Have you ever heard startup culture likened to Formula 1? Picture it: a group of energized hopefuls and their teams, at the ready and racing full speed ahead to cross the finish line first. Some crash and burn, and there’s only one winner, which means all the other racers lose. If you think about it, it’s an appropriate analogy. There’s no denying that startups are a business category with extremely high failure rates, that thrive on high energy and tend to burn out fast.
So, what does it take to cross the finish line first and turn your startup into a success story? While there is no ready-made startup success recipe, founders and cofounders who have managed to weather the ups and downs and eventually turn their budding startup into a thriving business identify key factors that contributed to their victory. Here are some words of advice from those who crossed the finish line first:
- Mike Grill cofounder of Gravity Blankets – Entrepreneur magazine included Gravity Blankets in their list of 100 Brilliant Companies and the company has made over $35M in revenue in its first two years. Grill advises startups to:
Trademark your product or brand - It can be easy to get caught up in growing your business, courting investors and paying employees and forget that as your business grows, more and more people, including other entrepreneurs, are seeing what you’re doing. Don’t overlook the fact that your idea has value and fail to protect your intellectual property rights. There’s nothing worse than to see your idea being copied by someone else, or, even worse, fail to trademark it and watch someone else beat you to it, thereby claiming authorship of the idea because they registered it first which you’ll then have to contest in court while you could be building your startup. Grill advises trademarking as soon as possible. By trademarking the term “Gravity Blanket”, Grill and his cofounder John Fiorentino established themselves as the originals and can successfully prosecute those who copy their product. Trademarking elevates the brand, protects your idea and ensures brand quality to consumers.
- Lisa Curtis cofounder of Kuli Kuli – Lisa Curtis founded the startup Kuli Kuli ten years ago and turned her modest startup selling a green superfood called moringa into a multi-million dollar business. Curtis believes this can make a big difference in your startup’s success:
Practice self-care - The high-stress and unpredictable nature of startups can make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and regular eating and sleeping schedule. This can take a toll not only on your energy level and health, but also on your ability to think clearly and make healthy decisions for your business. An overstressed and overworked founder doesn’t set a positive tone for the rest of the company. Curtis maintains a regular sleep, meditation and exercise regimen and affirms that, “I’ve found that taking the time to take care of myself, and making sure that I’m in a positive, solution-oriented state, allows me to be far more productive than burning the midnight oil to sink in a few more hours.” Building a self-care regimen into your workday can keep you sane, make you more productive and give you more energy to be a positive force on your team.
- Damien Lee, founder of Mr. Lee’s Noodles – After beating stage IV cancer, Damien Lee changed his lifestyle and started eating healthier. He noticed that there were no healthy ready-to-eat noodle products and decided to create his own brand with gluten-free noodles sourced from Vietnam, quality cuts of meat, no MSGs, additives or artificial flavors. Lee offers this advice to startup founders:
Think global from the start - Many startups make the mistake of failing to see the longer-term scope of their business reach. They’ll choose a name that pins the business to a specific location or make other decisions that will make it difficult to transition to a wider customer base once the business has grown. Lee started selling Mr. Lee’s noodles in the UK, but from the beginning he knew he wanted his noodle company to be a global brand so, despite being a small operation in the UK, he made sure his very first website was a .com address. The .com address allows international customers to locate his brand more easily in website searches. According to Lee, if you think your brand has the potential to be a global business, you need to plan for it from day 1.
- Etienne Merineau, cofounder of Heyday.ai – The French startup Heyday won startup of the year in the prestigious Lafayette Plug and Play and raised $2M to power customer experiences with Conversational AI. Cofounder Merineau offers this advice:
Test your product with real customers – It is a very common mistake for startup teams to spend a lot of time and resources creating a product that perfectly fits their vision and idea but that has no actual use to their customers. The earlier you can get your product out, the earlier you can start getting feedback. As Merineau said, “Test your assumptions on real clients with real needs in the real world. Don’t spend too much time strategizing because real world feedback will either crush your initial idea or force you to tweak it in order to be viable.” Being flexible and responsive to user feedback means aligning with the needs of your customers. The more you can identify customer needs and the quicker you can respond to them, the more effective your product will be at solving its target pain points.
- Karim Khalifa, founder of Digital Republic -Khalifa was a pioneer in the mobile advertising industry in the Middle East and founded Digital Republic in 2009. It was acquired by Dentsu Aegis in 2016 and became part of Isobar, their digital agency). A veteran entrepreneur, Khalifa has solid advice to offer today’s startups:
Be visible - You may have invented an incredible product, but if you don’t tell the world about it, nobody is going to know. Having a great team and a great product are essential, but visibility is a key element to a startup’s success and that means, according to Khalifa, “do a lot of PR, go out there on stages, write thought-leadership pieces, prove to the world that what you are doing is making a difference.” If you aren’t going to conferences, doing interviews, publishing articles or giving talks, you’re not doing justice to your brand’s visibility.
Everyone whose startup has succeeded has made mistakes and learned from them. Taking advice from those who have thrived can help keep you on track for victory. Whether it’s protecting your intellectual property rights with trademarking, integrating a self-care regime into your workday, preparing your business to be a global presence from the start, testing your product early or being visible in the media, your startup can benefit from the experiences of these successful startup founders.
5th August 2020