Being at an age where I’m just beginning to carve my path in the real world, I tend to have many peers and co-workers who constantly think about making an income besides sitting in front of the computer eight to ten hours a day in a windowless room.
I’ve had thousands of conversations about initiating startup companies, selling IT products or services online, creating profit-generating web applications (like a derivative facebook site), and putting up blogs. Eventually, I began to see characteristics that I feel are needed in order for your own project to succeed, and I present them here.
Don’t be afraid to commit.
If you’re comfortable with your current salary and you need the promise of eating at least one meal a day (sans ramen noodles), why change it? If you can’t commit whole-heartedly to your endeavor, things won’t happen, and you’ll constantly put your project second on your to-do list (i.e. right below playing “teh gamez”). In addition, when you have other obligations that take up the majority of your day, you won’t be able to commit the time and resources needed to get things rolling. Who wants to sit in front of their computer after work to design the UI interface of your application or draft a business proposal to pitch to a small-business venture investor when you’ve already used most of your thinking and creative energy at something else?
While talking to a friend of mine who’s in the midst of developing a startup company, I heard the ultimate startup killer, “I think I’m gonna try and get a part-time job somewhere, just to help pay the bills”. To which I responded with, “There isn’t a better motivation then ‘hungry’”. Put yourself in the situation where there’s no other alternative to success. You can ask anyone who knows me, one of my most-used phrases is a rip-off from Nike, “Just do it”. Take a leap of faith in your ability to succeed and overcome the obstacles of your projects.
I’m not asking you to quit your day job (that would be hypocritical of me), but you may have to consider (a) scaling down your project to something you can manage on a part-time basis, (b) adjusting your commitment to other duties and responsibilities, or (c) coming up with something else that you’re equally passionate about, but can manage do to in your spare time.
Before doing anything, set your goals and develop your idea in a presentable way.
Right on the onset of your project, there should first be a clear definition of goals and what it is, exactly, you’re peddling. When you’re asked about your idea, you should be able to respond in a concise, clear, and marketable way. If it takes more than five minutes to describe your idea, it says that the concept is either (a) too complex — so you should consider simplifying, (b) you’re clueless as to what needs to happen — so you should develop your ideas further, or (c) a combination of both.
Whether you’re talking to an acquaintance about your idea (i.e. a random person you met at the bars) or pitching it to a potential investor, you should always be prepared to cover these questions:
- How do you describe your project in two to three sentences?
- Who are you selling to and what’s your plan-of-attack to reach and market to them?
- Why would people attain services or products from you, or how are you different from what’s already out there?
- Who are you working with, and how does it compliment your skill set? In other words, do you have the right people to make it happen?
Besides helping you conceptualize your idea in a more graspable way, these points give your audience the basics of what you’re trying to accomplish, and allows them to comment/suggest things constructively.
Avoid going solo.
There are several reasons why a single founder is bound to fail. For one, hard decisions are going to be tough to settle without another person (or two) calling the shots. Things won’t happen and there will always be impasse’s between you and yourself.
Also, there won’t be enough diversity in generating ideas and problem-solving processes. If decisions were made in a group, person A’s idea of “let’s make a myspace derivative… only we give the user even more freedom to customize their page” might be swayed by person B’s more even-keeled reasoning.
Additionally, with a partner, you can motivate each other to keep things going, akin to having a workout buddy to force yourself to go to the gym.
But there’s the other extreme, and it’s the “too many cooks/chiefs/shot-caller” team. This runs into the problem of things being argued constantly, a lot of profanity-slinging, and important decisions not being made in time.
A good-sized decision-making team (drawn from observation and experience) is two to three diverse (but like-minded in the end result) individuals. Personally, I believe a three-person team is the way to go because there won’t be any ties when issues are being decided upon.
For example, I, being technical, simplistic, and lacking business/marketing sense, would choose a more open-minded, “full-of-big-ideas”, business-savvy peer to be in a startup with. Then, I’d pick someone that falls in the middle, someone I’d dub “the mediator”, the person who’s in between the two extreme personalities. We will all have varying skill sets and personalities that compliments each other, and we each “fill in the blanks”, so to speak, of what the other partners lack.
Hire (and pay) well.
When your startup relies on other people (programmers, graphics designers, business school MBA grads), you have to pick the right people, and once you do, you have to keep them on the payroll. Being a cheapskate when it comes to human resources will cost you a lot in the long run. How would you expect employees to commit to developing your idea when you won’t commit to keeping them on board? When your employees jump ship, you’ll be stuck in the water. Your success hinges on the people working with and for you.
Don’t make money your sole goal.
You have to be passionate (borderline obsessive) about your idea. You can’t be in it just to make a boatload of cash. Look at profit as just one of the benefits of accomplishing your project. If you’re not passionate about your plan, come up with something else, because this shows your lack of interest (and most probably your lack of expertise) in your chosen area.
For example, I’ve been trying (for almost two months) to launch a blog that my brother and I co-founded (about consumer-related topics such as mobile phones, PDA’s, cars, etc). Although these are things I’m knowledgeable and deeply involved in, I lack neither the extreme fervor to get it up and running, nor the expertise that, say, a professional consumer technology editor working for a magazine, has. With Six Revisions, it took me two days to launch, design, set-up, and start publishing stories. When you follow your passion instead of chasing after the dollar bills, things happen quickly and successfully.
Be confident and unyielding, but listen to what other people are trying to say.
You have to believe in your idea, you should have the mindset of proving your naysayers wrong… but always listen to what your peers have to say. Believe it or not, other people are smart, reasonable, and experienced too. Don’t miss out on an angle that you failed to see, or make a mistake that your super-PHP-expert friend warned you from the start about SQL injections — listen keenly and avoid the temptation to shut them out just because they’re not saying what you want to hear. If you feel their criticisms or suggestions are wrong or won’t work in your case, simply say, “Thanks for the input, but I think I got it”. This says that even though you’re not going with their idea or suggestion — it still indicates that you appreciate their input and that you’re always open to any ideas they may have in the future. If you shut out these valuable resources, in the end, you’ll have no one to else to blame but yourself.
All in all, I think these are things you should keep in mind and try to have when you’re thinking of that next big project that will oust digg.com’s spot in the social bookmarking arena. My biggest suggestion is to believe in yourself and don’t doubt your abilities… if you don’t think it’ll work, I can almost guarantee that you’ve killed your idea right there.
I’d like to hear your thoughts about the subject. What are the other ingredients for succeeding in your projects? Drop a comment!