Make sure you focus on a crystal clear minimal viable product, or MVP. Rather than spending time developing a robust business model and product, many startups make the fatal error of developing additional product aspects like gamification and inessential functionalities. This lack of focus is a death sentence for many young startups. Be a so-called essentialist, and spend time only on those product features that offer core value to users, customers or clients.
Be sure to test and validate everything. Don’t spend time, money or resources building something you never even show to potential customers—otherwise, how can you be sure what you’re doing is of substantial value to them? Make sure you test out multiple iterations on your MVP, getting feedback at each stage. Check out the Lean Methodology for more ideas for your continuous testing toolbox. It’ll save you both time and money!
In the early stages, there’s no need to try to take over the world all at once. Focus on one clear, highly specified target audience, preferably in one location and devote your time, energy and money to this market. If you focus well, you’ll be able to build up a user-base, community or audience much faster. Plus, you’ll get to know your market, and deeply understand their needs, meaning you can improve your product before expanding elsewhere.
There are plenty of great software tools you can use to streamline your business from the beginning. Use a team messaging service like Slack to keep your inbox free from clutter. Asana and Trello are great task management tools, while Rescue Time and Harvest can be used to track the hours spent on each client project. Holvi helps you to keep track of all your accounting work efficiently, and paperless. A cloud storage system like Google Drive is perfect for collaborative work and sharing documents. And there are so many more besides!
They say as a startup you need to spend your money fast. If you’re in your growth phase, when your goal is to get as many users on board quickly to secure another round of funding, that may be true. However, as long as you’re not making any profit, try not to spend too much on unnecessary luxuries. Perhaps now isn’t the time to buy that top-of-the range MacBook, deluxe business stationery or an Eames office chair. Wait until you’re able to use company revenue to splash out, rather than sticking it all on the credit card before you’ve even begun.
Getting your product into the press or an influencer’s social channels will generate a buzz about your business. This is not only great for brand awareness, but if media and influencers link back to your website it’s also good for SEO. And, it’s often cheaper than traditional advertising-in-media options. When pitching, be sure to think about how your business might be interesting for them and their audience. Avoid sounding too PR-ish and consider your angle. Write short emails that are straight to the point, clearly stating why their audience will want to know about you. And be sure to follow up—editors and influencers are busy!
Don’t get caught up with endless Tweeting, event organizing and press releases. Leave the marketing until you have established a clear and robust business model, or been awarded some external funding.
Nothing strikes terror into the hearts of introverts like the word “networking”—but it can offer an effective boost to a low-on-funds business. Attend conferences, meetups and trade shows, and be sure to keep a stack of business cards in your pocket at all times. If you strike up an interesting conversation, or meet someone you’d like to work with someday, make sure to exchange cards. Before you know it, you’ll have a whole Rolodex of friends, confidants, and advisors.
Although it’s possible to start on a shoestring, all startups will eventually need money to grow (fast). If you get investors on board who’ll fund your startup, this won’t be a problem. However if you’d rather bootstrap your way to success, then bear in mind that there’s nothing to stop someone else (who does have investors on board) in copying your idea, and taking over your market. Find out if and how you can patent your product or service to potentially prevent it from happening.
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