There’s a startup popping up every minute. It can be a real uphill battle trying to get yours off the ground and into the public eye. ProductHunt, Facebook ads, shaking hands with other entrepreneurs at bars, all of these are ways that can help get your product noticed, but these are all things that are usually implemented once the product or service is in place. What if you’re just getting started? What if you have nothing more than a couple friends and an idea, then what?
I spoke with Max Kolysh, founder of Zinc, and more recently money-saving app, Subtotal, about starting a business and tips for others that may be in the same boat. Using their knowledge and connections from Zinc, Max and fellow founder Doug Feigelson, started Subtotal as a way for diners to save some money at many restaurants across the country. Essentially the app uses discounted digital gift cards to save some money when it is time to pay the bill. As we spoke, we kept coming back to a couple tips, ones that Max believed wasn’t talked about enough, so in this article, I’ll be relaying some of those tips.
Move to San Francisco
We should go ahead and preface this with a “not realistic for everyone” tag, but for those of you with the means, both monetarily and otherwise, to make it happen should definitely looking into relocation. San Francisco is home to the biggest concentration of programmers, entrepreneurs, and dreamers anywhere in the country. Surrounding yourself with that aura and having the ability to keep your finger on the pulse of Silicon Valley can help give you the energy and tools to make an idea a reality.
“I think at the very least, moving to San Francisco helps because you just get a sense of what all these people around you are working on. It really opens your eyes to the possibilities of business opportunities in tech,” says Max, he continues, “I think that it’s kind of like taking a plunge, a lot of people will join some sort of stable job and work there and work on side projects, and that’s fine, but I think if you want to really commit, it is also a signalling thing where if you’re working on something full time, you’re really committed to it, you quit your job, and you know investors and accelerators and other founders will look at that and take you really seriously.”
Put up a landing page
“Put up a landing page, before you even have a product,” says Max. He goes on to explain that this advice is really focused towards the more technical people, the coders, the designers. “A lot of people that are engineers and working with code, they feel most comfortable just writing the code and perfecting things and over optimizing kind of early, where I think, the main reason for that is that calling people is hard, reaching out to potential customers is hard, getting feedback on your product and hearing people be critical about it is hard, and that’s something that you might not be used to.”
By testing the waters with a landing page and/or Facebook ads, it will help bring some reality to your project. “I think it helps counteract this mentality of ‘let me build things because I like building things and just focusing on that part,’ and instead puts you into the mindset of focusing on the part that’s hard and the part that’s really going get you customers and money.”
How important is coding experience?
As someone who has thought up countless ideas for apps and businesses, the one thing that would always hinder my progress would be the coding aspect of things. I’m not a coder, my mind finds no interest in it. So I asked Max about it, I wanted to know, in his opinion, how important it was.
“I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that its very useful to have people on the founding team who are good engineers. I think, especially younger founders and first time entrepreneurs, it’s very important before you’ve proven yourself. I think the exception is if you have a serial entrepreneur who’s already a little bit older, a little bit wealthier, maybe they’ve started and been successful with one or two companies and they have a little bit more clout to hire great teams; but if you’re starting out, having coding knowledge is very important.”
He goes on to talk a bit about the importance of a strong engineer in your founding party when it comes time for funding. “I know a lot of accelerators and a lot of investors that invest in early stage startups will look at technical talent on the founding team. It really comes down to your idea though. A lot of ‘tech products’ aren’t that tech heavy, there’s a lot of other focus, so if there’s a strong industry focus of your product, you want to have experience in that in your starting team.”
There is no “winning recipe” for entrepreneurs and startups. Sure, there are steps (like the ones listed above) that can put you on the right path for success, but at the end of the day it comes down to you. Do you have the wherewithal and motivation to keep climbing, even after you’ve been pushed down and set back on your journey to the top?