A few weeks ago I launched my startup. It took exactly 12 months from the initial idea until the moment I saw my app in the App Store. And these were some of the most challenging, fun and exciting 12 months of my whole life.
Before we dive deeper, a quick disclaimer. My startup it’s not a “standard” startup – I bootstrapped, I formed an LLC and not a corporation, and I don’t plan to sell it in a few years.
I have 15 years of experience working in a global technology and consulting company. So the good news is that I was familiar with the engineering side of things. The bad news, though, is that I had no idea about any other aspect of starting a business. So I had to learn it all (and I still am!)
Below I have tried to summarize some of the most important lessons that I wish someone had told me a year ago. Enjoy!
1 – Good ideas need space
I once was listening to an entrepreneurship podcast, and the podcast host said, “95% of my ideas came to me in the sauna.” And I thought to myself, “That is 100% true!” In December of 2020 I felt that I was ready to start my own business. The only problem was – I didn’t know what business I wanted to start.
I spent several weeks thinking about it and trying to come up with a good idea. Nothing was helping. And then I was laying on the tattoo table getting my tattoo done, staring at the ceiling and doing nothing, and this idea, this perfect idea, just popped into my head – and I’m not even kidding.
So next time you are trying to come up with an idea, or make an important decision – go get a tattoo. Joking! But seriously, slowing down and giving your thoughts room to breathe helps. Trust me.
2 – Choosing a brand name is harder than you think
Alright, now you have this awesome idea, let’s pick a name for your future company! Well, for me it definitely appeared to be harder than I thought.
It’s not just finding the name that is catchy, matches your brand and your vision and is not used anywhere yet (which is already pretty hard!). Have you also thought about the domain name? And how about social media accounts? Oh, and by the way, don’t forget the trademark!
I tried to come up with a name for my startup myself and failed, so I hired a professional to do that for me. And it was 100% worth it.
3 – You need a team from the start
It’s so tempting to do everything by yourself, especially if your budget is tight and/or if you are an expert in your area. Because of my technology background, many people asked me (and still do) if I am going to develop the app by myself.
But I knew from the very beginning that my time is much better spent being a visionary rather than an executor. So I found an agency for the design work, and then another one for development. And again, 100% worth it.
4 – Hold on to your vision
When you start, you have a strong vision in your mind. You know exactly what you want to achieve and why it’s important.
Then you begin to take small steps toward transforming your vision into the real product. Every step by itself seems to make sense. However, a few months into the process you might find yourself looking at the half baked product that looks nothing like your initial vision.
The danger here is that every step might in fact be a tiny deviation from your vision, but it’s so small you don’t notice it. However, these steps add up, and at some point deviation becomes noticeable.
In order to avoid this, or at least minimize the impact, make sure you step out from the tactics regularly and take a holistic look at what you are creating. And adjust if necessary.
5 – Pick your partners not just for the talent, but also for maturity
I found this design agency and fell in love with their work, so I hired them. And they really had very professional designers in house. The only problem was that all those designers left the agency within 3 months because the agency founder was treating them (and me, honestly) poorly.
Thankfully, we managed to finish the design, but it’s definitely a lesson learned for me.
6 – Your budget will increase
Whatever you plan for, add at least 25% for contingency. Whatever estimates you receive from your vendors, add 50% (or even 100%!)
It’s probably not what you want to hear, but it’s better to be prepared and to have this buffer ready for when it’s needed (and it will be needed, trust me), than try to urgently find more money while in the middle of the process.
7 – Talk to your future users
Every interview matters. You don’t have to throw enormous budgets into the user research (absolutely do it if you have it though!), but you at least need to talk to some of those people who will potentially become your customers.
Does your product solve their problem? Do they even have a problem? It’s amazing how many insights you can get by talking to even just a few people.
8 – Cut your MVP. Then cut again
You have pictured this awesome product in your mind. But you go to your vendor, and they tell you that it will take hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of work to get your product out the door. Alright, it’s time to start cutting the scope for MVP (minimal viable product).
It’s not easy, and at first it will seem like every piece is essential. But if you dig deeper, you will find that core that absolutely has to stay there, and then you can cut everything else.
Oh, and by the way, be prepared to go through this process several times.
9 – Pivoting is your best friend
More “good” news for you here. It’s not just about cutting your scope, but also about changing it to reflect the actual people’s needs and the reality we live in. Or sometimes you might simply overlook something!
Remember – having to make changes is not a sign that your product is a failure. In fact, it’s the opposite – it gives your product a much higher chance of success, and it makes you a much smarter founder.
10 – Set your priority wisely
As a startup founder, you will constantly need to be wearing multiple hats. Finance and data privacy laws, product development and testing, marketing and PR, user acquisition and user retention – just to name a few of the things that will keep you up at night.
But remember – your capacity is not unlimited, so focus on one priority at a time. Feel free to switch between them weekly, but don’t try to multitask.
11 – Launch when you are ready, not when you have to
You will have the launch date in mind, and most likely this date will keep slipping. You will feel pressured to launch when you originally planned to launch. But don’t. Take as much time to finalize and test your product as needed.
Remember – you can only make the first impression once!
12 – Launch is just the beginning
If you think that, once you launch, the hardest part is done, think again. You can be creating as many hypophyses as you want, but it’s only when you start receiving real data and real feedback from your costumes, that you can finally prove (or disprove) your theories.
I cannot stress this enough – data is your best friend when it comes to making your startup successful. Spend the time and set up all the analytics tools you need in order to fully understand what’s going on with your business at any point in time. Funnels, conversion rates, retention, not to mention financials, – it might feel overwhelming (and trust me, it is at times!), but it is essential that you have it all figured out and ready to go, otherwise you will be blind. You should even consider choosing a colocation data center for your startup. This facility provides servers, storage and security for your computing hardware.
And it’s really hard to navigate the fun and challenging startup world being blind.
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