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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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Ouch

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

Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk

Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…

Chris Ogden

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You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.

Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.

It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.

There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…

Step 01: Do your research

No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.

Step 02: Understand the costs

Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.

A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.

Step 03: Know when to walk away

As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.

You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.

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Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden

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Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.

Here are five…

1. Network

It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.

2. Look for pain

Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.

Be the Panado that fixes these pains.

3. Luck

luck

This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.

4. Luck needs courage

You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.

Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.

5. Pay attention

This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.

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Start-up Advice

5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.

Catherine Black

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Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.

Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:

1. This too shall pass

Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.

2. Appreciate what this phase brings

The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.

3. Establish boundaries

Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.

4. Take a break

Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.

5. Give it space to make mistakes

While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.

During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.

While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.

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