Business Calcium Blog

Win the Startup Game


Starting a company is a big undertaking, certainly not to be taken lightly. I consider the commitment on par with getting married and starting a family.

I’ve had hundreds of top entrepreneurs share their experiences with me about starting a company from the ground up. From their wisdom, and my own startup experience, I developed this list to take to heart, before you start. There are some clear lessons to learn from those who are successful and those who are not.

1. Failure is not an option.
If you last in your business long enough, you will succeed. If you are going to start a business, make sure you are in it for the long run. Why would others want to bet on you, take risks, etc. if you are not 100% committed yourself? I believe a startup takes a do or die attitude. Don’t start unless you are prepared with this mind frame. When leading others who you will need help and support from, and also in leading yourself, it’s important that you never think of quitting, but rather, how to solve each challenge that comes before you, no matter how difficult it gets.

2. Like your domain.
In selecting an area to start a business, make sure it revolves around something you enjoy and have an actual passion for. Since the startup is going to take much of your time and energy, you need to be able to have fun with it. After all, when you like something, you will care about it more. If not, and you will feel like you’re in hell all the time, you will want to violate Tip #1.

3. Have a mentor and a board of advisors.
A mentor can be a trusted advisor who has gone further down the road than you, and can help guide your decision process. I don’t think I have met a successful CEO who has not had multiple mentors. Find someone appropriate and ask them if they have time to mentor you, and then take advantage of their experience and wisdom. You can have several mentors you use for different areas like accounting, financing, and growth strategy.

Also, a board of advisors, which you assemble over time, can be priceless to have when you need them. In this way, you can get the benefit of experience you might otherwise never be able to afford.

4. Prepare for the long haul.
Reduce your personal expenses as much as you can. You might be in for a long haul to get to positive cash flow, so the less overhead you have the better.

5. What is your advantage? Make sure you have one.
Would you rather go to war with machine guns or bows and arrows? Make sure you have some competitive advantage in the area you will be staking out. If not, think it over again. What will you be able to offer over your competition? What is your advantage in the marketplace? If the answer isn’t on the top of your tongue, you probably don’t have one.

6. Network with other successful entrepreneurs. You’ll need this like you need food.
After returning from a business conference of my peers, I’m usually super energized because I’ve heard all of their great ideas and plans. It is like a kick in the butt, except the effect lasts longer and moves you forward more. You will pick up the habits of those you associate with. (Your mom was right.) So choose who you spend your time with wisely, and get out and network for fresh ideas to inspire you.

7. Don’t do it for the money.
I have never heard a successful entrepreneur tell me he started his company for the money. I’ve heard answers like “I wanted to improve upon…”, “I couldn’t find so and so on the market”, and “I saw this need and wanted to…” Your drive and desire to start a company needs to be about improving a process, offering a better product, or solving a problem you see, even if no one else sees it as a problem. You need to have a mission and be focused on it obsessively. Making money is a side effect. If your only drive is about money and not to help people, you might think about running for Congress.

8. Sell your vision all the time.
Call it what you want, but for a startup, faith is everything. You need to be the #1 evangelist for your cause. You are also the head cheerleader and top salesperson. It’s not enough that you believe; you must enlist others. The extent that they are aligned with you means you will get more or less support when you really need it. Bonus points if you can also have them emotionally invested in the success.

9. Be open, honest, and fair; it serves you very well in the long run.
You will make mistakes, and there will be some very difficult times. Your integrity will play a part in how others react. Being open and honest (which doesn’t mean you can’t have a very positive outlook) will serve you well, as you need people to trust you, and you have to always be earning that trust. The same goes with fairness, even though everyone won’t always agree with your decisions, if you have an open and honest process, and are fair, your unpopular decisions will be accepted more freely.

10. Keep it fun!
Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you aren’t having fun, why do it? Work is work, but in keeping it fun, you will inspire and lead more effectively and keep the positive energy flowing.

What else would you add to my list? Please post your ideas and suggestions for me to include in a future post.

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