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Start-up Advice

Alan Knott-Craig Answers Your Burning Start-up Questions On Ideas And Partnerships

Smart tips on knowing when to launch — and how to keep your team motivated once you have.

Alan Knott-Craig

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Q. I’ve been in discussions around three different start-up ideas with three different partners.

I’m hungry to start a business but is it strange that I’m interested in so many different industries? Should I be relying so much on a partner? All I want is consistency and someone who can commit to an agreement and vision, despite the life distractions. Since I’m the common denominator walking away from ideas, perhaps there’s a problem with me? — Anonymous

Finding the right partner is not easy, but no one said being an entrepreneur would be easy.

Energy and integrity will go a long way. But you don’t need a partner to get your dreams off the ground.

If you have enough cash to take the risk, fire the laser.

In reply to your other questions:

  1. You are not strange. But you can’t win until you choose one industry. Preferably choose an industry where there’s lots of money washing around. Better to be a mosquito on a fat artery than on a thin one.
  2. You need not rely on a partner to get off the ground. Cashflow is more important than partners. Having a partner makes life easier. But it’s easier to find the right partner once you’ve started something. The longer you operate by yourself, the less equity your partner will get.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with you. Believe in yourself. Be yourself.
  4. Keep searching. Don’t settle for second best.

Related: One-Year Milestone: Smart Thinking That Will Ensure Your Start-Up Makes It Past The First Year

Q. Our reps are only on commission; however, I feel that they have ‘ceilinged out’ and are complacent. They lack the drive to push themselves to the next level of earning as I feel it’s too easy for them now. Please advise — Robert

I had to ask a friend, Richard Henn, for his advice. This is what he had to say:

This is an interesting dilemma — complacency is traditionally rectified by paying sales people on commission only. If you don’t graft you don’t sell and if you don’t sell you don’t earn.

If your reps are on commission-only there is a problem with how you calculate that commission. This could be due to several things:

  1. The commission per sale is too high and they are earning enough money doing a lower than desired number of sales per month. They are no longer incentivised to drive more sales, which is what your business wants. They easily meet their personal take-home requirement and don’t desire anymore. They have plateaued. This can be fixed through setting a minimum revenue target per salesman, per month (failing which you are managed out) or reducing the commission per sale (this is a sticky one). Alternatively, you need to change your recruitment policy and recruit talent that has higher earning aspirations.
  2. Perhaps you have a guaranteed minimum take-home per month that is sufficient for the salesmen to live on, regardless of their sales achievement. There is a floor to the minimum take-home pay. Cancel this and make it truly 100% commission based.
  3. Dramatically reduce the commission paid up to the break-even revenue (minimum desired sales level, per employee, per month), after this point make the commission higher than what it was.

Related: 3 Tips For Starting A Company In An Unfamiliar Industry

The tougher fact you may have to face up to is that you have a sales management problem or culture problem.

Remembering that “the culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate.”


Read ‘Be A Hero’ today

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Alan Knott-Craig is a successful entrepreneur and best selling author. Founder of over 20 companies in the tech space, he was named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2009.

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Start-up Advice

Where Should You Begin?

It goes without saying that the right people on your team make all this possible. But this is a topic for another day.

Peter Castleden

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When I first started what was to become IndieFin, I really didn’t know where to begin. I had been granted a tiny bit of funding – enough to last about a year – on the basis that I could figure out how to reinvent financial services for the digital generation.

The initial challenges were plentiful. My experience with technology was exclusively as a user. So, I had close to zero knowledge on how to execute anything that I dreamed up. I also was very aware that the financial services industry had a reputation for offering awful customer experiences, so the bar there was very low. And finally, having spent a good few years working on developing financial products in the industry, I realised the opportunities to improve on the industry’s products were vast.

While this sounds like a fairly ideal situation for an entrepreneur, and while I feel very grateful for the opportunity, the real challenge was that there were simply so many things that could be built, all of which would present radical improvements on the status quo.

First steps

A couple of us sat in a room and started putting ideas down on a white board.  We went wild, and kept coming up with more and more great ideas. In fact, we came up with both a very compelling retail investment proposition, as well as what turned out to be our insurance proposition.

Related: 4 Things Your Start-Up Needs When It Opens An Office

What this exercise revealed, was that ideas alone are pretty useless. And, too many ideas can paralyse you.

Our small team got stuck in that trap, which was made worse because we didn’t (yet) have the skills to bring any of those ideas to life.

Hard lessons

We wasted a good few months (and some money) simply working on the details of multiple ideas. We were generating lots of documentation, and a few pretty pictures, and truly believed we were making progress.

In reality, we were running on the spot. Things changed with the addition of some new talent – who brought with them a completely different approach and complementary skillsets. This combination of people changed how we were doing things, for the better, and we managed to launch something into the market a few months later.

If I could take out the key lessons from this early stage of our business, they are:

  1. Choose one thing to do, and focus all your energy on doing it. This does not mean you throw out the other good ideas… but put them on the “not yet” pile.
  2. If it’s going to take you longer than three months to build and deliver your one thing to the market, it’s still too big. Strip it down to its core, until you can confidently build it and ship it within a quarter. This may feel like you are watering down your idea, and maybe you are. However, working to a longer timeline than this will stall you, with the risk of never getting anything shipped.
  3. Launch what’s ready. You will know what can still be done to make it better. It’s scary to launch something that is nowhere near your mental picture of what it can and will be.  Do it anyway.
  4. Be ready to learn. The best market research you can conduct is with real people using something you’ve built in the real world. Sure, you run the risk of brutal feedback (and perhaps it’s because it was launched early), but the free lessons you learn will be priceless in developing version 1.2 and 1.3 and 1.4.

Related: 3 Dangerous Entrepreneurial Myths You Need To Ignore

Fear is your enemy at this stage of the business. Personally, I needed others to challenge that natural fear, and push “go”. And I’m glad I did. Most of what we built in the early versions of the product releases were not even on our original roadmap. The stuff we have built since launching, and which we are still going to build, have been inspired by our customers and the lessons we have learnt in launching something incomplete.

It goes without saying that the right people on your team make all this possible. But this is a topic for another day.

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Start-up Advice

4 Things Your Start-Up Needs When It Opens An Office

There are certain things you should definitely ensure your office has. If not before you move in, then as soon as you can set it up.  

Jessica Edgson

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So, your start-up is finally up and running. You’ve been dreaming about this moment for as long as you can remember. And now you have clients or customers, a small team of dedicated employees and you’re turning a decent profit. Which means it’s time to move out of your garage and into a proper office.

You don’t want your staff filling up your personal space at home. Your garage, although creatively decorated, simply is no longer big enough. Plus, there simply isn’t enough parking on your street. It’s time you go from a bunch of youngsters with a big idea to a proper business with a premises you’re not afraid to invite clients to.

But, first, you need to choose this office and it’s that’s not a task you should take lightly. Obviously, you want to keep that creative startup vibe you’ve worked so hard to build up, so a space in a corporate office block isn’t going to work for you. You need to choose something that conveys your independent nature and inspiration-led work ethic.

Related: The Unwritten Rules: Real Start-up Advice To Launch A Game-Changing Business

However, there are certain things you should definitely ensure your office has. If not before you move in, then as soon as you can set it up.

At least one boardroom

You and your employees may be all about a “shared space” where everyone knows what everyone else is up to. But, unfortunately, it’s time to face the fact that you’re going to need at least one boardroom in your new office. Why? Because you will now be hosting clients and investors and they will want to discuss their wants, needs and expectations in a quiet place where they can hear themselves think.

Of course, this boardroom doesn’t have to look like it belongs in a big corporate office. You can decorate however you want. If you want to give the appearance of transparency with your staff, so they don’t freak out every time you drag all your senior employees into the room, you can always have glass walls that are easy to see through.

You’ll also want to incorporate some impressive tech into your boardroom to wow your clients and investors. Interactive whiteboards and touchscreen tablets at each seating place will give the appearance that you have, literally, got technology at your fingertips.

Security you can trust

And with all the tech that comes with owning a startup, you’ll want security to protect all your assets. This is not an area where you can afford to skimp on costs and save money.

If you’re in an office park of sorts (the kind that still allows you to keep your creative vibe), there’s probably already a security guard doing the rounds regularly. However, it’s up to you to ensure you can monitor who enters and exits your premises.

A great way to do this is with a fingerprint scanner at your front door or a tag system. Just make sure you take ex-employees off the system as soon as they leave and are able to add new employees just as quickly.

Now you need to focus on internal monitoring. A video wall controller paired with strategically placed cameras around the office is always a good idea. That way if there’s ever an incident, it can be caught in real time and even recorded for later use as evidence.

You’re investing a lot of money in your business assets as well as your space, so it’s important you’re able to protect everything and everyone.

Related: Which Side Hustle Should You Try? (Infographic)

A kitchen with all the necessary appliances

office-kitchen

Yes, you’re going to need somewhere for your employees to make that coffee they need in order to work like the rockstar machines they are. But you’re also going to need a place for them to store their lunch, heat up food and even make food if necessary.

This is especially important if there’s nowhere near your office for them to purchase food. And if you want people to socialise while they eat, make sure your kitchen is big enough for a giant table where everyone can eat together. If that’s not possible, try setting aside space inside the office or even outside the office.

Space for people to move around

As a start-up made up of young people with bright ideas and a collaborative working style, you will likely want to have an open plan office. And that’s great. However, you have to ensure there’s enough space for everyone to move around.

Your team will eventually grow, so you can’t simply create space for the staff you have. You don’t people feeling cramped and uncomfortable.

It’s time for your start-up to move out of your garage and into your own office space. But that doesn’t mean you have to let go of that creative environment you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

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Start-up Advice

How To Build The Right Mindset For Start-up Success

When clarity, consistency and execution become your signal characteristics, getting what you want becomes automatic.

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Mindset matters. Whether you’re a founder, CEO, first-day-on-the-job newbie, or bold, would-be entrepreneur, if your mind isn’t right then your decisions aren’t right. And with suboptimal decision making comes suboptimal results. How you show up everyday determines how you tackle the challenges that come your way.

However, oftentimes what gets in the way is ourselves – our thoughts and emotions. If you dislike public speaking, for example, what might go through your mind if asked to present in front of an audience is that little voice in your head saying something like, “I hate speaking. I’m not good at it!” Your heart skips a couple beats, your hands become uncomfortably moist so you pat them on your pants which doesn’t exactly help your self image and then you begin stammering. Congratulations, you’ve just entered the realm of weird.

Don’t let emotion get the better of you. Stay focused on what matters by learning to separate emotion from reason so you can focus on what you need and not be swayed by what you want.

Related: Smart Money For Small Businesses

Here’s how:

Clarify winning

Having the right mindset begins with identifying what you want. Without a clear picture of what winning looks like you’ll never know if you’re on the right path, which means you can’t course correct. Take the time to clarify what “success” looks like to you.

You might want to become more disciplined, improve your focus, or learn to talk to yourself more effectively (yes, self talk is a skill). Clarity creates two things. It creates meaning, and it creates guidance for you to focus on which allows you to better communicate not only with yourself but with your team as well.

It’s easy to take leadership, teamwork or any of those “soft skills” for granted, but without them a company wouldn’t exist. Get clear on what good leadership looks like; what effective teamwork looks like.

When you know what right looks like, you can make immediate adjustments to get back on track even after they’ve gone wrong.

Make consistency a habit

Being great at anything requires two things: Consistency and effort. You have to do the work to be great, and you have to do it consistently. Muscle doesn’t build itself (trust me, I’ve tried). You don’t get stronger by doing some pushups whenever you feel like it. You improve by going to the gym consistently and doing the work to get stronger.

Leading a team or a company requires the same consistency of effort. You get better at communicating by communicating. You get better at focusing by focusing. You get better at working together by working together to get better – and doing so consistently.

Now, while consistency and effort are two critical ingredients to crushing anything in life, so too is learning. After all, you can be as consistent and as diligent as you want, but if you A) don’t have a clear definition of success, discussed above, or B) don’t learn from past mistakes, then you’re only getting to the wrong place faster. Make learning a habit by consistently learning, and you’ll develop the mindset of constant improvement.

Suspend judgment to get stuff done

SEAL training

I remember in first phase of BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training) an instructor giving us an example of the type of mindset that every SEAL has – the type of mindset that gets stuff done. He told us that if he had to go run 25 miles right then and there because it was critical to mission success, he would. He would’ve done it not because he liked running or because he was ordered to, but because it was something that just had to be done.

Related: 4 Hacks To Overcome The Struggles Of A Running A Small Biz

The takeaway is that you don’t have to like everything you do. You just have to do it (whatever it happens to be). To really make an impact in your work or in life in general, suspend judgment. When you suspend judgment you forego any emotion attached to that judgment. Then, all you have left is action versus inaction, do or do not do. It’s not easy, but then again nothing good ever is. Do it anyway.

Being right in anything requires clarity, consistency and effort. There’ll be bumps in the road, no doubt, but those bumps are what make you better.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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