The decision to take the leap into starting your own business is never an easy one, regardless of your experience or industry. But as venture capital (VC) firms grow, with the average seed deal growing from $1.7 million to $4.6 million in the last decade, more and more people are breaking into the startup ecosystem. Americans filed paperwork to set up 4.3 million businesses in 2020, with this trend continuing to grow into 2021.
At the same time, the world of work is undergoing a radical shift. Health measures implemented to restrict the spread of COVID-19 have provoked a vast change in how businesses operate, with many increasingly opting for a hybrid, or even fully remote working model. In contrast to the old, physical-first approach, 68% of American workers say that a mixture of working in-office and remotely is the best model.
In many ways, it has become easier than ever to set up your own business. The transition to implementing more digital technologies into everyday work has meant that international borders are not the same impediment they once were to workplace collaboration. Silicon Valley is no longer the sole home of startups; entrepreneurs across the globe are tapping into increased VC funding and making their mark in a variety of different industries. However, a larger number of startups also means increased competition, both for funding and market share.
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Read on for my top tips on how to make your business unique and attract startup success.
- Set out to solve a real problem that you have personally experienced.
It’s certainly possible to start a business without years of experience. Sometimes young entrepreneurs can be the most successful – we’ve all seen Forbes’ 30 under 30 list. The idea that you can only set up a business once you’ve had years of experience in the field is extremely limiting and reduces the possibilities of the business sector’s growth.
It’s not about experience. It’s about having an idea that genuinely provides a solution to a real-world problem. Those who encounter an issue in the world and set up their business with a view to solve that issue will always be the most successful. These founders are truly passionate about their solution, and that pays off when it comes to revenue and reputation. For me, my ax to grind was the inefficiency of traditional consultancies within the engineering industry, but I only came to that challenge by working in those traditional consultancies. Had I not been directly involved, I don’t believe that I would be able to provide a business solution that truly worked. Experiencing the challenge is what should motivate you, and this gets results
- Do it because you’re the best person for the job, not just because you want to.
Experiencing the problem is only the first step – the next step involves being introspective and asking yourself if you are truly the best person to solve the problem. You must ask yourself what you are bringing to the table that is unique in some way, and what differentiates your solution from others in the market. Initially, this involves the obvious process of market research that is essential to any business venture but should be followed up by a deeper personal reflection. One of our clients, Rob Middleton, discovered this when creating Pebble, a mental health device to help relieve symptoms of anxiety. After suffering from anxiety and finding a lack of solutions on the market, he chose to develop a product himself.
Once you have gathered all the essential information about your market and its intricacies, you need to look internally and reflect on your personal characteristics. Do you have the qualities of a good leader? Do you have the technical skills that make you a reliable part of the market? Do you have the right support around you to make your dream happen? If any of these questions can be answered with “no,” it may be time to think again.
- Go in blind and do something crazy.
The next stage of the process, perhaps surprisingly, involves a little bit of blindness. Thus far I have advised the exercise of caution, taking care to make sure that your business idea is well-formed and provides a genuine solution that benefits the market. But, if you are too cautious, you may find that self-doubt begins to creep in, and you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”
Once you know that your idea is strong and you are the best person to implement it, you must take that idea and run with it. To do something that is genuinely innovative and unexpected, you have to go into the process a little bit blind. That’s to say that you must shut out the self-doubt and be confident that your business can succeed. The first stages of a startup are always difficult, with founders often working out of their living room with one employee alongside them. If you’re not blind at this phase of your business, you will trip and fall over your doubt. To truly disrupt an industry, you must avoid this at all costs.
- Think critically, but not in the way you might expect.
Part of being blind involves thinking critically, but not in the traditional sense. For me, it doesn’t involve thinking critically about every single trend and fad that crops up in your industry. This can do more harm than good; there are so many distractions out there these days with new trends, new ecosystems and even new currencies. Part of being blind is being able to think critically on your business and your business alone. Stay focused, keeping an analytical mindset about how you can be resilient and survive among all the distractions.
- Build a strong team
A new business venture is rarely a fully independent endeavor; you need a great team behind you who can support every step of the way. The team should have varied experience and backgrounds so that those with the greatest expertise can take on each essential role within the business. This builds a strong foundation for when you begin to scale your business, which can be carried out by a united team who already hold your business’ shared values.
- Follow your gut
This may seem cliché, but it is absolutely true. When you undertake a new business venture, everyone in your life will suddenly have an opinion, regardless of whether they know anything about your sector or solution. You must be able to shut out the critics and trust yourself because if you have followed these steps, you know that you are well-positioned for success. The only person who can know that is you.