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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.

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Start-up Advice

6 Resources For Start-ups Looking For Funding

Here are 6 online resources that can help you pay the bills and grow your business at the same time.

Josh Althuser

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Anyone who has ever considered starting their own business, or is currently in the process of doing so, knows that every little bit helps when it comes to making ends meet. Part of the charm of start-up culture is the low-budget creative atmosphere that seems to continually fuel innovation. But, eventually you’re going to have to keep the lights on and water running, and you can’t do that with creativity alone.

Whether you are a business that is just starting out, or already well on your way, there are plenty of online platforms that offer start-ups advice and funding opportunities. Here are 6 online resources that can help you pay the bills and grow your business at the same time.

1. Kickstarter

kickstarter-logoAt one point it seemed that anyone with a clever idea could make a video showing why the world should invest in the next big thing. While a lot of crazy projects have gotten funded over the years, utilising a crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter continues to be a viable way to get your project off the ground. Of course, if you want to reach your funding goals, it’s best that you have already done your market research, have a solid plan, and treat crowdfunding like a global VC.

Visit Kickstarter here.

Related: 4 Tips To Secure Funding For Your Start-up

2. Toptal

toptal-logoThose who are new to the start-up world might not know exactly where to start when it comes to looking for funding. While the freelance economy has grown immensely in the last 5 years, it’s important to know where to look.

Platforms like Toptal offer a wide range of freelance professionals that specialise start-up funding. Start-ups seeking a consultant on Toptal can also rest easy knowing that they carefully screen each candidate, ensuring they have the necessary professional background and experience to guarantee a successful project. 

Visit Toptal here.

3. Appbackr

appbackrIf you couldn’t already tell by the name, appbacker is definitely worth checking out if you are a start-up working in app technology for both Android and Iphone. The platform helps people discover different apps through the crowdsourcing model. Investors can scroll through apps from around the world, and if they like what they see, they can choose to invest. Funding incentive is based on an investor’s ability to purchase an app at the wholesale price, eventually making a profit once the app starts flying off the shelves in the official app store.

Visit Appbackr here.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

4. Gust

Gust logoInvestors are more likely to invest locally, which is why Gust is an attractive option for start-ups around the world, as they represent over eighty countries worldwide. Founded by a team of investors and lawyers, Gust knows their way around the start-up world.

With portals for both start-ups and investors, the platform seamlessly connects those seeking funds and those looking to invest. Start-ups can create a profile on Gust, and also have access to tools and tips to help them regulate finances and legal matters. 

Visit Gust here.

5. AngelList

angellist-logoNot just for investment, although that is a major part of the platform, AngelList is also a great place to find start-up jobs as well as recruitment. Those start-ups that are looking to expand can greatly benefit from this feature, while also getting their name out there to potential investors.

Their syndicate platform, led by technology experts make room for those who are looking to invest the chance to apply to a lead or directly invest in a fund.

Visit AngelList here.

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

6. Seedrs

seedrs-logoFrom top corporations to big name accelerators, Seedrs aims to simplify the funding process for investors. Providing a vast network of investors from 48 different countries, who tap into an additionally impressive network of start-ups, there is plenty of room for collaboration on this platform. Seeders also encourages investors and start-ups to continue their relationship after the transaction is made. Their online and offline networks aim keep both start-ups and investors in the loop.

Depending at what stage of development your company has currently reached, exploring various funding options available to you is a worthwhile endeavour. Rather than blindly pitching investors, investigating each potential platform, whether it’s crowdfunding or a hiring a freelance funding expert, will save you time and resources so you can focus on the right type of investment based on your needs.

Visit Seedrs here.

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Start-up Advice

Picking Your Lane: Maximising Your Chances Of Success And Happiness

How do you choose? What do you prioritise? What’s right for me is almost certainly not right for you.

Anthony Miller

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Most entrepreneurs start businesses out of necessity.  They do what they have to.  They don’t think far ahead.  They fight fires every day.  They are the foundation of every economy all over the world.  Some succeed, some fail, few shoot the lights out.  Some are happy, some are not.

For me, there’s nothing more thrilling than building a business.  Seeing your ideas turn into reality.  Seeing your team exceed your expectations every day.  Seeing your customers’ lives improved by your products.

But, entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted.  You pour blood and sweat and tears into your business.  You get more than your fair share of punches in the nose.  It’s hard, but if you’re lucky and you persevere, the rewards are great.

So, how do you maximise your chances of getting into the ‘happy and shooting the lights out’ club?

Related: 9 Quotes Every Entrepreneur Should Live By

Picking the right lane – figuring out what you’re going to do – is probably the most important decision you’ll make.  Once you’ve figured that out, you can get down to the nitty gritty of picking your team and building your business.

But, how do you choose?  What do you prioritise?  What’s right for me is almost certainly not right for you.

sweet-spot-modelThe Sweet Spot Model, which has been drifting around the web for years, provides great guidance.  If you do what you love, the hard yards won’t feel like work.  If you do what you’re good at, you’ll beat or (even better) outstrip the competition.  If you provide something the world needs, you’ll feel a sense of purpose.  If someone will pay for it, you have a business.

When I co-founded Simply, I wanted to tick all 4 boxes AND work from Cape Town AND be extremely flexible (so I could prioritise family health).

I worked on three different ideas: A GIS-platform for solar and other utilities; a transaction platform for stokvels; and a cheeky online life insurance play.

The life insurance play quickly emerged as my best choice (it helped that my partners are top actuaries J):

  1. What I’m good at – doing start-ups, connecting people and teams, and using technology and data to solve business problems.
  2. What I love – working with people I like and trust to build businesses that solve hard problems and make the world a better place.
  3. What the world needs – most adult South Africans have one or more funeral policies. Few have life or disability cover and policies are often very expensive.  There’s a clear need for simple, convenient, well-priced life, disability and funeral cover.
  4. What someone will pay for – the market we’re targeting is huge – nearly R7.5Bn of new premium is written annually.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

With the stars lining up, we pressed the go button in early 2016.  It’s now twelve months since we launched to market and early signs are good:

  1. Our innovative, online products – Family Cover, Domestic Cover and Group Cover – have been well received and are improving all the time.
  2. We have an amazing, engaged team – inspired by the purpose of protecting vulnerable people.
  3. We’ve sold more than 4 500 policies to date, providing more than R2.5Bn of cover to more than 20,000 people.
  4. We’re based in Cape Town, working hard and having fun, and I seldom miss a swimming gala, netball game or opportunity to go mountain biking.

While picking the right lane is no guarantee of success, it definitely helps stack the odds in your favour. You’re going to need all the help you can get. So, take the time to pick your lane. I bet it’ll be worth the effort.

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Start-up Advice

9 Quotes Every Entrepreneur Should Live By

Entrepreneurship takes great perseverance. Failure is common. In fact, it is expected. Over 75% of venture-backed start-ups fail.

Jennifer Keithson

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Entrepreneurship takes great perseverance. Failure is common. In fact, it is expected. Over 75% of venture-backed start-ups fail.

There are great learning opportunities that present themselves when we fail, but we must be willing to continue on and try again in order to learn anything at all.

It can be quite an arduous task to strive for your own means, to create your own vision and to rally the support within yourself that starting and running your own business requires.

Thankfully, we’re not in it alone. The wisdom of others can greatly ameliorate the process learning from our missteps and hiccups.

Taking from sagacious investors, inventors and thinkers can help you pick yourself up and make something meaningful out of your quest to become a successful entrepreneur.

By studying the thought processes of other entrepreneurs, we can become more enriched and more aware of how to approach the challenges we face in business and in life.

Here are 9 quotes every entrepreneur should live by:

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