When advising clients who are starting new businesses, it’s always surprising how unsurprising their stories are. (Was that just a double negative?) Regardless of the sector, many of the same principles apply across the board.
I know, not surprising. Yet, when you’re speaking to people founding a brick-and-mortar store or a B2B Software venture or a consulting practice, you expect the diversity of the models to show themselves in the respective challenges these businesses face.
I recently listened to the “How I Built It” podcast where Susan Tynan, the founder of Framebridge, was interviewed the host, Guy Roz. Framebridge is considered a “disruptor,” a much-coveted title in today’s startup world. I was blown away (again, I don’t know why) by the similarities between the challenges that Susan faced and those my clients face every day.
Entrepreneurs – nonprofit and for-profit alike – need to understand that regardless of their field, each successful venture is based on similar business principles and concepts. But don’t take my word for it.
Here are 5 great takeaways from the interview that can help you understand, appreciate, and overcome the challenges you’ll face when founding your business.
1. It’s All About the Hustle
One of the greatest fallacies out there is that business owners succeed because of great ideas. Veterans will tell you that starting your business successfully is all about the execution. Here’s how it went down in the interview:
Guy: “Is an idea enough? Because there are a lot of really awesome ideas out there.”
Susan: “An idea is really not worth much at all…It’s all the hustle.”
Susan tells how, to this day, she still gets a few people who come up to her each month to tell her that they had the same idea first. Moreover, if you listen to her story, you know that there was one challenge after the other in her first year, any of which could have stopped her dead-cold. She refused to let these things cripple her. It was determination and work – rather than the idea – that led her to success.
(Then again, be careful not to hustle just for the sake of hustling. Being perpetually busy is, in itself, a false narrative of success that is becoming ever-more popular nowadays.)
2. Research. And Then Research Some More
Susan’s idea to found Framebridge came to her because of her own cruddy (pardon my French) and insanely expensive experience having some cheap posters framed. Not because she was a framing phenom. As a matter of fact, she is quite open about the fact that she didn’t know anything. So how did she create a framing company? She learned! (There’s that whole surprising yet not-surprising phenomenon again.)
First, she signed up for an actual framing course. Yep, she learned how to frame. Next, she went to a trade show where she spoke to an insane number of people, all the while taking notes. (Are you starting to see a pattern?)
I had a nonprofit client a few years back who wanted to start an organization, but she was not a professional in the field in which she wanted to operate. I cannot underestimate the amount of research she did and people she consulted with as she was getting the organization off the ground. (And whom I’m proud to say is still doing amazing work.)
Everyone knows the axiom,“Fake it till you make it.” While that can be true in certain circumstances, probably not the best idea (read: understatement) if what you need to fake is the backbone of your venture. It won’t work for you, your potential clients, or for your investors/donors.
When founding your venture, invest the time and money to ensure you know what you’re talking about.
3. Focus on the Cake, Not the Icing
Susan: “[We] starting building…even at that point we were still refining what the name for Framebridge was going to be.”
How many of you know the business you want to build, have worked out the numbers, and are ready to open up shop, but are delaying starting the business until you find the perfect logo? Maybe your business card isn’t just-right? Or – you get the idea.
As the saying goes: The enemy of good is great.
If the concept and numbers are solid, then go for it. Your brand can handle a little cosmetic change in the future.
4. Don’t Sacrifice Quality for Time-to-Market
Susan: “There is no really minimally viable product version of this business. It has to be great out of the gate.”
To contrast somewhat the above principle, sometimes you do need to wait.
Susan knew that if her fledgling company couldn’t compete with the quality of brick-and-mortar framing stores, her business was a non-starter.
Please don’t let the pressure to appease an investor, prove a concept, or rush to beat out a competitor force you to create a beta version of a product that pushes your customers away instead of hooking them in.
That initial first impression can really make the difference.
(On this concept, the now-classic business book, “The Nordstron Way,” describes that the first week of each new store, employees are brought in from other stores to provide an additional 20% labor force so that a customer experiences truly exceptional customer service upon entering for the first time.)
5. No Money Doesn’t Mean No Options
Susan: “Obviously, anything that required a big check, I couldn’t obtain. Otherwise, I could get samples…”
Diving into uncharted waters meant that Susan really needed to demonstrate to potential investors that her idea had merit. That meant research and actually starting to build the business. Things that required money. Money she didn’t have when she first started out. A challenge shared by so many founders.
For her, asking for samples was and is a totally accepted practice. Being frugal or creative does not begging or being relegated to favors.
I’m reminded by something a teacher once taught me about a creative writer who wrote a story without having the letter “S” appear. (Similar to the second creative writing hack on this list). You would be surprised sometimes by how seemingly limitations can actually be a great impetus for creativity.
And there were so many great runner ups. I urge people to listen the interview as it was chock-filled of great lessons, one-liners, and axioms for any business owner.
If you don’t already, I highly recommend listening or reading about the experiences of other founders. You too will might be surprised by the similar stories and potential solutions that we business owners all face.
Starting a business is no easy task, but unburdening yourself of the related administrative and financial tasks can make it much easier. Contact us to schedule your free one-hour consultation so we can explore how we can be of assistance in your initial and ongoing responsibilities.