Becoming a startup entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. As soon as you decide to take the leap and do this thing, a teeming to-do list invades your brain. Set up a website. Settle on a brand. Design a logo. Create a test product. Find a mentor. Write a business plan. Form an advisory board. Research competitors. Order business cards. Find an office. Call people. Network.
It’s enough to make an entrepreneur give up before getting started.
But, as always, Foundr’s got your back. We asked a group of trusted, successful business leaders: “What are the first five things a startup entrepreneur should do?”
While the vast majority of them affirmed the wisdom of surrounding yourself with the right information (which you’ve already accomplished by coming right here to Foundr), they also offered an amazing array of additional advice and thoughts to consider.
Here’s what they had to say:
Ryan Sprance, Founder and Chief Strategist of Kaihatsu Media
Kaihatsu Media began in March 2016, and will cross the $1 million in revenue mark this year. In the past 18 months, recurring monthly revenue grew from $1,000 to over $80,000. Kaihatsu Media employs 10 people in four countries and supports the digital marketing efforts for 20 companies.
We are very proud of Ryan. He is one of our students who has worked hard to apply what he learned to get amazing results with his consulting business. Way to go Ryan!
Ryan’s Recommended First 5 Actions for a Startup Entrepreneur:
1. Begin with the end in mind.
Don’t be afraid to dream big. Mindset plays a role in your ability to succeed through the tough times. If you have a big enough goal, and you take time each day to reflect on what that goal is, you have a better chance at achieving it.
2. Define a routine.
Be sure to define a daily routine that includes planning, nutrition and proper sleep. (To see the morning routines of 15 successful entrepreneurs, read this.) The biggest mistake new entrepreneurs make is neglecting their own self care. The common approach is to hustle until you drop. The fact is that you will not be able to work at your peak performance unless you make time to refresh your body and rejuvenate your mind. It allows for creative thinking and efficient problem solving.
3. Invest in people.
Seek to invest in support before you need it. Start with freelancers and test them out on small projects. Do not be afraid to delegate. Start with smaller tasks and exercise your
“delegation muscle.” The quicker you are able to remove yourself from the tasks that do not define your brand or drive revenue, the quicker you will be able to scale beyond a single-person operation.
4. Plan your financial runway.
In most startups, you will need to go 12-18 months before you can take a consistent paycheck. In order to alleviate personal stress on top of the stress of building a business, plan your personal finances out in advance and when you can, prepay things like your monthly car and insurance bills. Removing the worry about your personal finances will give you one less thing to stress about as you are getting your business off the ground.
5. Position yourself as a thought leader.
Take full advantage of social media platforms to document and share your journey. Don’t be afraid to share your vulnerability, including the mistakes you make and hard times along the way. It only increases your authenticity and makes you more relatable.
Mike Grillo, CEO and Co-Founder of Gravity Products
The Gravity Blanket was named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2018, and Gravity Products has become one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s 100 Brilliant Companies. Since Gravity Products’ initial launch on Kickstarter in April 2017 (where the company raised more than $4.7 million in crowdfunding in the first 30 days), Gravity has generated more than $35 million in revenue in just over two years. Most impressively, more than 70% of the revenue was from the past year.
Mike’s Recommended First 5 Actions for a Startup Entrepreneur:
1. Get your finances in order.
If you don’t come from a finance or true business background, find yourself an amazing financial leader right off the bat (they don’t have to be full time). It will save you headaches down the road to have things set up properly from the start.
2. Explore trademarking your product/brand.
For Gravity, trademarking the term “Gravity Blanket” has allowed us to stand out among the hundreds of competitors using the term to try to piggyback off our popularity. Don’t let copycats turn you into a victim of your own success. (For more info on how to trademark your ecommerce business branding, check out this article.)
3. Meet with other CEOs and entrepreneurs.
Take every meeting you can with other startup founders. Becoming part of your local startup community is a great way to get access to freelancers and partners, and learn from others.
4. Learn your unit economics inside and out.
Be sure you and your partners have accounted for all the costs associated with producing and distributing your products. Remember, cost of goods is only ONE component of total costs. Inbound freight, duty (if you’re producing overseas), and last-mile fulfillment all impact costs. Having a firm understanding of this will dictate everything from promotions and discounts, to how much you can spend on marketing and what channels.
5. Think like you’re bigger than you are.
Treat your brand with the same care that a Fortune 500 company would. Be religious about how your brand shows up in the world. It’s always easier to make concessions down the road than to try to elevate the brand once you’ve established a sub-par baseline.
Jeff Proctor, Co-owner of DollarSprout.com
Bootstrapped by two people with no formal business experience, DollarSprout launched in 2015 and will reap over $2.2 million in revenue and $1 million in profit in 2019. They reach over a million readers every month!
Jeff’s First 5 Steps for Startup Entrepreneurs Are:
1. Identify what problem you are going to solve, and for whom.
This is the classic first step for most entrepreneurs, but one that is commonly skipped. What pain point are you trying to address, and for what type of person? Fleshing out in-depth answers to these two questions are critical to getting things started on the right track.
2. Get a prototype, website, etc. up as soon as possible.
Don’t get stuck in the rut of “perfecting” an idea. Get a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) done as soon as you can so you can start getting feedback from people in your space.
3. Start building an online community.
Regardless of business model, any entrepreneur starting a business in 2019 and beyond needs to understand the power of social media and search engines. The sooner you are able to build an audience, the better.
4. Make friends with business owners in shoulder niches.
A “shoulder niche” is a space that is similar to your business, but distinctly different. For instance, if you are starting a water bottle company, start connecting with gym owners, fitness influencers, and other health-oriented businesses. Get feedback from them. These connections will prove to be invaluable as you begin marketing your products and services.
5. Iterate rapidly.
You aren’t going to get it right the first time (or even the second or third time). Take the feedback you’ve received plus any observations you’ve made, and make your product just a bit better. This applies to more than just your product or service itself, it also applies to your marketing!
Kerry Mellin, Founder of EazyHold.com
After a 35-year career designing for the motion picture industry, Kerry discovered while trying to sweep out her barn one day the lack of simple grip aids to help people with disabilities. In 2015, she and her sisters launched Mellin Works to design and produce inclusive products to help people with physical conditions that make it difficult to grip objects. They made history by innovating a new category of silicone grip aids for the healthcare and caregiving industries.
EazyHold, completely bootstrapped by the sisters, has tripled its revenue every year since. Now supplied globally to over 8,000 schools, hospitals, and therapy centers, EazyHold is included in university studies and academic textbooks. It has also just been named one of six finalists for the Amazon 2019 Women Owned Business of the Year.
Kerry’s First 5 Things a Startup Entrepreneur Should Do:
1. Put a good team together that you trust, and if possible have a previous history with.
2. Use local resources (photographers, printers, postal services) so that they can be easily reached for efficient one-on-one services and delivery.
3. Reach out to all local newspapers and radio stations for interviews/articles early on to develop a relationship that will validate your progress throughout your journey.
4. Access your local Small Business Administration for consultations and mentorship. The information and one-on-one help is invaluable, and free!
5. Perhaps the most important: Find your community! Know not only who will benefit from your services, but how your company can be counted on to enhance and benefit other businesses, startups, and nonprofits through partnerships and community events. (Don’t panic, introverts. Here’s some help for how you, too, can network well.)
Looking to make your idea a reality with no outside funding? Then you’ll want to pay attention to Nikolaj Nielsen’s advice. He and his brother Frederik started AvXperten in 2006. It’s now the second-largest consumer electronics store in Denmark with a yearly revenue in the eight figures. The brothers funded the business themselves and have never taken investment money or outside capital.
Nikolaj’s Advice on the First 5 Things Startup Entrepreneurs Should Do:
1. Be a penny pincher.
Do not start off with spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a fancy logo. Get a freelancer on Upwork or Fiverr to do it for you! Use beta software and free software such as Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Docs. Keep costs at a minimum, all the time.
2. Listen to everyone’s ideas.
One day, one of our staff in the warehouse asked me if it was possible to have a picture of the item we were picking, right there on the packaging slip. This idea was implemented the same day, and this simple item has cut 16% of packaging errors. Listen to the people around you. Ideas for improving on your idea are everywhere.
3. Forget all about perfect.
Do not try to be perfect. Of course your software, website, or app needs to be adequate and capable, but the instant feedback from actual users that comes with a fast launch can help you iterate and integrate, instead of “thinking about” what might be the perfect solution.
4. Only spend money on growth.
For the first five years, every time we spent a dime we first asked ourselves, “Does this help us ship more products?” If not, we passed. We got our furniture from our mom’s house, old desks for free from a business that purchased new for themselves and gave their old furniture to anyone who would pick it up. We literally did not spend money on anything other than selling product.
5. Meet others with the same mindset.
If you are a penny-pinching bootstrapped startup, it might be dangerous to surround yourself with fully funded startups. We chose not to get funding when we could have. If you are in the early phase of creating a startup, you can’t burn through dollars like a company that just got millions in funding. You could end up being broke. Surround yourself with others who are not seeking outside funding so that you can collaborate and support each other through the tough times.
What are Your First 5 Things?
Now that you’ve heard from startup entrepreneurs who have successfully done what you’re trying to do, what are your first five tasks to accomplish? Maybe you’ll identify networking and mentoring opportunities, creating the prototype of your product, beginning to interview accountants and attorneys, or something else entirely.
If you need even more help in knowing how to start your business, we talked with 28 successful founders who shared their advice on how to start a startup.
Or perhaps you’ve already begun and have other “first five things” for startup entrepreneurs to consider. We want to hear from you! Please share in the comments below. (We really do read every one.)