- Healthy, Happy Employees = Improved Productivity - July 21, 2015
- Continuing Education is the Secret Sauce of Long-term Success - July 3, 2015
- Use Analytic Data to Track Startup Success - June 24, 2015
These Are the 5 Biggest Challenges Your Startup Is Going to Face
Before expounding on the biggest challenges your startup is going to face, I’m going to tell you how to overcome them. For every problem you are going to face, what you need is an airtight business plan.
It seems as if business plans are falling out of favor in the startup community. Investors seem to be willing to sink copious amounts of cash into companies that have good ideas, but very little planning on how to bring those ideas to fruition. A good idea is to business, what a good plot is to a novel. Coming up with one is the easiest part of the process. But it means nothing without a lot of meticulous follow-through. A novelist needs a detailed outline, and the writing skills to pull it off. An entrepreneur needs a detailed business plan, and the acumen to make it happen.
Part of an airtight business plan is an accurate assessment of your challenges, and a strategy to meet those challenges head-on. Entrepreneurs have a tendency to undersell the potential risks. They end up over their head because they didn’t consider the temperature and depth of the water. Startup success is not magic.
It’s honesty. Here is an honest look at the five biggest challenges your startup is going to face:
One of the reasons bringing your business online tops this list is because it is so deceptively easy to do. Anyone with an Internet connection can get online in a trice. It can be done for zero dollars and no experience. You can reach out and touch the entire world with a free WordPress account and about fifteen minutes. Many startups do just that. And it is the beginning of their downfall.
They launch into the online world without sufficient knowledge of how things really work. They choose the wrong web host without fully knowing what web hosting is. If you want to serve up applications over the web as a part of your business, you will need an ASP.NET host. Not every web hosting service can accommodate this need. If this is something you might want to do in the future, you don’t want to be saddled with the wrong host up front.
With so many web hosting services out there, it can be difficult to know where to start. You need to consider things like:
- Disk space
- Data transfer
- Number of email accounts
- Live telephone support
These elements are widely divergent from one host to another. Windows Hosting ASP.NET puts out a list of what they feel are the best ASP.NET hosts. Arvixe has topped that list for multiple years. But they remind their readers:
“Every Host has advantages and disadvantages. Some companies offer better Shared or Dedicated Hosting, others have excellent support or better prices. So remember that if some Hosting provider is the best for your requirements, it could be not for somebody else!”
In other words, you need to do your homework before taking your business online. Making the wrong hosting decision when bringing your startup online is one of the easiest, costly mistakes you are likely to make.
Regardless of the size of your business, or how long it has been around, data security problems can crash your dreams overnight. Just ask Sony, or Lenovo. Data security is in the news everyday, front and center. It is perhaps the biggest technical challenge of our time.
Data security is not only a technical challenge, but a social one. With more and more websites and services demanding more and more information from users, securing that data is quickly rising to the level of a human right. If your company has access to large amounts of personal information, you have a moral obligation to secure it.
Some businesses base their fortunes on how much user information they can get, and how easily they can monetize it. You should ask yourself, what is the least amount of information you can collect. And what is the best way to keep anyone else from accessing it. Data breaches seem to happen in companies that make it their business to share your data with other companies. It can’t be locked down. It has to be portable. The best way to secure any data is not to collect it in the first place.
One would assume that a plan for making money from your startup idea would be front and center on the business plan. One would be very wrong, indeed. Just ask Twitter. Between the time of their founding in the Summer of 2010, and the time they went public over seven years later, Twitter had no identifiable plan for making money. Even today, it is not entirely clear what kind of investment Twitter is.
Amazon has also been around for quite a number of years. For most of their existence, they made no money. In fact, they lost money quarter after quarter. Only recently have they started showing a profit barely above break-even.
Other companies like Instagram, seem to have no business model beyond getting bought by a wealthy company. They did. But for every Instagram and What’s App, there are a thousand that fade away into obscurity.
For so many startups, the plan seems to be some type of stealth monetization where they offer a service for free, then monetize the users by selling their information. This is a dangerous scheme. Users don’t like being the product. And they especially don’t like feeling deceived. Monetization is a new word. It used to be that companies sold a product or service for a price stated clearly up front. Now, companies pretend to give away products and services for free, then monetize on the back end, quietly. Avoid this trap by knowing how you will make money up front.
Products and services with loads of potential often die before they ever hit the shelf as the result of poor advertising. Just ask Microsoft. They will tell you about all the things that went wrong leading up to the Microsoft Kin announcement. It is okay if you don’t remember that ill-fated phone. It was only on the market for less than 50 days.
One thing they may not mention is the abominable advertising for that product. They actually had an ad featuring young teens sexting with the product. That wasn’t the only disturbing thing about the ad.
Lesson not learned, they launched the Microsoft Surface with, among other things, suit-wearing dancers better suited for a Broadway review, not an ad for a product offering Office productivity as a key feature. They doubled down by comparing it to the world-beating iPad, then to the industry-leading Macbook Air. There are plenty of things that hurt those products. But poor advertising was high on the list. Make sure you have a solid marketing plan up front.
Finding Your Niche
One of the things that makes this such a huge problem is that it doesn’t seem like a problem till it is too late. Often, it is only discovered in the corporate autopsy that reveals corruption in high places. Looking back on what went wrong, it is easy to see that startups with good ideas failed because they never resonated with the part of the market that would have made them successful.
There is a market for just about everything just waiting to be served. The problem may not be with your product, aftermarket service, advertising, or online presence. It is that you need to have a better idea of who your customer is, and how to super-serve them.
The mistake a lot of companies make is trying to be all things to all people. But that is unrealistic. Trying to please everyone, you can never say NO to anything. That is a recipe for disaster. You have to know what your product is, and what it is not. Figure out who your product is for, and for whom it is not. Then put your marketing efforts where they are, and not where they aren’t. Niche marketing is not just about marketing. It is about being realistic about who you are, and what you can do.
Conclusion: There Is No Secret
So what’s the secret to overcoming these challenges? There is no secret. You don’t need a book, or a guru, or a magic 8-ball. You need an honest business plan – not the one you show to investors, but the one you are going to live by. You need to study the failures of startups that should have been successes, but weren’t. You need to secure the capital you need for an appropriately long runway. And you need to have a backup plan for when things go wrong.
None of these things come as a surprise. You already know what to do. There is no secret. The challenges listed here, are challenges for everyone. Deal with them proactively instead of reactively, and you will be one of the successes.