By Marilly Douni
After having analyzed the first basic aspects of a Start Up, like the new business ecosystem, crowdfunding – crowdsourcing and the concept of innovation, it is time for you to proceed into more practical steps, if you still want to start your own Start Up. Do not be anxious! We are here to show you the most important steps on how to begin building your Start Up, and which are the most vital tools that will help you to accomplish your target!
Step 1. – Live In the Future
The most important step is to live in the future. No, we have not discovered the time machine yet, but we count on your ability to identify those characteristics that separate the present from the future…People have the tendency to follow whatever has made a success in the present. Successful steps have been tested so people think “Why don’t we go for it too?”. However, I propose you to not do that. Follow what is hard and “impossible”. See? The word impossible includes the word POSSIBLE. Looking into the future means to go beyond what society asks for, today. As Start Ups are closely related to the internet use, the most vital tool for “travelling” into the future, is to look beyond internet (as we know it today) and the web. The novelties we will see through the web (either by browsing the www or from the internet itself via applications or other programs) will not only amaze us but will help us build our own professional future. That leads us to a huge paradigm shift, from the www to the Semantic Web. Semantic Web, although it does not exist in its complete form yet, it is closely related to the well known term “Artificial Intelligence”. The Semantic Web (or as Barner-Lee used to call it, Linked Data Web) is designed for been processed by machines, not people (web has the ability to read and understand exactly what people do through its use). Through Semantic Web people become not only consumers but also producers and there is a great interrelationship in between these two roles and the content itself.
As you realize, living into the future and using all of the Semantic Web’s benefits, helps you a lot, especially in your first steps (Technology always helps! Keep that in mind!). According to Peter Cobb (Ebags Co-Founder), who uses the Semantic technology to analyze shoppers’ keyword choices and clicks “the Semantic Web guides the shopper to the perfect bag very quickly. With over than 500 brands and 40.000 bags, we recognized a few years ago how important semantic search and guidance was to the shopping experience” (Horwitt, 2011).
This is an example of how SW works
Step 2 – See What Is Missing
If I was about to ask you whether you feel that you have it all, what would you say? Of course, you are happy with your life (I hope so!) but something is missing. There is always something missing. Well, try to identify it! Ask yourself what is missing from your life and maybe this is one way to start imagining your Start Up. A great example of such a Start Up question is Uber. Taxi rides were not that fun and interesting. However, Uber changed all the perception people had about taxi rides. Kalanick Travis & Camp Garrett (Uber’s founders) tried to identify what society needed and what individuals needed and transformed this knowledge into a successful Start Up. So, take some time to see what is missing in the world (in your society) and come up with an idea that will be your Start Up’s core.
Step 3 – Write your ideas!
Have you come up with ideas? Write them down! I am sure that you are smart and your brain can remember every single detail. But, trust me, you will not be able to remember all of your ideas, conversations, observations, thoughts coming up while driving, bathing or even sleeping! In fact, this is what I used to do when I was working in an advertising agency. Most of my creative ideas were coming up during my sleep! So, write down all of your thoughts, even the crap ones!
Hint: If you miss a pen and a paper, record your thoughts and then listen to them again and again!
Step 4 – Prototype!
You will come up with a lot of ideas! Most of them will probably get lost though. I am so sorry for “telling” you that but this is the case in most situations. The only ideas that will see the light of the day are the prototypes. Think of innovative ideas, and then design them and present them! You need a breadth of perspectives so, show/present your ideas to as many people as possible.
Hint: Be sure that your prototype and your presentation make sense! Remember that you are the presenter; you own the idea which means that you can understand what you are saying. The main point is to identify whether other people understand you too!
Step 5 – Communicate with peers who have “been there”!
Networking…networking…networking! Networking does not mean talking (only) but listening! Listen to what others have to say to you take their advice under careful consideration. You may say “I am afraid that my idea might be stolen if I talk to others”. Indeed, This might be a possibility but you have to risk. You have to share your idea. Do not “tweet” it of course, but make it known to the people you trust. Find people who have already Start Ups. They know exactly how to help you, what pieces of advice to give you, what to follow and, especially, what to avoid! If you afraid of risking, then use a NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) but share your idea!!! Your advisors are the most valuable friends you may have at your starting point!
Hint: Advisors must not be necessarily your friends afterwards! However, they are valuable contributors so keep them close to you!
Step 6 – Know Your Competition!
Scoping out the competition is a vital tool for your idea to become a Start Up and not die at the early stages of research. Examining the competition, means understanding where there is an opportunity to make your move. Knowing your competition helps you to identify the right steps that will lead in success. For instance, if you come up with the idea to launch a supplementary good, you have to know who is your basic competitor, who offers the prototype. Apple did not invent the personal computer or digital music player but launched gadgets needed to make the use of PCs easier and more productive…and, thus, users’ everyday life easier.
Hint: A wise adage says “Have your friends close, and your enemies closer”. Well…change the word “enemies” with the word “competitors”.
Step 7 – Give your “baby” a name & decide on branding
That means, build an identity!
Naming your beloved pet or your baby is not that an easy process (or not easy at all!). Naming your business is even harder, since you have to pass over and over again from the same steps until you hit jackpot:
- Think of a name
- Check the availability of your domain
- See that it is taken 😦
- Go again to step 1!
Hint: Choose a small but to-the-point name. Make it simple, and smart. Use a tagline. This will be a short and effective description of your business.
Step 8 – Find a Co-Founder!
It is very important to find people who want to share your dream and strive to make your dream come true. Co-founders must be people you trust since an irresponsible, lazy and not committed person may ruin everything you have planned. It is strongly recommended to find people who have something that you lack, meaning to find people (experts) in areas that you lack expertise and knowledge. For instance, if you are a good PR practitioner or a good business person, find design or tech advisors. On the other hand, if these people have the same background like you, clearly define your roles, meaning your duties and responsibilities. If you know these people, it is great! If you don’t, then, test them; and after their first “test”, test them again by adding more filters (the so-called interview traps – difficult and tricky questions). Apply this mechanism on the rest of the people you may hire (employees). Of course, the ideal situation is to find your co-founders or employees from your personal contacts. It is not coincidence that a lot of Start Up founders used to be mates from college/university! This is where people with common educational backgrounds and same experiences meet.
A question would arise at this point: Do I need to include business people in my Start Up? Well…I would say to include at least one business person to focus on customers and what do the latter want. This is very important!
Hint: Find the number of co-founders you really need. Remember! This is not a group photo! It is business!
Step 9 – Identify what do customers want
How? By watching them! Michele Markey, Vice President of Kaufmann FastTrac says “A smart entrepreneur needs to figure out where their sweat spot in the marketplace is. Who is that customer that’s going to use the product, pay the money and maybe be the repeater user?” (Pullen, 2015).
Step 10 – Write a business plan
Make a thorough research and try to write down your business plan. By using the market research, you are able to write a good business plan in order to identify and decide what you want to succeed and what the goals of your new business are.
Step 11 – Find an investor
Some people say that money is not the center of the world. Others say that “money makes the world go round”. I say that money is of extreme importance from the time you start your Start Up until it becomes a profitable firm; this may take a year or more. So, combine step 5 (find an advisor) and make sure the/she has the money to support your idea. Following, is a rough outline of how things work:
- You have to develop a prototype (Seed Capital) (that may cost some thousands of euros). This is where investors (or good angels) enter the game. These angels will ask for your business plan! So, be sure that you have made one and hope that it will work.
- Set up your business or better have already found, your co-founders (step 8) and check on their stock.
- Think of the following tasks: insurance, business license, unemployment compensation.
- Do not delay turn yourself into a company. As time passes by, co-founders may leave you and found their own firm, implementing their own ideas. I am sorry to say it, but this happens all the time!
- To continue number 4, sign an agreement with your co-founders!
- Get money from your angels! Present your ideas and convince them that your idea counts! Do not go directly to a venture capital firm to give you money. This may take months and at this point you need money immediately.
- If you cannot find your good angels, apply for an accelerator program (a program for Start Ups) that helps your business grow by mentoring and, sometimes, funding.
 A global advisors’ network helping entrepreneurs launch and grow firms
Step 12 – Pick a Workplace
Where you work, can be a vital accelerator of your efficiency. Many people find it exciting and less costly to work from home. This depends on your Start Up’s style. Others choose to share an office. For instance, when I used to work in an advertising agency, we moved in new premises and we had two big rooms empty (in the same floor with our own offices). A friend of mine, who used to be one of my initial customers, begun a Start Up on how to offer First Aid to people who were in immediate need. In his initial steps, Vassilis “rent” one of our big rooms, so he saved not only money but time too since his home was 5 minutes away from our premises in Kifisias avenue.
Hint: Your workplace is the place where you build your dream. Make sure it is a place that portrays your philosophy and inspires you!
Step 13 – Launch Day!
The day of your dreams just arrived! So make some noise through social (mainly) and traditional media (we will refer further to the use of social media and how & why these help your Start Ups). Make Internet your right hand! Build virtual communities. Virtual communities bring people (from all around the world) together on-line (no time and money are needed). In virtual communities people have as a common ground the shared values, so, we are talking about common interests. What a better way to sell your idea or product! Also, by building virtual communities means that you can do your work even from home!
Since you can “build” a connection with a variety of users, always have in mind the so-called information congestion to attract customers. It is not an easy thing to attract customers. Bare in mind that these are the ones who decide on which messages they will focus on. This hides a huge and usual problem: they tend to neglect the important information as well because their attention is exhausted by the useless information. Firms send too many ads and messages and overloaded customers find it difficult to identify and follow the best “messages”.
 According to Barry Wellman “Communities are networks of interpersonal ties that provide sociability, support, information, or a sense of belonging and social identity” (Castells, 2001).
Step 14 – Sell Yourself and Your idea!
After having found your workplace and your launch day has come, it is time to use the key of your success…Marketing! There are different technologies for sales. How to sale your idea depends on your Start Up’s style and industry:
There are companies that have built strong relationships with a lot of “followers”. So, follow these followers! An example will help you understand what I mean: Let’s say that you sell products for newborns. What you should do is offer discounts to parents by communicating your offer through a website or a blog for parenting. Such types of collaborations matter a lot!
Use social media or Internet to sell your Start Up. Attention! Do not over do it with ads as these may bring the opposite results. Ads in Google Adwords, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn may boost your Start Up!
Do not forget of the traditional media too! People still listen to radio especially since they spend too much time on driving to and from their jobs every day. This may create brand awareness!
Use PR campaigns to promote what you sell and ask who you are. PR campaigns exist to make known to the public what you sell and why. Give to the public the chance to know why your idea is necessary for them and why they should pay attention to your idea/product (what does your product/idea say to them).
The word-of-mouth technique is the most successful marketing tool. If I am happy with what you offer, I will promote you to my friends, and my friends will do the same with their friends and so on and so forth.
To conclude, I know that this post contains a lot of information, but believe me, these are very important steps to follow. Personally, I would add one more step as a pre-step, let’s call it Step 0. This is where the question “Should I start a Start Up” is coming. If you ask yourself “Am I the sort of person who can be a Start Upper?”, my answer would be “If you are between 23-45 if you have a lot of entrepreneurial ideas, if you want to do something on your own instead of been gradually paid by your boss and work for other people, if you love technology, if you are an open-minded person and, finally, if you have something that others are going to love, then, please…Start Your own START UP!
Castells M. (2001). The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society. Canada: Oxford University Press
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