Connect with us

Start-up Advice

11 Lessons I Learned at Startups That Keep Me Up at Night

Being an entrepreneur is a frightening experience. You’re constantly faced with challenges that frequently put you on edge.

Danny Wong

Published

on

Staying-up-at-night

Over the past six years, I’ve been involved in three different start-ups. Each offered unforgettable experiences – most good, depending on your outlook. It certainly hasn’t been easy to co-found, lead or grow any of these businesses, and I’m lucky I’ve worked with excellent teams throughout my career. Though I haven’t yet seen it all, I’ve seen enough to realise the hard reality that is starting a business.

Here is a (relatively) short list of things that easily kept me up at night:

1. You’re replaceable.

Your customers, strategic partners, suppliers and teammates will always appreciate your contributions, but there is always going to be someone that’s better, smarter and nicer than you are. You have no time to be complacent because the bar is set higher and higher each day for individuals in your field. Also, no one has the patience to deal with jerks. So stay hungry and never stop treating people well. Do these things and you’ll be irreplaceable.

2. Reputation matters.

Don’t become the person everyone loves to hate. Instead, be the most outstanding person you can be. Do nothing that compromises your integrity. Stay honorable. People will like you more.

3. You’re responsible (even when it’s not your fault).

It’s true what they say. There’s absolutely no “I” in team. If something breaks, it’s everyone’s job to fix it. It’s unproductive to point fingers and no one benefits from pettiness. Fix it, prevent the problem from recurring and move on.

4. Others depend on you. It’s a scary thought that you’re responsible to more people than just yourself. Your customers trust you to keep them happy, your team members turn to you for their livelihood and your investors expect return on investment. Your actions and decisions impact them, so remember to do what’s best for everyone – not just you.

5. You’ll eventually have to disappoint people.

Some of your professional relationships will have to end. Some of your customers may not always get what they want. You can no longer grow if you’re carrying deadweight employees or fail to fire abusive customers, so trim the fat, but beware of leaving a bitter taste in their mouths or you’ll face the consequences.

6. Too much of a good thing is actually truly terrible.

One day, you can be peddling your wares to local shop owners, a dozen at a time. The next day, all of the major news networks want to promote your product – for free. You gladly accept and receive more sales in 12 hours then you’ve received in the lifetime of your business. Hooray! But wait, this gift has turned into a curse. As a start-up, you have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

7. You’re forgettable.

Despite your accomplishments and the noteworthy mentions of you garnered in the press, within weeks, your business can feel like yesterday’s news. To be competitive and relevant, you must continue to innovate.

8. Building a business costs more than just money.

There’s also a price you pay when you make a habit of pulling the graveyard shift evening after evening after evening. Your relationships suffer and your happiness may decline. It’s easy for your work to consume you – just know that you don’t have to let that happen.

9. Failure happens.

It’s difficult to stomach, but failure is natural. What makes matters worse is that your family and friends watch your every move anxiously hoping you’ll succeed. You’re allowed to fail and should fold a campaign or project if it no longer makes sense to continue on. When you’re ready to start a new adventure, you’ll be more prepared than ever.

10. Equity is messy.

Fortunately, I’ve worked with honest people who’ve sought to compensate me fairly. At the same time, I’ve witnessed many not-so-lucky start-up entrepreneurs get taken advantage of. Be sure to negotiate.

11. You’ll face rejection – a lot of it.

Be prepared to hear 100 – perhaps 300 – “no’s” before you ever get a resounding “yes” from someone. You may think it’s a numbers game: the more people you ask, the closer you get to finding your first customer. The real secret isn’t trying to sell more people though. It’s selling your idea, product or service to the right people, improving your pitch, story and salesmanship each time.

I’m only six years and three start-ups into my career and I, most certainly, have many more lessons I need to learn. Ultimately, it’s these lessons that help you become a better entrepreneur.

What are some surprising things you’ve learned?

Danny Wong is the co-founder of Blank Label, a luxury menswear company. He also does marketing Shareaholic and is an infrequent writer.

Advertisement
Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

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

Published

on

risk-management-rain-boots

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.

Continue Reading

Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

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

Chris Ogden

Published

on

entrepreneurship-gap

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.

Continue Reading

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

Published

on

small-business-start-up

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

SPOTLIGHT

Advertisement

Recent Posts

Follow Us

Entrepreneur-Newsletters
*
We respect your privacy. 
* indicates required.
Advertisement

Trending