GO TO university, graduate with good grades and get a job with a reputable company. Retire after 40 years, buy a caravan and travel around Australia.
Nonetheless, I started going in that direction and ended up working at several SME design agencies. But all of that changed when I was offered an opportunity to join a startup. Initially I had my concerns as Tanda is a self-funded company, funded by its own customers. I asked the founders all of the hard questions:
- How do you make money?
- Will I have a job in 12 months?
- What happens if you get bought out?
With my very limited knowledge of how the startup world worked, I thought it was extremely common for startups to get acquired by a global leader. Oh boy, I had that so wrong.
Back then, Tanda had only about 10 employees so my efforts going forward would have to make an impact and grow the company. I quickly learnt that everyone was skilled beyond their immediate role most of our customer support team, for example, are gun coders too. This was just the start of my learnings though.
FORGET FUNDING, SOMETIMES
I get frustrated about the notion that startups need funding prior to taking the plunge. Investors are more likely to take interest in an idea that has validation through actual users and customers.
But - "wow that's a great idea" - from your friends and family won't get you over the line.
Strong validation, a prototype and a sound business model shouldn't be underestimated.
Startups should be so much more than just an iPhone app.
BE A FIXER BUT...
I also personally struggle to fathom what level of self-achievement comes from being part of a startup that doesn't provide any real value to society. These types are poorly misrepresenting the startup economy by not having strong, viable potential to create large, sustainable companies and grow our economy.
Steve Baxter, investor and Shark Tank judge, recently wrote a great piece on why the government's focus on innovation is missing the point. I've met many people that have what I like to call a 'hobby idea' and think throwing around the word 'startup' is a step towards being the next Facebook or Uber.
Likewise, it's all well and good to go by the mantra 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' but sometimes we need to think a little more before starting the journey in the first place.
I was over in Silicon Valley on the Startup Catalyst trip and we met someone who said it brilliantly:
"Don't do a startup to fix a problem that everyone has in common. Chances are, many before you have tried and failed."
TRACTION TAKES THE MOST GRIT
You hear a lot about potential pitfalls for startups. It's everything from wrong timing to poor business model, a lack of funding and bad marketing strategy.
Something else isn't mentioned often enough.
Dare I say it, but traction will be your biggest challenge.
Your startup could have done everything right and you could still close up shop after a couple of years if you fail at getting the traction you need. To rub salt in the wound for these startups, I've heard of poorly managed and badly developed startups that have simply fluked traction.
There's no silver bullet for traction - but if all else fails - pivot!
Pivoting is the notion of realising your startup needs to change course in order to survive. This could be a completely new idea, different business or pricing model, or just changing the method in which the solution is provided.
All startups pivot, so take comfort knowing that to create something great, you may need to let go of your 'great idea' for something else to take shape. Did you know that YouTube initially launched as a video dating website?
Don't be too close to your idea and miss the opportunity to pivot.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU, ME AND SME
Monthly recurring revenue.
This stuff is awesome. The SMEs I previously worked at had their income tied to project milestone dates, and once a project was complete, there was often little money that followed.
Having a business model around subscription-style pricing makes everything so much smoother. The thought of having done a project to perfection and getting paid, but only to have to do it over and over to maintain that same level of income is draining. There are only so many hours in the day. It's no coincidence that businesses with longevity follow this same model of subscription: digital newspapers, gyms and streaming services like Spotify.
To wrap up, I don't think I've had two identical weeks since I started at Tanda.
I know people look from the outside and admire startups, but I challenge those people to get involved. Australia needs more people to step outside their comfy dead-end, boring jobs and work on a business they're truly passionate about.
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