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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

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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