better way to control your profile and ensure you control your Google search results.
3) Live and breath your metrics
Using your business model as a framework, extrapolate your key metrics and turn them into KPIs for each team. Everyone from the CEO to the Marketing Assistant has the potential to impact your results so it’s imperative you identify KPIs and begin tracking them early. It’s the only way to ensure effective prioritisation.
4) Always, always soft launch
Mistakes happen, but a soft launch gives you the opportunity to make them happen in a controlled environment that doesn’t impact the whole business. Your goal during soft launch is to drive in as few customers as possible to give you a representative sample of your audience, then make essential tweaks before the official launch.
5) Raise money when you don’t need to
Fundraising can be a slow process, so waiting until the last minute may mean you’ve left it too late. Instead, raise finance when you don’t need to and see how positively it impacts conversations with investors. Most start-ups foolishly raise investment with less than 3–6 months’ runway, when the balance of power is with the investor.
6) Always find a co-founder
Getting someone else involved is worth giving up a stake even if the business is your idea and you don’t think you need any help. I personally think three is a magic number for a founding team, allowing a healthy mix of skillsets and improving your chances with investors who may be put-off by the perceived risk of solo founders.
7) Don’t let poor hires use up seats
It’s impossible to be 100 per cent successful when hiring staff and there are only so many seats on the bus, so be decisive and fill your business with team players even if it hurts. You can attract a lot of attention if you’re building a rocket ship, but you can only fly to the moon if you’ve got decent pilots to fill it.
8) It’s not about work-life balance
The always-on approach can play havoc with your work-life balance so integrate the two instead of choosing one to neglect. In my opinion, if you consider launching a start-up to be work then you’re not in the right mind-set. Building a new business is a lifestyle choice, not a job.
9) Don’t force company culture
Culture and brand evolve over time, so it’s best to let them develop organically rather than plastering motivational posters and company values all over the office. The culture of a business is often dictated by the founders though, so be sensitive and always lead by example.
10) Shoot for the stars!
If you’re not attempting big, bold, audacious things then you’re probably not cut out for launching a start-up. It’s often the daring, risk-taking entrepreneurs that refuse to be scared of failure who achieve success, so embrace your mistakes and set stretch goals for everyone in your team.
11) Avoid vanity metrics
Cost per install (CPI), downloads and registrations are all meaningless figures for most businesses and only serve to make you feel popular. Focus on retention metrics such as engagement, cost per acquired customer (CAC) and lifetime value (LTV) instead. Those are the numbers which will really drive your business forward.
12) Scramble to soft launch
Launching a minimum viable product (MVP) as quickly as possible should be the only goal of an early stage start-up. Imagine you’ve jumped off a cliff and now you’ve got to build a parachute on the way down – it doesn’t matter if it’s pretty, so long as it works. If you’re not embarrassed by your MVP then you’ve launched too late!
13) Staying small maintains velocity
Jeff Bezos once said that a team is too big if you can’t feed it with two pizzas and I couldn’t agree more. Doubling in size doesn’t mean you’re doubling in speed and the fastest decisions can often be made by one person on their own. Keep things small and remember that speed is the strongest asset of any disruptive start-up.
14) Do what your competitors would least like you to do
Aggressive competitors? Ask yourself what three things they’d least like you to do, then commit to doing them. With any luck you’ll disrupt their business, fend off other copycats and further differentiate your product/service at the same time.
15) Talk to your unhappy customers
Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning, so treat their feedback as a lesson on improving your business. No one is perfect, but if you respond well you may be able to make a bad situation better. Remember that for every disgruntled customer there are ten others that have already left and not told you.
Ed Relf is an award-winning entrepreneur and CEO of Laundrapp, the UK’s most popular dry cleaning and laundry app. Laundrapp’s collection and delivery service is trusted by thousands of customers in more than 50 towns and cities across the UK. Download the app today or visit www.laundrapp.com to find out more.