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10 Things You Can Expect During Your First 10 Years Of Business

Chances are, nothing will go exactly a planned.

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This year marks the tenth anniversary of Wattpad. It’s amazing to think that a decade has passed since I frenetically hashed out the details for the business with my co-founder Ivan Yuen in the Vancouver International Airport.

We founded Wattpad because we wanted people to discover, share and connect through stories. We wanted to remove the traditional barriers between readers and writers, and build social communities around stories worldwide.

If 10 years in business has taught me anything, it’s that you really don’t know where a venture will take you. As our community has evolved, so has our business. Wattpad has transformed into a global entertainment company for original stories. It is striking deals with global entertainment players and working with some of the biggest brands to pair them with the best creative storytellers in the world. We’ve come a long way from providing a couple lines of text on a mobile screen – but growth hasn’t always been linear, and we had our fair share of setbacks along the way.

Related: 10 Businesses You Can Start Part-Time

So for all the startup founders who are just embarking on their first venture (or facing year two or three in the trenches), here are some of the lessons I learned – and some of the things you can expect – in your first 10 years in business.

1You won’t find customers overnight

When we first launched our storytelling platform, we didn’t have any writers. Without writers, we didn’t have content, and without content, we couldn’t attract readers. It was your classic chicken and egg conundrum. So we spent our first year in business importing novels that were already in the public domain – Pride and Prejudice, David Copperfield – whatever was available that could help us attract book lovers.

It wasn’t until year two that we saw the first piece of original content land on Wattpad. It attracted 50 to 100 people to the platform, and soon, one piece of content became two, then three, then four. Like any business, it takes time to build up your customer base.

People won’t flock to you just because you’re there. You’ll likely have to find ways to fan the flame until you reach critical mass.

2Your timing might be off

technological-developments-in-business

Establishing a solid customer base is additionally complicated by the fact that your timing might be off. How many startups exist today with ideas that are just too advanced to be successful? For many entrepreneurs, it’s a matter of waiting for the industry to catch up with you. At least, that was the case for me.

Related: 21 Steps To Start-Up

Ten years ago, mobile reading was a very different space. There were no iPhones or Kindles – just feature phones that could display a couple lines of text at a time. Sharing content on the internet was also a bit unusual, and there was a smaller percentage of people actively doing it. But today, 90 percent of all Wattpad activity is on mobile, and sharing content online is common – you don’t even need to think about it.

Bottom line: Don’t lose hope if the industry’s not there yet, and continue to preserve. Eventually, technology will catch up with what you’re trying to do and pave a way for your success.

3There will be “lows”

When you first launch your business, there’s a natural sense of exuberance and expectation. But, let’s be real, that feeling won’t last.

I remember sitting in a coffee shop with my cofounder, sharing a coffee I had bought using the total revenue we had earned from the past month. That was a low point for us and a time when we seriously questioned whether we had the emotional strength to keep going, but we did.

You will also face these “lows.” You’ll have to re-examine what you’re doing and decide what is the best path forward. These are the moments that force founders to grow and businesses to either shutter or flourish. In this moment, you’ll ask yourself whether your idea is worth the struggle.

Just remember: A great vision won’t fade with a setback. If you give up when you reach the first, second or third low, your mission may not be energised enough to endure. The personal weight of your vision is what will get you through these low points.

4You’ll need to switch gears

shifting-gear

We made it out of our dark pit by taking on consulting jobs and using those funds to support our business. For many founders, such a move can feel like failure, but for us it was literally the only path forward.

When you find yourself challenged, don’t be afraid to switch gears, and don’t be so wed to a plan that you make impractical decisions. It’s ok to deviate a little from the grand scheme of things. Or to put things on hold until you figure it out.

5You’ll get your big break

Eventually – if you’re creating something truly different – you will make it through the hard times and catch your big break. For us, it was getting our initial round of funding.

We received our Series A in 2011 from Union Square Ventures, the same company that invested in Twitter, Etsy, foursquare, Kickstarter and others.

Having such a huge industry player pay attention to us and see our worth validated the work we were doing. It gave us the jolt we needed to keep going and stay committed to building something great.

Related: Stop Whining And Start Hustling

6Working on yourself is as important as working on the product

product-development-and-innovation

I’ve yet to meet a single entrepreneur that, when he or she started their company, could do everything all by themselves. You can’t write all the code, design the product, balance the budget, find funding and market the product on your own.

Part of growing as a start-up founder is realising that you need other people to help you and, more importantly, that you have to motivate this team as a leader. At the end of the day, the best product you build isn’t necessarily the product – but yourself.

7Culture is critical to growth

As you grow your business, you’ll realise that it is only as strong as the people in it. Your employees need to share your vision and values if you want to take your business to the next level.

When we look at hiring, we put a lot of focus not just on technical skill but also a cultural fit. Does this employee care about creating a lasting entertainment experience through stories? Is he or she motivated by our users’ success?

Our employees aren’t culturally identical either. We want to hire people with different perspectives and ideas, but who ultimately will work with their team to reach a common goal. This also allows us to create a more global community utilising the perspectives of a diverse team.

8You’ll learn from your users

ben ling khosla

Ben Ling of Khosla

When I first met Ben Ling of Khosla Ventures I asked him how YouTube had expanded into so many different categories. His answer? “We didn’t start these new categories. These categories emerged organically and we spotted them early. Then we poured fuel on the fire.” In other words, YouTube didn’t create how-to videos; its users did. Then YouTube oriented their product to support it.

Likewise, your users or customers will influence the direction of your product or business, but only if you learn to listen. For Wattpad, user feedback has contributed to developments such as in-line commenting and multimedia. We’ve taken the time to assess what is happening naturally on the platform and have made changes to our product so that it’s easier for them to do what they’re already doing.

Related: How To Know What Passions To Pursue

9Your business will evolve

As I mentioned before, you won’t stick to the grand plan you had when you first started your business. Wattpad started as a storytelling app – and it still is – but we realised that storytelling is the foundation for entertainment content. Stories themselves can not only entertain, but they can also inspire people. So as our community has grown, we have been able to grow with them, leveraging our strong community of readers and writers to shape their content into TV shows, web series, movies and books.

This is not a deviation from our original mission, but it is a change. Change is perfectly fine (and necessary) in order to help you survive from year to year.

10You’ll change people’s lives

When we first started Wattpad, I was solely focused on solving a problem that I faced myself. Over time, I realised the true impact that my company had on other people’s lives.

There are people in Africa thanking me for helping spread the written word in their country. We have parents telling us that their children are improving their writing. Not to mention writers who have thanked us for helping them find an audience.

Related: 6 Reasons Your Business Won’t Make You Rich

It’s hard to see it now, but your company will also impact lives beyond what you can imagine. Whether it’s your employees, your customers, or your partners – knowing you have made a change in someone else’s life is the sweetest thing you’ll experience in your first decade of business. This feeling will not only fulfill, but it will propel you further yourself as an entrepreneur and motivate you for decades to come.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Allen Lau is the co-founder and CEO of Wattpad, a free app that lets people discover and share stories about the things they love. With more than 10 years of experience building successful mobile tech companies, Lau is an entrepreneur with a passion for social collaboration, online communities and user-generated content. Under his leadership, Wattpad has gained more than 40 million users per month with over 150 million original story uploads shared on the platform.

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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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