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Start-up Advice

10 Start-up Tips Learned the Hard Way

We hope these pro tips help you level-up your own agency’s game. But whatever you do, don’t stop experimenting and learning as you go.

Rameet Chawla

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We’ve learned quite a lot from our humble kitchen table beginnings since 2009, when we founded Fueled. Our now global, award-winning mobile-design and development agency has offices in New York, London and Chicago, with more on the way.

While we’ve hit some bumps along the ride, we’ve learned from them, adapted and worked out how to build Fueled into a thriving agency. We’ve come up with a ton of pro tips along the way. Here are 10 of them.

1. Brand with a single purpose.

From day one, we branded Fueled as mobile first and only, and we’ve ridden the wave of mobile’s dominance ever since. We’re grateful to receive the bulk of our new business through client referrals and friends. We do more than mobile apps — website design, branding, SEO, community building – but it’s our mobile brand and expertise that gets people in the door.

Related: 10 Businesses You Can Start Part-Time

2. Fire fast.

If someone on your team is not working out, part ways now. It might leave the team crunched and you might have to work on Saturday and Sunday. Suck it up and do it. You’ll thank us later.

When we hire someone, we tell them up front that it’s for a three-month trial period. At two months, we have a check-in and assess the relationship from both sides. This gives them a month to improve or keep on keeping on. If major issues remain unsolved by the end of that three months, we say goodbye. When something is not working out, it’s a mutual feeling more often than not.

3. Only charge flat fees for very discrete deliverables.

Hourly rates or project fees? We finally found the perfect balance: charge flat fees for a series of well-defined, discrete deliverables with clear, inelastic boundaries.

Once a project is rolling, we move to a structure with a flat fee for a set amount of work. For us, that usually means a build of an app with a certain set of features. Clients know what they’re paying, and we know what we’re delivering. If the client adds features, we layer on more deliverables and flat fees.

4. Get paid up front.

Don’t start working until you get paid up front. Seriously, stop. Do something else until you get the money.

It may feel cheeky, but there’s no faster way for an agency to fold than to carry the debt of your clients’ unpaid bills. We ask our clients to pay in advance for each two-week period of work. If they don’t pay, we don’t work.

5. Avoid cheap clients.

If a potential new client tries to lowball you or asks for deep discounts, shut the door.

It’s this weird, inverted ratio: the law of discounting. The deeper the discount or the more generous the favor we give, the more unrealistic clients’ demands will be. For some reason, the clients who demand discounts will never be happy with your work, and they’re hardly worth your time and aggravation.

6. Build a lean product.

Bully your clients into building less, not more. Some clients are surprised when we push for a smaller contract (which means less cash for us). But experience has taught us that six-month builds of apps with 150 screens is effectively a guaranteed disaster. Focus first on what you can build in eight weeks, max. Then add and release the most compelling additional features in one- or two-week increments.

Related: This Business Model will Boost Your Profitability

7. Have plenty of conference rooms and phone booths.

Remember this ratio: one to 11. Fueled runs and houses its NYC team in The Fueled Collective, a coworking space with 150 members and 35 startups. We’ve found that the magic ratio of conference rooms to people is 1 to 11.

Spacious conference rooms for five to eight people are great, but the number-one use of conference-room time is phone calls made by one or two members, so to be efficient with space, try creating phone booths or micro-conference rooms. A few nooks for impromptu breakouts is also very useful.

8. Managing the client and managing the process are two different jobs.

When we started out, we had “producers,” managers who handled both client relations, project management and the actual product. We’ve since learned that people are either really good at building product or really good at managing the client relationship, never both.

Now we have separate project managers and product managers. The tension between their different skills and priorities creates a healthy conflict that gets a quality product delivered on-time and on-budget.

9. Experience is valuable.

Particularly in the tech world, the value of experience is easy to overlook. We had a bias, when we started, toward young talent rather than experience. We’ll just train them, we thought.

But we’ve since learned that experience matters massively. Bringing in seasoned talent and managers is absolutely critical to our success and happiness, and it’s been worth every extra penny.

10. Think before sleeping with your co-workers.

Talented, creative human beings doing exciting work in intense environments? Love and other pangs of the heart will happen.

But think about it carefully before you give in to the longings of your loins. Just how awkward is it going to be if things don’t work out? How much time and effort are you going to spend making it right? Do you risk losing someone valuable to your company?

It might also make sense to set expectations up front, about what the consequences might be if things don’t work out. Basically, take the time to consider the consequences before hooking up with your hot colleague.

We hope these pro tips help you level-up your own agency’s game. But whatever you do, don’t stop experimenting and learning as you go. We got to where we are through constantly tweaking and iterating on how we do business.

Ultimately, our passion for experimentation and pushing the boundaries has been core to Fueled’s success.

Rameet Chawla is the founder of Fueled, an award-winning design and development company based in New York and London, and the founder of the Fueled Collective, a co-working space comprised of over 25 startups in downtown Manhattan. Chawla is passionate about building and being involved in disruptive technology ventures and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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Start-up Advice

9 Quotes Every Entrepreneur Should Live By

Entrepreneurship takes great perseverance. Failure is common. In fact, it is expected. Over 75% of venture-backed start-ups fail.

Jennifer Keithson

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Entrepreneurship takes great perseverance. Failure is common. In fact, it is expected. Over 75% of venture-backed start-ups fail.

There are great learning opportunities that present themselves when we fail, but we must be willing to continue on and try again in order to learn anything at all.

It can be quite an arduous task to strive for your own means, to create your own vision and to rally the support within yourself that starting and running your own business requires.

Thankfully, we’re not in it alone. The wisdom of others can greatly ameliorate the process learning from our missteps and hiccups.

Taking from sagacious investors, inventors and thinkers can help you pick yourself up and make something meaningful out of your quest to become a successful entrepreneur.

By studying the thought processes of other entrepreneurs, we can become more enriched and more aware of how to approach the challenges we face in business and in life.

Here are 9 quotes every entrepreneur should live by:

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Start-up Advice

4 Tips To Secure Funding For Your Start-up

Here are 4 tips to help you secure funding for your start-up.

Ellie Martin

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Entrepreneurs seek to create new and ingenious ideas. Successful business owners are adept at looking at things in new and interesting ways. Their creativity fuels everything they do. Blazing through the initial steps of opening your own start-up can seem like a breeze if you’re endowed with this creative mojo, but you still may find yourself stuck at the very last step of starting your business.

Finding funding is undoubtedly the most difficult part of starting a business, and securing it requires the most creativity of all. Still, you can only stretch your creativity so far. Luckily, there are a few ways you can improve your chances of getting the money you need, regardless of whether you decide to attract angel investors or venture capitalists, or if you decide to apply for small business loans and grants.

Here are 4 tips to help you secure funding for your start-up:

1. Seek alternative funding opportunities

Before taking out a massive bank loan, consider these other funding options:

The vast majority of entrepreneurs either use their own funds to start their business or borrow money from friends and family. According to Forbes, 90% of start-ups fail, with 25% of them failing within their first year of operation. Due to this rate of failure, if it really is impossible for you to attract investors or secure venture capital, it is still best to avoid putting up your own money. Before draining your personal savings account, look into other options, such as crowdfunding. Research small business grants as well, as these can help cover gaps in funding.

2. Write a top-of-the-line business plan

If you’re interested in attracting investors, you’ll need a solid business plan to lure them in. Regardless of how wonderful your idea is, you must communicate that idea effectively and back up your claims with thorough research. A tightly organised business plan has the ability to assure investors of your industry know-how. It will give them a picture of how you plan to run your business and how accurately you can assess and address risks.

An entrepreneur who has a business plan with a punchy executive summary and a precise market analysis in hand is more likely to attract shrewd investors than one with only an inspired (and undeveloped) idea.

Related: Business Plan Format Guide

3. Network, network, network

The absolute best way to find investors is to network. Generally, you never want to cold call investors with your business ideas. You want to build relationships naturally with those in your industry and in your local community. Talk with other business leaders and go to local events. Offer to help other entrepreneurs and established business owners. They may return the favour by introducing you to reliable angel investors or they may steer you to a venture capital firm that helped launch their start-up. They may even offer to pitch in some of their own cash, if they really take to your idea.

Moreover, to make sure your networking efforts are effective, try to pinpoint the audience who would be most interested in your idea.

“Network selectively,” advises American author and entrepreneur, Steve Pavlina. “Take the time to build a profile of your ideal customers, and target your networking activities to reach them. Speak to those who are already predisposed to want what you offer.”

Building connections is a vital part of creating your business. You’ll need to build new ones and strengthen existing ones, not only to get the funding you need in the short term, but also to survive as a business in the long term. 

4. Be prepared to compromise

Asking for funding for your startup means experiencing failure time and time again. Most of the investors you’ll encounter will pass on your idea. You shouldn’t take this to heart. It’s all a part of the process. You may find that in order to get the funding you need you’ll have to give a small piece of the business over to an angel investor.

Your first crowdfunding effort may fall short, and you might have to incorporate feedback from backers and implement changes to the core of your idea to crowdfund successfully the next go around. Don’t be too rigid with your vision. If you’re willing to make some slight changes, you could have a much better shot at landing a deal.

Securing funding for your start-up is no easy task, but it is certainly not one you have to do alone. Enlist the help of friends, family, and business associates to help you craft a superb business plan, meet other entrepreneurs and investors, and make revisions to your idea. Use their input to help you find other ways to fund your start-up, such as small business grants and crowdfunding. Use these 4 tips for securing funding for your start-up, continue researching your target market and refining the way you approach investors. Without a shadow of a doubt, if you’re willing to seek the advice of others and compromise when necessary, you’ll find a way to fund your start-up.

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Start-up Advice

7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

What follows are seven simplified yet key strategies to develop yourself as an entrepreneur which are a hybrid of the authors’ practical experience and what he has learnt from very successful entrepreneurs, coaches, and consultants over several years.

Dirk Coetsee

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What lies behind you and what lies in front of you are tiny matters compared to what lies inside of you” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson


I am an entrepreneur, I surround myself with business minded people, I am privileged enough to be mentored by great leaders. I speak to visionaries, I write about them and learn from them.

What follows are seven simplified yet key strategies to develop yourself as an entrepreneur which are a hybrid of the authors’ practical experience and what he has learnt from very successful entrepreneurs, coaches, and consultants over several years.

A wise man once told me, “A higher level of consciousness does not mean you are better than anybody else it just means your mind sees from a higher vantage point and therefore you see clearer than most.”

Related: 8 Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Advice For When The Going Gets Tough

Those wise words lead us into explaining the first strategy:

1. Expand your consciousness

Simply put your consciousness is nothing but what you are aware of. By increasing what you are aware of through experience, study and honest self-reflection and by inquiring deeply into every aspect of your business as to increase the quality of your awareness you are enhancing the quality of your experience as an entrepreneur.

The second strategy often referred to as priming or framing is commonly used by successful entrepreneurs:

2. Priming or framing

Priming or framing is creating a positive mindset first thing in the morning which builds mental strength and the capacity to face the day with a very good attitude. This is, in essence, done by creating a morning ritual or habit for yourself which can take whatever form you prefer, as long as the outcome of it is a stronger and better you.

Some prefer meditation and/or prayer. Others repeat affirmations in the mirror. Some take the quiet early morning hours as the opportune time to read and learn more about their craft. Exercise is another way to start your day in a positive way. See this exercise of Priming or framing as an investment earning compound interest over a period of time.

nelson-mandelaGoogle whom any famous leader or entrepreneurs’ mentor was and a name or many will most certainly pop up. Nelson Mandela’s’ mentor was Oliver Tambo, Warren Buffet holds the Dale Carnegie certificate proudly displayed on his office wall in high regard, the famous investor Ray Dalio is still coached by Tony Robbins.

Related: (Podcast) Being An Entrepreneur Is Painful

That explains why you should:

3. Be willing to be mentored

When I facilitate training or a coaching session a common objection to being mentored is: “ Yes , but I do not know anyone that could mentor me.”

Honestly, what a lame excuse. Most servant leaders understand that it is part of their duty to society by leaving other servant leaders and/or entrepreneurs behind and are actually just waiting for your call.

It is really as simple as that, make your list of people that you look up to and want to be mentored by and call them, sincerely tell them how much you admire them and ask for guidance and mentorship. To those whom knock sincerely a door will be opened.

There is no such thing as a “self-made man” as everyone has received some help in some shape or form along their journey of entrepreneurship.

It is much harder to give up on something that you really have worked hard for over a long period of time as opposed to something that you have approached with half-hearted intent and little effort.

Therefore:

4. Hard work compounded by smart work

Hard work is not only something that you should do to stay ahead of the competition but a necessity in order to build resilience.

When you have lost sight of your purpose and vision as an entrepreneur decision making becomes drastically harder, your morale might be affected negatively, and your bank balance might suffer as a consequence.

So:

5. Ensure that you have constancy of purpose and a clear Vision

A very effective way of priming and/or framing is to remind yourself of your purpose and vision every morning. Make your Vision and purpose visual by displaying it clearly at your office. An entrepreneur cannot talk regularly nor enthusiastically enough about his or her vision and purpose. When you have not wholeheartedly bought into a vision and purpose how can you expect your team to?

ian-fuhrThose whom embody servant leadership of which the founder of Sorbet, Ian Fuhr is a prime example know that unconditional giving as a principle not only builds character but empowers others so that we can not only grow as businesses but as people.

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

That is the reason for:

6. Giving without expecting anything in return

When you give of yourself unconditionally you have a true servant heart and your clients will not only be loyal, but they will love you in general. Giving unconditionally feels good and receiving unconditionally places no burden on you and creates a wonderful and vibrant work atmosphere, generally speaking.

When you only take a stand on your principles and values during good times yet allow them to crumble in the face of challenging times “your house is divided and cannot stand”.  Your principles and values must become ingrained practises and not just frivolous words.

Taking the aforementioned into account:

7. Have non-negotiable principles and values that you live by

As an example, if when respect is a non-negotiable value that you live by you will refrain from losing emotional control and will be willing to walk away from a conversation where someone dis-respects you.

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