Making the decision to start your own business can be a difficult one. After all, while startups may be fulfilling, they're also risky; according to statistics from Industry Canada, only 51 percent of new businesses survive beyond the first five years.
So what does it take to succeed? We asked several people who took that first step and began their own successful startup for their top tips. Their words of advice vary from basic common sense to some specific details on what helped them succeed.
Trent Johnsen has been involved in startup businesses for more than 30 years, first dealing with pagers in the mid-late '80s, early cloud computing in the '90s and now as the co-Founder of Hookflash, a company that provides real-time communications to people who work together. The Hookflash app offers instant messaging, and voice and video calling and conferencing over a peer-to-peer network. His first bit of advice is to “treat the start up as a temporary business that’s looking for a repeatable, scaleable model” - and to try not to run a startup like a legacy business such as dry cleaner, car dealership or retail outlet.
Johnsen also says many Alberta Startups tend to look at local markets before global ones. They should do the opposite, he says. “Businesses that begin with a global vision and have global network connections are more likely to scale up than those that don’t.”
Trust the Process
Alex Putici is the founder of Work Nicer Coworking, a Calgary-based co-working alliance that not only provides physical office space for entrepreneurs and startups but also acts as a community that allows for connecting and networking with other like-minded people and businesses.
Putici's advice? Trust the process. “I believe in this so much that I have a tattoo that says ‘The process’. I got the tattoo during a period when things were going well, but I know that there will be downswings and times when you have to dig in to truly remember the why and the ups.”
He also adds to stay true to your guiding principles. “We have a set of guiding principles that we measure all of our decisions against. The easy decisions are, well, easy,” Putici notes. “It's when you measure the tough calls against the values that really matter. It may result in short-term pain, stress, or loss of sleep, but long term you'll be really happy about it.”
Care About the Outcome - and the Culture
"Edmonton-based Jobber helps entrepreneurs in the home services industry run better businesses by providing software management such as a client hub, powerful scheduling, online invoicing and payments, and a mobile app. Founded in Edmonton in 2011 by Sam Pillar and Forrest Zeisler, nearly 15 million people have been serviced by businesses using Jobber.
Pillar says startups have to really care about what they do. “Building a company can be a grind so you have to give a crap about the outcome in order to stay the course,” he says.
Pillar also highly recommends that startups establish the tenets of their company culture early on. “If you wait until you’re too big, the culture is already there, you just don’t know it. It might not be what you intended, and it may be too late to correct that behaviour,” he says. “If you’re not putting deliberate thought into your expectations about how people should behave, people will behave the way they think they should behave.”
Believe in the Power of People
James Neufeld, CEO of SamDesk, says people are the most powerful force in a startup. Founded in Edmonton in 2013, SamDesk is a social management software tool that studies social media, media reports, photos, videos, date and location to provide groups such such as journalists, financial institutions, hospitality groups, first responders and others with alerts about developing events, and a more complete situational awareness in times of crisis.
“Find good people who are not exhausting to work with, who you’re always exited to problem solve with, who get the company vision, who go the extra mile because they’re just that type of person,” Neufeld says. “Without that, you’re doomed before you know it. With it, you have a fighting chance.”
Neufeld also says try not to get too bogged down with every single detail. “I see so often people trying to get everything just right. It’s surprising how much time you waste trying to get it all right because you’re convinced it will make all the difference to your users/clients,” he says. “Once you understand that no matter how amazing your first version is, six months from now you’ll think it looks like junk and you’ll have so much more data you didn’t have when you started. And that cycle just continues forever.”
Watch Out Where and How You're Promoting Your Business
Doug Johnson is vice-president of marketing at Drivewyze, an Edmonton-based mobility services company that provides apps to individual truckers and fleets. One of their products, Drivewyze Preclear is a weigh station bypass app that’s delivered through smart phones or tablets.
Johnson says there’s a tendency for startups to promote their work in their own startup group instead of their actual target market. “It is easy to become pleased with great awareness and mindshare within your startup community and mistake it for awareness in general,” he says. “A startup can make a great splash, put up a big sign on the roof, get great local press or startup press, and still be invisible to their target market.”
And finally, Johnson says make sure your product or service actually solves a customer need or market problem. “It sounds cliché, but there are so many products or services launched for their own sake, or because they are simply clever, but solve no real problem or only solve a very rare or vaguely understood problem,” says Johnson. “A product that exists primarily for its own sake costs more to promote than any startup can afford. A product that solves a real problem sells itself.”