You hear more about how to start a business than how to grow it into an asset of value. Clive Butkow, the CEO of GroTech, a South African venture capital firm that supports technology start-ups, provides his insights on how to take your idea or product and grow it into a sustainable, successful business.
They say that eight out of ten new businesses fail in their first 18 months of operation. This is a sad story because it shows that people with big ideas and the guts to try and make a go of them are somehow losing their way not too long after they’ve got started. But the funny thing is that all the advice to entrepreneurs out there focuses on how to start a business.
It doesn’t support them in understanding how to grow a business, and how to go from concept to a fully fledged organisation.
Since I am in the position of having worked in and for successful and unsuccessful businesses and now funding tech businesses in their growth phase, I have learnt some hard lessons about what it takes to make things happen along the way.
There are many things that you should and should not do when growing a business.
There are however three key ingredients that every start-up requires to increase their probability of success:
1. You need the best team on the planet
Building a business is hard and trying to do it by yourself is tantamount to getting into a boxing ring with a professional boxer with one hand tied behind your back.
In my experience, successful startups understand that there is no I in “start-up”. They, at a minimum, need someone to build the stuff and someone to sell the stuff. They need ‘execution intelligence’ – which is at least one member of the team having been involved in building a business before.
They require professionals with expertise and experience in every aspect of their business. These could be advisors or board members, and not necessarily full-time employees when they start out. That team has to be in place to take care of product development, marketing, sales, finance, PR, customer relations and admin.
You can’t do it all yourself, or with your aunt who did a bookkeeping course once. At some point you’re going to have to start hiring, and when you do, don’t settle for second best; hire rockstars.
The one thing every entrepreneur has at their disposal is equity – they start out with 100% of their company. This equity is a valuable way to persuade the right people to come on board, even if you don’t have the cash to pay them initially. Remember 50% of a watermelon is better than 100% of a grape. Don’t just give equity away but make it vest over at least a four-year period.
2. You have to achieve product-market fit
Building a successful business isn’t about “if you build it, they will come”. Don’t believe that for a second as it only happens in the movies. Before you invest too much in your new product or service, you have to be sure that the market wants what you are selling and that they are willing to pay for it.
Get out of your building and go and speak to at least 100 customers to find out what problem your product or service is solving and if they would buy it.
Remember your product is not your product; your solution is your product. Customers buy solutions and benefits not products, services or features.
Do the initial research as it will cost you far less than building something that no-one wants. Once you have a few paying customers and some good reference-able sites, you most likely have achieved product market fit. You have built something that solves a customer problem or alleviates a customer pain. You are now ready to start scaling your business.
3. Make sure you have the right people who can sell your product
Remember sales solves everything as nothing happens until the cash register rings. It’s all well and good having a product and having a market, but you have to know how you are going to connect the two.
You need salespeople who really know how to sell your product or service. You need business development managers to compile a strategy on how you will go to market by leveraging other companies distribution channels for your product.
In my experience, the best salespeople initially are one or more of the founders of the business. They have the passion to act as your product’s brand ambassadors and persuade customers of your value proposition.
And remember that your satisfied clients will ultimately become your best salespeople, so don’t neglect the sales you’ve already made.
Take your customers and turn them into raving fan clients, and they’ll be out there getting the job done for you. It takes six times more effort to sell to a new client than a current client so remember the real work starts after the first sale.
Don’t forget about the cash!
While these are three of the key ingredients you have to get right when building a startup, they aren’t the whole recipe. Even if you’ve got these three things in place, don’t forget that you still need to collect the cash.
Most businesses fail from a lack of cashflow and not just a lack of customers. Make sure you’ve got these bases covered, and that the cash is coming to you, and you’ll be well on your way to growth.