Advice for Technical Start-ups and Entrepreneurs
There’s a lot of advice for entrepreneurs and businesspeople looking to start their own company. Unfortunately, a lot of this great advice is geared towards more traditional businesses, who have needs that are entirely different from technical start-ups.
Oct 2020 - 5 minutes read
Advice for Technical Start-ups and Entrepreneurs
Despite there being plenty of media dramatizing the early days of tech start-ups (The Social Network and Silicon Valley) to name a few, the truth is these stories have been written to entertain, not to provide an exact accounting of what happened. Between stories that paint a totally unrealistic picture and advice that’s geared towards their non-technical peers, many tech entrepreneurs are faced with an uncertain future as they work hard to get their business off the ground.
We recently hosted shareware pioneer turned mentor and business advisor Marshall Magee on the latest episode of our podcast. Over the hour he spent chatting with Tony, they were able to synthesize some really great advice for technology start-ups, and tech entrepreneurs. Today, we’re bringing you a synopsis of their best advice, so you can reference it the next time you need some encouragement on your start-up journey.
Our Best Advice for Technical Start-ups and Entrepreneurs
While a lot of our advice will be useful, it’s important to take it all with a grain of salt. One of the most exciting things about being a tech entrepreneur is the opportunity to do something different, and offer a product or service that’s entirely new.
Taking risks is ok, but make sure they’re calculated risks. This advice will help you identify situations where risk is warranted, and others where it’s best to play it safe.
- Create a business plan
Creating a business plan is always the first step for new businesses. Even if your skills are more technical than business-oriented, it’s still important to go through this exercise. Not only will it help you refine your ideas, it will also help you come up with a vision for the company that you can reference as it grows.
Most people don’t end up adhering to the first business plan they create. It’s ok to tweak it, adjust it, and add to it as the company grows. However, businesses that start with no plan will quickly fall victim to the first hardship they encounter. Being flexible is great, but it’s hard to tell the difference between being flexible and being a pushover if you have no central vision to fall back on.
- Make sure your product or service is protectable
Before you get too invested in the company you’re creating, make sure that your product or service is protectable. So many companies make a big splash when they make their initial entrance into the market but fail quickly because there’s nothing protectable or patentable about their company.
To be successful, you need to have something that differentiates you from all current – and future – competition. It’s not enough to be different now. If you want to survive, you need to make sure that no one else can come along in 5 or 10 years and steal your market share. Once you’ve figured out what makes your company unique, do everything in your power to safeguard it.
- Make sure people want it
It’s great to be unique, but before you invest time and money into your product or service, you need to make sure the public (not just your friends and family) will actually use it. There are tons of entrepreneurs who have sunk thousands or even millions of dollars into useless, redundant products.
The most famous example of this is Juicero, a Silicon Valley start-up that raised $120 million to make and market a $400 juice machine that squeezed pre-packaged fruits and veggies into smoothies. Unfortunately for them, their customers quickly realized that they could squeeze the packages by hand and get the same results. The company quickly became an emblem for start-ups that kept themselves busy solving non-problems. Don’t be Juicero.
- Put foolproof systems in place
One of the best ways to ensure your company can handle anything you throw at it is to put foolproof systems in place. Figure out the best way to get consistent results, then come up with a system that will give you that every time. These types of systems are great for eliminating time-consuming and repetitive decisions.
A good example of this could be the way you handle customer complaints, hiring, or even media requests. The earlier you figure out how to pass these along to the right person quickly, the less time it will take out of your busy day.
- Make personal connections with customers
When you’re first starting out, every customer making a purchase or even signing up for your newsletter represents a substantial growth in your customer base. Make sure that your customers and stakeholders know how important they are to your company.
You can do this by making a promise to answer all communications promptly, or even by putting a phone number on your website and social media pages so customers can call and speak to someone on the team directly. It may seem like a lot of work, but you’d be surprised how big a difference a personal touch can make to your customers.
- Don’t rely on someone else to sell for you
The myth of the awkward, geeky tech entrepreneur is something that’s been around for decades. It might be endearing to watch their antics in movies, but it’s difficult to secure investors, attract customers, and hire new staff if you can’t communicate the value of your own company. As the entrepreneur, everyone is looking to you to sell people on your vision, and the value of your company. If you can’t do that, there’s no one else who can do it for you.
Thankfully, public speaking, negotiating, and sales are all skills that can be learned. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.
- Hire slowly
Don’t give in to the temptation to hire as many staff as you possibly can at the beginning. Start-ups, especially tech-focused businesses, need to be agile, and that’s difficult to do if you’ve already taken on an engineering team of 30 people. Hiring this many people at once also makes it incredibly difficult to maintain your company culture.
Instead of hiring en mass, take your time, and hire tactically to ensure you build the best possible team for your company. Better yet, figure out what culture you’d like to have, then build a hiring process that will help you get great results every time.
- Create other leaders
Entrepreneurs often have a difficult time letting go of control as their company grows. Instead of creating a hierarchy that leaves you as the sole decision-maker, build a structure that empowers other leaders.
We get it – it’s hard to trust someone with a company that feels like your baby, that you’ve nurtured on your own. However, if you can’t trust your employees, and are unwilling to empower them to tackle issues and make decisions on their own, it’s a recipe for frustration and stagnation.
Employees who don’t feel they have your trust will either coast through their responsibilities, or leave the company. Establishing a mentorship program can help you build up other leaders, so they can do the same to their staff in turn, making the company stronger.
Need Some More Advice?
Doing something new and innovative is always exciting, but remember, there are people that have your back. If you’re a tech entrepreneur and need some more advice, we have plenty of resources on tech, management, and – of course – PHP for you to discover on our blog.