With all the coverage of startups in the news, sitcoms, and movies, it’s easy to learn everything you need to know about building your business by watching TV. Of course, there’s no question your startup will be a so-called “unicorn,” because all you need is a great idea — as certified by your best friend’s enthusiasm — and the rest will take care of itself. Sure, you’ll have to work, but there are always shortcuts, and the billion-dollar exit is just a meeting away.
For help and insight, find a big-name chairman who travels the world for a dozen boards, because he won’t get caught up in all the details of your business. Those emails he’s reading during your board meetings are with very important people who could help with an IPO. The critical thing is to take all his wisdom to heart, even if it’s based on pre-historic market information, and make sure not to dilute it with your own judgment.
When it comes to strategic decisions, speed is the most important factor, so to help you with that, the following is a list of 10 ideas to blast off your startup.
1. Create buzz
Instead of wasting time with customers, who may not even use social media, focus on getting your name out there, winning awards, and producing expensive videos that have one chance in a million of going viral. Generating a PR buzz is the secret to success, plus your friends will think you’ve made it. Focus on your numbers: numbers of facebook friends, likes, connections on Linkedin, and how many times you’re mentioned in the press. People who see all this may not be interested in buying your product, but they’ll soon recognize your name.
2. Be nice
Avoid conflict so people will like you. Never make a decision that might upset someone; putting it off is more comfortable for everyone, even when that makes the problem worse in the long run. Negotiating is unseemly, and totally unnecessary, as most people are reasonable; whatever they’re offering is probably fair.
3. Hire people you trust
The most loyal teams are made with friends and family — anyone you can’t fire. They may not have relevant experience, but at least you won’t waste time trying to find someone who does. Plus, if their performance suffers, you’ll have plenty of time to get into it at parties and family dinners, where other loved ones can chime in.
4. Work hard
Capability and results are no match for a busy, frenetic office. If everybody’s working 12 hours a day, progress is a sure thing. Plus, it’s much more satisfying to check off all the little tasks on your To Do list than to sit back and waste time with strategic contemplation.
5. Strive for excellence
Prototypes are ugly. No matter how long it takes, make your product absolutely perfect before showing it to a customer for user feedback or test marketing. If the customers don’t rave about your product when it’s finally finished, that doesn’t mean you’re not meeting their needs; it only means they don’t understand your product, but they’ll get it eventually.
6. Stay positive
When you receive bad news, try to put it out of your mind as quickly as possible; no point thinking about something that’s going to crush your mood. Also, always believe the engineers’ forecasts on time and cost, regardless of history. The last 10 times they underestimated, they had very good reasons. This time will be different.
7. Don’t tell anyone your idea — they might try to steal it
The product development process will only get derailed and bogged down by customer input. You know best what the market needs. Plus, it’s difficult and time-consuming to find customers, never mind figure out what to do with all those different opinions.
8. Don’t be scared of competition
If there are already several players competing, it must be a good market. Product differentiation and innovation are nice to have, but if that doesn’t work out, you can always compete on price. Nobody has ever considered trying to lower the cost of this particular product before, and commodity businesses are always the most profitable.
9. Grow as fast as possible
Don’t worry about cash; it’ll be there when you need it. You have more important things to worry about than the details of your financials. You’re not an accountant, after all, and who cares about profitability when you’re shooting for the moon. Sustainable business models are old-school. As long as your revenues are growing, M&A or IPO are a sure bet.
10. Put on a great show for investors
In your pitch, before you state in simple terms what you sell, make sure to use lots of industry acronyms. Investors may not understand, but it’ll make you sound like an expert. Creating a chart with a clear comparison to the competition takes too much time and effort. As long as you have colorful diagrams showing how great your product is, and the projections show your recurring revenues skyrocketing, there’s no need to quantify your value proposition. And, regardless of what business you’re in, don’t forget to say you’re using blockchain!
If investors aren’t interested, don’t waste time rethinking the business; just fix the pitch deck.
Remember, a great product sells itself. The reason your product will be better than that of the huge incumbents in your space with years of experience and millions to invest is because they’re slow and stupid, while you’re smart and nimble. After all, didn’t you just win an award?
Marina Hatsopoulos was founding CEO of Z Corporation, an early leader in 3D printing, until its sale in 2005. She is Chairperson of the Board and investor in Levitronix Technologies and is on the Advisory Board of the Nantucket Conference, and MIT Enterprise Forum Greece, as well as the EGG and OK!Thess acceleration programs in Greece. You can find her writing at www.windystreet.com.