When you start a business, you take a giant leap into the unknown. Some of the questions you will be asking include whether there is a market for what you want to offer, how much are people willing to pay, what technology is required.
It’s a thankless task – one thing you can be sure of is that most of how you think you know about the market, technology and your business will be incorrect. Worrying isn’t it?
As someone who has been through this process, what tips would I pass on to budding entrepreneurs starting their adventure into start-up land?
My advice falls neatly into A, B and C. It’s not based on a 2×2 Business School matrix or consultancy jargon, but it’s what I think is important.
I think that the important things are: assume nothing, believe only what you know to be true and challenge everything.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is think at the outset that you understand the market, and know precisely what customers want. This will not be true. Assume nothing – start by asking yourself the key questions what, how, where, when and why. Keep on asking these questions until you get down to what’s really going on. Don’t rely on Google – get off your backside and ask those people already consuming and providing the service or product in the market you are focusing on.
My best advise is to build a set a business assumptions – which taken together become part of your hypothesis of how your business will work. Be prepared for this to take weeks – no shortcuts.
The lean start-up fraternity use terminology such as customer and market hypotheses, which lead to the development of a Minimum Viable Product – something that people will want to buy.
Believe only what you know to be true
Be careful not to take what people tell you as true. Sometimes they are plain wrong, or have hidden agendas. Google can be a nightmare in this respect – just because someone says it’s true, don’t take it as gospel.
My best advise is to triangulate information. If three unrelated parties come to the same conclusion, then the chances are they may be correct. Only when you have your own data can you come to an informed decision on the validity of the data.
You are constructing a neat model (spreadsheets come into their own here) of how you see your business idea operate and make money. The most important thing is to continually check each assumption in the model. This challenge process needs to be evidence based: quantitive (from your website and Google Analytics) and qualitative (via verbatim feedback).
Follow these tips and you will stand a fighting chance of getting your business off the ground. Don’t follow them, and you need to hope that you are one of the very few businesses that get it right first time.
If you take my advice, don’t leave it to chance, remember to run through the A, B, C for your start-up.
Start-ups are fashionable at the moment and the internet is awash with advice, some of it conflicting, on how to make your forthcoming venture as big as Google or Facebook.
It’s hard to find reliable sources of information – to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. One place to look for reliable and road-tested advice is the Canadian Innovation Centre. It’s a not-for-profit in (not surprisingly) Canada that has spent the last 35 years supporting entrepreneurs with new business ideas. They have a particularly useful page of tools for all stages of the journey. I especially like the “Eight Critical Factors for Success”.
As we all know, many ventures fail, and when you’re starting out, it’s difficult to combine the enthusiasm and energy you need to succeed with the clear headed thinking to fold bad ideas and focus and on what you need to succeed. The eight factors the CIC considers are: product features & benefits; market readiness; barriers to entry; likelihood of adoption; supply chain; market size; management experience and financial expectations. None of this is earth-shattering, but it’s presented in a way that makes you think.
The CIC appears to be a great idea – a way for Government to support new business creation without putting money in directly; having to choose winners and losers themselves. In the UK, with our financial services heritage, we have taken a more investment-led approach with Regional Growth Funds and the like. Given the somewhat lacklustre reputation of those initiatives, it might be time to look elsewhere for inspiration, to look at something like a UK CIC.
Tutorhub is in the news – or more specifically, The Daily Mirror. For obvious reasons, we’ll avoid the cheesy comments about how good we look in The Mirror, but it’s great to be talked about alongside the likes of Etsy and Amazon.
Tutorhub gets a mention as a great way to make money from home. The Mirror quite rightly points out that if you’re a teacher, tutor or have some expert knowledge to share, then Tutorhub should be on your radar. We’ve had a record number of students and tutors working together on the site during this busy period before the exams and the range of topics covered gets ever wider. The new video-based classroom, wide range of teaching tools and recorded lessons make Tutorhub the best there is for people looking to tutoring on any subject.
I’d imagine that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who did not believe in the scientific method. Since the late seventeenth century, this most powerful and yet simple of ideas has allowed us to harness our natural curiosity about the world around us to make unimaginable progress in simple steps: observe, hypothesise, predict, test.
If the scientific method was an Olympian, it would have more gold medals than anyone else, if it were a football team, it would be Real Madrid or Manchester United. So given it’s track record, why is it that it’s not applied more often outside of the world of well, science? Why don’t we use it more in politics or business? After all, it has a proven track record of making things better and if politics is about making our society better and business is a focus on producing better products and services, shouldn’t we be queueing up to apply it more broadly? But we don’t. And the reason we don’t is because the scientific method comes up against a remarkable adversary: human nature. Because the scientific method can be summarised another way: watch, plan, do. In a society where being busy equates to being important and where doing is valued over thinking, who wants to sit around watching and planning? If I watch and plan, I’ll be fired before I get to do. As a politician, I want to do, do, do. How else can we explain the endless re-organisation of the Health Service or of education.
The time taken to observe and then explain what’s going on look a lot like inactivity to the outside world, but with an election on our doorstep and an economy that does not seem to be producing enough good, well-paying jobs, my recommendation to both politicians and fellow business folk is simple. Time to do less. Time to watch and think more.