1. Solve a problem that a lot of people care about
This may seem like common sense, but I often come across startups focusing on small incremental improvements in an area where most customers already have a good enough solution. Tackle the problems that will enable you to improve the customer’s life measurably and exponentially. Your customers should be willing to pay you to ease their pain.
As an entrepreneur, you are naturally optimistic. You believe you can make anything happen to fulfill your vision and that there is no insurmountable challenge if you put your mind to it. Your confidence is infectious and is one of your biggest strengths. It will help you mentally get through the tough times.
However, you need to make sure it doesn’t become your weakness. You need to ensure your startups don’t become victims of blind optimism. Be ambitious, but set stretch goals that you know you and your team can achieve. Because the moment you start repeatedly missing those goals, your team, partners and investors will lose faith in you. While they were once inspired by your vision and abilities, they will start to question and doubt them.
3. Cash is king
Cash dictates who you can hire, how long your business has to operate and how well you sleep at night. If you are not good with numbers then learn fast and hire someone who is. Every founder should know at any point in time how much cash she has in the bank and how many more months of runway there is left. If you don’t, your company will die a very quick and painful death.
4. Focus on sustainability
If cash is king then sustainability is queen. From day one you want to focus on building a sustainable business: one with sound unit economics and sustainable sales, marketing, customer support, finance and legal. If your business is not sustainable you will lose any investor or talent you may have been able to convince with your vision.
As an entrepreneur and founder of a company, you will constantly be asked to make decisions with limited amounts of data. You need to be able to make these decisions quickly, learn fast and iterate.
To help you, create a process whereby you are continually absorbing feedback from your team, customers, partners and investors in a constant state of awareness. Hire domain expertise where you need it. Build a culture where people make informed decisions quickly, implement them, learn from the results and iterate. You need to be nimble to quickly react to new information coming in, because as a start-up, everything moves incredibly fast – and so will you.
6. Choose your board wisely and use it
Just as much effort needs to be put in selecting your board and investors as in selecting the talent in your team. Never forget that the advice you get is as good as the person who is giving it. Do your research. Ask other entrepreneurs who have worked with a potential board member what their experience has been like. Understand the context of that experience relative to what your company will need. Create a balanced and diverse board. Bring together people with different expertise and points of view who can challenge you and each other.
Once you have put your board together, nurture it. Communicate with your board members. They have committed time and/or money to your company. They want to and should be used. Don’t surprise them and don’t wait until you have good news to deliver bad news. If they are experienced board members, they know that your start-up will go through many ups and downs, and they will see through your attempts to sugar coat the bad news.
7. The long game
Brace yourself, as this is a long game. If you are an entrepreneur, you are likely to be one for life. Be ready for the extreme ups and downs, the sleepless nights, the despair, the feeling of being alone, the hope, elation and the excitement. Hang on to your courage.
World Economic Forum