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Start-up Advice

‘Start-up Courage’? It Starts On Day 1

When investors ask why a bigger, more established company won’t copy your idea, remember that you have no reason to stop in your tracks.

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Every entrepreneur begins with a vision: How to solve a real-world problem by creating a product or service to transform people’s lives in a meaningful way. That vision evolves as it’s brought to life. And in that process, it’s shaped by its creator’s deeper understanding of the challenges and the opportunities which, for that creator, stand between seeing an opening and realising the potential of his or her idea.

Those challenges are: How to build it, who will buy it, what to call it, how to pitch it and when to launch it.

Along the way, that vision becomes more focused as the entrepreneur encounters a unique series of twists and turns before his or her product is ready for mass consumption. Throughout that journey, many entrepreneurs repeatedly hear the same question, especially if they’re based in the tech sector:

“Can’t Amazon, Apple, Google or Facebook build the same thing?”

Related: Passion Is The Key To Entrepreneurial Success

Having the confidence that the “four horsemen” won’t beat you to it

four horsemen

It’s unlikely that this is the first time you’ve thought about this question. The tone, however, in which it might be asked by an investor, an already successful entrepreneur or someone else sitting across the table from you will likely carry a hint of frustration.

When I launched my company on Indiegogo in 2013, I heard this question often, framed around the fear that a major home security company could easily take an approach similar to ours (like an ADT) and out-gun us with its vast resources and market share. The question was typically worded along the lines of, “What happens if they move from the professional to the consumer space?”

What was fascinating was to see early in the launch process that even though we heard that question from investors and industry professionals, we never heard it from consumers – who clearly understood why rapid advancement in technology would more logically come from a start-up and not a half-century-old security company.

It’s certainly easy to give in to your fear that a Google or Amazon might turn its attention to you; but taking that challenge head-on will help you articulate the secret sauce of your business and determine your place in the wider market.

Putting the naysayers back in their box

Given that it’s hard to read an annual report nowadays that doesn’t reference Amazon in some way, shape or form, a little fear is certainly understandable. Yet we all know that success isn’t limited to the big and the established. We also know that many young companies are shaping the future.

So, how is that possible, given the seemingly endless appetites of the largest players among us? I’ll give you four reasons:

No one company can do everything

Perhaps Amazon has the capability to do what you’re offering, but will it? Is it central to that company’s core business? Its future business interests? If it’s not, then there may be a significant opportunity for you to step in now.

You may be uniquely qualified to fill a real gap in the market

As we saw with our company, Canary, the home security market has long been successful within a small universe of households and businesses; but in actuality, no one was focusing on the broader-market opportunity. We saw this gap as an opportunity to service an oft-ignored segment of the market with a much more intelligent, software-first (rather than hardware-first) solution.

Competition is essential, and has its benefits

Amazon and Google are pushing hard to own the home speaker/voice-controlled market right now (with Amazon currently in the lead). For example, they’re creating ecosystems around their products that are either integrated or stand on their own. That competition will drive both of them in similar directions, as they try to solve the most number of problems for the most people.

But your specific problem won’t likely be a priority, as it will take a back seat to making the product as universal as possible. Startups can take risks and test concepts the big guys can’t always entertain. So . . . you may be just what the consumer ordered.

Often, focus wins

If you’re starting a company, chances are that your team is small – meaning its members aren’t distracted by other projects and can home in their focus on one thing: Bringing the vision to life. A start-up with a team a fraction of the size of a Google or Apple development team typically has more focus and synergy, and is able to deliver quality outputs, with care, faster than industry incumbents.

Related: 6 Tips For Transitioning From Idea To Operational Business

Standing by your ethos

Evan Spiegel

As a start-up founder, you have already taken the biggest risk an entrepreneur must take: Striking out on your own. Unfortunately, many people are going to question the worthiness of that decision every step of the way. Snapchat took a $3 billion dollar risk to this effect when it decided not to sell to Facebook. CEO Evan Spiegel will undoubtedly be forever fielding questions from all directions about why he didn’t sell, even as the company comes out the other side of its public offering.

I was once offered the opportunity to build integrations between my company and some of the largest tech corporations out there; this could have been very positive for us from both a PR and financial perspective. But, upon review, we realised that with such an integration, the security of our customers’ videos could have been compromised, as data security was a secondary concern for tech corporations.

On that basis, I decided that even though an integration would have been financially beneficial in the short term, it would have compromised critical values I hold about privacy and data protection.

So, to return to the Snapchat example, we may not all be so fortunate to end up with a $3 billion offer on the table to turn down, but Snapchat is a prime example of why sticking to your company’s ethos is necessary – even if it becomes a necessary risk. Our company has built what we regard as a mission of fearlessness into everything we do.We want to empower people to live fearless lives, and that starts at home, so to speak.

We knew that there might be some risk tolerance or outside-the-box thinking going in by our not worrying about those big companies; but genuine fearlessness is not in their dictionary.

For our part, sticking to our ethos of fearlessness ensures we’re always moving in the right direction.

Embracing the challenging questions

No one knows your company as well as you do; your advantage is the focus and commitment you have to your ultimate vision. And, if your product or service ultimately improves, changes or transforms the lives of your customers – be they consumers, businesses or, dare I say, Amazon – the naysayers will be silenced.

Just remember: When that inevitable question comes about why someone bigger, with a better track record doesn’t take this on, there is no reason for you to stop in your tracks. If you can promote clarity in what you are doing and confidence in yourself, and highlight the customer validation of your product in the market, you’ll be ready for the next step: Moving forward and forging your company’s own path.

We’ll all be waiting to see it.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Adam Sager is the founder and CEO of Canary. He previously built security programs for Fortune 500 companies and founded a national nonprofit in the security sector.

Start-up Advice

How To Apply Lean Principles To Your Start-up’s Productivity And Time Management

Focusing on one thing at a time is a very good start.

John Rampton

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If you’ve recently launched a start-up, I’m sure that you’ve heard a lot about being “lean.” But I’m not here to discuss the methodology popularised by the likes of Eric Ries.

The lean principles from a Toyota exec

I’m actually writing about the term and concept of “lean” that was originally developed by Toyota executive Taiichi Ohno during the reconstruction period in Japan following World War II. The process was so successful that more and more organisations around the world began to embrace it. However, it didn’t hit the mainstream until James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones released their book Lean Thinking, in 1996.

Applying “lean” to productivity in start-ups

Today, lean principles have been applied to almost every industry both large and small scale. For instance, lean principles in the healthcare industry have been able to reduce costs, while improving efficiency. On a smaller scale, employees have used these principles to organise their workspaces.

Related: What Business Should You Start In Africa?

Here are four ways you can apply lean concepts to your startup to improve both productivity and quality.

1. Improve your workplace using the five principles of lean

According to the Lean Institute, which was established by Womack and Jones in 1997, there are five core principles of lean:

Value: Value means putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and knowing what their needs are. This helps you determine timelines, pricing and expectations instead of constant trial and error. For your team, letting them know how they fit into the bigger picture can keep them motivated.

Value stream: Value stream is where you create a “value stream” of all the steps and processes required in getting the final product or service to your customers. This could include design, production, delivery, HR and customer service. Knowing this information allows you to eliminate any wasteful steps.

Flow: After you’ve removed any unnecessary waste from the value stream, you want to make sure that everything runs smoothly. Flow means not having any interruptions or delays. The flow involves breaking down steps, leveling out workloads, creating cross-functional departments and training your team so they can develop multiple skills.

Pull: When flow improves, so does the time it takes to get your goods or services to customers. As a result, they can “pull” whenever needed so you’re not constantly under- or overproducing inventory, content, etc.

Perfection: Even after successfully completing the first steps, you still need to constantly keep working to improve processes so that you can eliminate waste. Perfection may be an exalted goal in whatever endeavour we are pursuing – but we still must always be moving forward toward being the best and achieving the best.

2. Use the concept of 5S to get yourself organised

5S stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardise and sustain. You can use this concept to organise your workspace so you and your team are more productive by doing the following:

  • Remove any items that you no longer need (sort)
  • Organise your remaining items so you’re more efficient (straighten)
  • Keep your workspace clean and tidy so you can find items and identify problems more quickly (shine)
  • Color-code and label files and calendars to make you more consistent (standardise)
  • Develop repeatable behaviours and habits that will keep your workplace clean and organised, such as completing one task before moving onto the next (sustain).

You and your team – even if they’re virtual employees working from a home office – can get started by throwing away anything unneeded. Place files into cabinets – colour-code your calendars – and keep items you frequently use nearby.

But these principles aren’t just limited to physical items. Digitally, you can use a project management system to assign tasks, quickly see the progress of projects and share files and comments in one organised dashboard.

3. Standardise your work to become more efficient

In manufacturing, there’s a standard process for everything. The reason? By doing something the same way time and time again you will eliminate waste since you’re not constantly trying out new techniques. Standardising also prevents errors and forgetfulness because there’s a checklist for ever step of the journey. For example, when a car is on the assembly line, it can’t move forward if someone forgot a bolt or installed a faulty steering wheel.

4. Standardise what makes sense

Start by keeping a time log to see when you’re most productive and how you’re spending your time. You may notice that you’re most productive in the mornings. If so, that’s when you should work on your most important task.

If you discover that you’re checking your email and social accounts too often, schedule specific times throughout the day to check them. To prevent wasteful meetings, you can standardise meetings. Make sure these meetings are necessary and include only key people pertinent to the information. Keep all meetings as short and concise as possible.

Get into a good flow to optimise your and your team’s performance

Flow is simply how work can progress through a system. When your system is running smoothly, flow is good. When flow hits a snag, it slows down the process and waste occurs.

Manufacturing facilities make it a point to ensure that the flow is good. Unless it’s an emergency, production lines rarely stop running. Everyone has a specific job to do, and that’s all they’re focused on. That’s not the case at your start-up. You must wear multiple hats, as well as deal with constant interruptions. How many times have you been in “the zone” and gotten distracted by a phone call or have no choice but to go put out a fire?

Remember focus

One way you can improve flow in your start-up is by focusing on one thing at a time. That means no more multitasking. Give your 100 percent focus to what you’re working on at the moment and then move on to your next task. This may take some self-discipline. But you can start by turning off all push notifications, closing your door, block scheduling and setting boundaries.

You can also help your team improve their flow by setting “do not disturb” zones and time frames. Another tip is to schedule a “no meeting” day. This way you and your team can maintain focus without getting interrupted by a meeting.

Finally, you may want to consider outsourcing and delegating certain tasks. Instead of worrying about your inbox all day, hire a virtual assistant to manage your email. If you need to get your books in order, then bring in a bookkeeper. This frees you up to work solely on growing your startup.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Start-up Advice

Which eCommerce Platform Should You Build Your Store On?

This is an important decision to make and with so many options out there it can become a bit overwhelming and confusing to decide which platform is the best option for you. So which platforms are best suited for a South African eCommerce entrepreneur?

Warrick Kernes

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Having owned and run websites using XCart, Magento, Shopify and WordPress, I’ve made enough mistakes and learnt enough lessons along the way to be able to help guide you to make the right decision about which platform is right for you…

When looking for options you’ll come across platforms like Prestashop, WordPress, WIX, Shopify, Squarespace, OpenCart, Magento, Shopstar, OneCart, ShopOn, LiquidBox, BigCommerce and endless more. All of which are trying to convince you that their platform is the best for you to use.

Reading international blogger reviews is helpful but they don’t account for how these website platforms perform in South Africa. They don’t review what the support is like in SA and which local software services are compatible. You see, these points are often neglected until you need them further down the line and only then find out how important it is that the platform you’re running your store on is made to work in SA.

Having worked with all the major website platforms I understand the importance of website support and how the site integrates with the local services which will make your life easier and your website better. Services like this include integrations into Rand (ZAR)  based payment gateways, integrations into local courier services, API connections into marketplaces like Takealot and Bid Or Buy, and API connections into price comparison sites too.

Related: 6 Steps To Building A Million-Dollar Ecommerce Site In 60 Days

The final factor to consider is the reputability of the website platform itself. There are many new and upcoming website platforms which I would love to support but when it comes to choosing a platform on which I’ll be building my business I need to know that I am going to be selecting a world-leading service provider.

So with this in mind I can help to narrow down your options to two platforms being WordPress with WooCommerce and Shopify. Which of these two is right for you will depend on how much you value your time.

Shopify will cost you $29 per month but the ease-of-use is such that even a novice can get a site live within a week. Operating WooCommerce on WordPress is complex for beginners and it will take you much longer to figure it all out before you can take your site live but the plus side is that it is free to use.

So ultimately you need to consider which of these two is right for you and your business but the most important thing is that you don’t spend any more time researching, take action and get started sooner rather than later so you can start to grow your online empire.

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Start-up Advice

6 Ways Starting A Business Is Like Raising A Child

Here are six ways that embarking on your own entrepreneurship journey is like raising a child.

Catherine Black

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While you may think work and parenting are worlds apart, when it comes to starting a business versus having a baby, the two have more in common than you think.

After all, both involve bringing something new into the world, preparing for the unexpected, and riding the storm when things don’t go as planned. Here are six ways that embarking on your own entrepreneurship journey is like raising a child:

1. It involves new expenses

From nappies and school fees to food and clothing, there are a whole lot of new expenses involved when it comes to kids. In the same way, starting a business also involves various costs – whether it’s paying accounting fees, setting up your website, buying stock or employing people. In both instances, having a good financial plan in place can go a long way to help you manage these expenses.

Related: How To Start A Business With No Money

2. It’s an emotional rollercoaster

Parenting invariably means you’ll experience every emotion under the sun, from unmatched joy when they’re born, to frustration at toddler tantrums, to wonder at seeing their little personalities develop. The same goes for a new business: Expect a range of emotions, from the highs of getting your first customer, to the satisfaction of making a profit, to anxiety if the market doesn’t respond to your product as you envisioned.

3. Expect the unexpected

Few things are as unpredictable as babies: One minute they’re gurgling contentedly, the next minute they’re crying for reasons you may or may not know. Just like babies, businesses can be highly unpredictable too. Product prototypes can fail and cause delays, employees get sick, an unforeseen tax bill could arrive on your desk – you’ll need to get comfortable with expecting the unexpected. And, if you run your business full time, you’ll need to bid farewell to your predictable monthly paycheque too (at least in the beginning).

4. It requires stamina

Late night feeds, helping your child with homework, washing, cooking, cleaning, answering all their burning questions – there’s no parenting “off” switch. In the same way, being an entrepreneur means it’s hard to stop thinking about your business at the end of the day as you would with a regular 9 to 5. This constant call for attention means it’s crucial to schedule in some downtime for yourself so that you get time to decompress and refresh.

Related: What Business Should You Start In Africa?

 5. You’ll need safeguards in place

While their immune systems are immature, young children get sick, which typically involves trips to the doctor, medication and possibly even the odd hospital stay. Having a good medical aid means you’ll be financially prepared for these intermittent expenses. And, just as you should ensure your child has the right medical cover, your business and your employees should also be covered properly. Fedhealth is one example of a medical aid that specialises in providing medical cover for SMMEs.

6. Love will get you through

As hard as parenting can be, the enduring love most parents have for their children means they keep caring for them day after day, no matter how exhausting it is. Similarly, if you love the industry your business is in and the work you do, you’ll have the fortitude to keep at it over the long term.

Both parenting and starting a business are hard work, but they’re hugely rewarding too. With both of them, it’s true that what you put in, you get out. Seeing your child grow into a well-adjusted, caring adult can be as satisfying as watching your business mature into a something that’s profitable and self-sustaining. Upon reaching these milestones, most people will agree that the journey to get there is definitely worthwhile.

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