Callum Laing is the CEO of Entrevo Asia and the founder of Fitness-Buffet, an employee fitness business in 11 countries.
There are few things in life as rewarding as creating a business out of nothing. If you have any love of enterprise, it is hard not to be enamored with the excitement around tech startups.
It would be nice to see a few more startups stick around, so here are my three suggestions for how you can significantly improve your chances of success. Not asking much!
1. Change your thinking
The tech startup world is obsessed with metrics like downloads, page views, sign-ups, traction etc. Stop thinking about that and just think about ‘value.’ What is the value that your startup is creating and for whom?
It’s not enough to say ‘we create value for advertisers who want to send discounts to our customers.’ You will still say it anyway, but to anyone that works in advertising, you will sound naive.
Yes, Google, Facebook and Twitter make all their money from advertising, but that’s not how they started. They solved a problem for users first and foremost. You might not want to monetize directly from your customers but if you were gone would they miss you? That’s value.
Stop thinking about how to monetize a million users, and start thinking about how to create genuine, tangible value for one person.
2. Change your language
Stop calling yourselves a ‘startup.’ In the past decade, I have worked with many successful business people that have launched new businesses. Not a single one of them has labelled their business a startup.
One of the hardest battles you face when you begin a business is being thought of as credible. Startups are not always credible.
Let us look at the language of startups. Stop me if you’ve heard any of these before:
Startups are cash strapped. Startups have a massive failure rate. Startups are about the ‘grind.’ Startups are about the ‘hustle.’ and ramen noodles. They’re about pivoting your idea, failing fast, iterating. They are about raising funds, burn rates and disrupting industries. And they are about making founders rich. Or depressed.
Now, humor me for a second and step outside of your all encompassing tech ecosystem and imagine that you are a real person in a real company with a nice salary, controlling a budget of millions. Your ideal client perhaps?
Is there anything about the language of startups that would make that person want to risk any cash with you? Or does it all sound the same?
Before you comfort yourself by claiming they are unenlightened, wage slaves, just remember which one of you has the expense account and which one of you has the noodles.
3. Change your environment
Birds of a feather flock together. I get it, I really do. If you are going through the insane learning curve that comes with starting a business then it is massively tempting to surround yourself with other people that are going through that process.
Welcome to startup world. Here are the books and blogs you must read, here are the VC gurus to follow on twitter, the networking events you must attend, the exhibitions you must be at and the co-location space that you should be working at. And this is the language we use to define ourselves.
It’s exciting and it’s much more fun than traditional office work.
Except that it is nuts!
Unless your goal is to become the master of startups, oftentimes this is a crazy environment to be playing in.
You need to be playing where your clients are. Human nature is to adapt ourselves to the environment we’re in. Define yourself as a tech startup and it is natural to start connecting with other tech startups and stay in this mentality.
But why define yourself by the entry point?
I’m not saying that startups are bad. But if you want to be more than just a small entrepreneurial project, stop calling yourself a startup, put on your big boy pants and start calling yourself a business. Start using the language successful businesses use and think like them.
When you reach that point you will start wondering why anyone would want to define themselves as a startup.