If you want to build a thriving business, there are no shortcuts or magic pills – it’s a process of disciplined, determined and deliberate work.
When I started my career at (Stars From All Nations) SFAN five years ago, I wanted to fly.
I still remember getting misty-eyed thinking about our grand vision of impacting millions of young people around the world. The problem was, after pouring an ungodly number of hours into attempting to actualize that vision, the company didn’t take off.
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In a world drowning in a culture of grind and hustle, very few people start with a well-thought-out plan of how to objectively turn their ambitions into reality. And, to some extent, that is justifiable because, on the entrepreneurship lane, things move incredibly fast – the best founders know that you don’t have to have all the answers to get started.
But, while ambition and speed are super important, I’ve come to realize that the secret to the success of many startup founders is a simple word: discipline. Some people may argue that it’s timing and, to be sure, many research approve of the fact that timing accounts for 42 percent of success and failure for a startup. However, without a strong sense of discipline, even the best among us cannot succeed in the best of conditions.
I want to share with you some of my key learnings (some of which were products of painful trial and errors) from building SFAN and working with different clients the last few years. My hope is that you find it useful in developing the skills, abilities, and structures for building your vision from the ground up.
This post is not for everybody, it is written for people who have the patience and humility to start from the scratch and grow. And, for people like me who do not have all the resources they need but are willing to get scrappy in building their vision.
Are you ready? Let’s begin.
Choose your team as if your life depends on them because it does
Writing from experiences of entrepreneurs we’ve hosted in over 16 major events and consulting for several businesses, the reason team building is often tainted and delayed by founders is the fear of that fine line between assistance and hindrance.
The pressure of building a startup is overwhelming and without a team, you’re almost guaranteed to remain stagnant. A good team – the type that shares in your vision and is willing to ride or fly with you – is absolutely indispensable.
Unfortunately, team building is next to the most difficult thing you’d ever do in your career as a founder. Here are some hacks for an equipoise in circumventing some of the common – but deadly – mistakes a lot of us make in building teams:
- Build your team based on the skills the business needs not the people you like
If you surround yourself with people you like but do not have the skills the business needs to achieve your metrics, you’ll struggle. Also, it’s not always about the number of people on your team, it’s about what they bring to the game – their understanding of the industry, product, clients, and other intangibles that can move your company further.
2. Find people who have a long-term vision for the business and are adaptable
There’s a reason why a lot of people think entrepreneurship is not for everyone: It is a very tough journey, and many times, you are the only person who is going to believe in your own idea. So, if you build your team with people that only care about the next six months or how much money they can make tomorrow, your business may not last long. Hire team members who have a long-term vision for the business and are able to switch gears when necessary to save the company.
3. Find people who share same energy, same vibe
My Social Media manager recently ran a little poll on Twitter to find out what people look for before connecting with others and a majority of our respondents chose the same energy, the same vibe as key. The reason is simple: No matter how smart your team members are, if there’s no chemistry, mutual respect and open communication, they won’t work together for long. A good team is one that functions as “limbs of the same body”.
Getting all these pieces together often takes a bit of time but that should be your ultimate goal.
Create a business model — How you make your money matters more than the amount you make
The concept of a business model has been linked with e-business since the rise of the internet during the late 1990s. The basic idea is that a business model “should spell out the unique value proposition of the ﬁrm and how such a value proposition ought to be implemented. For customers, such “value creation” could be related to solving a problem, improving performance, or reducing risk and costs, which might require speciﬁc value conﬁgurations including relationships to suppliers, access to technologies, insight in the users’ needs etc.”
If you don’t know the problem you’re solving and who you’re solving it for, you do not have a business. Clearly define your value proposition, the persona of your hypothetical customer, how they access your product or service, how much it costs to deliver your services and your price. In this post, I shared some useful tools on how to price your work.
Who pays whom and who is delivering value to whom?
What advantage do you offer over your competitors that get customers to choose you?
What drew you to work in this particular industry?
How big a piece of the overall business is your division?
Are there new technologies affecting your business?
Use this business model canvas to structure your stuff and put clarity to your vision.
Make your business a technology business
In our increasingly digital world, technology has become integral to the success – or the lack of it – of many entrepreneurs.
Strive Masiyiwa, the chairman and founder of Econet Group writing about this subject said:
“The most successful businesses today (big or small) are those that see themselves as ‘technology companies’, irrespective of what business they are in!
Technology matters in your business. Take the time to look for creative ways to leverage it to make your business more visible, efficient and profitable!
Whatever business you’re in, even the informal sector, you must begin to have a presence on the Internet!
Don’t think you must wait until you’re “big” before you learn to harness technology. You’ll become big by harnessing technology! Even if you’re running a rural trading post or sell goods at an informal market, technology can give you information, efficiency, and competitive edge to help you succeed and prosper.”
Technology is no longer a “nice to have” – if you don’t progressively innovate, you’d die. For early-stage ventures, Social Media helps you target your prospective clients and find your early adopters. Spend time understanding the usefulness of different channels to reach to find your tribe, without overlooking the value of offline communication.
A word on finding product-market-fit
The worst thing you can do is designing products/services based on how you wish the world is. Why? That is the easiest way to kill your business because the market always wins!
Unfortunately, finding a product-market-fit is the toughest job for many founders – some people actually get physically sick in this process.
According to research, about 80% of all founders fail to find product-market-fit. And, like someone rightly said recently, finding a product-market-fit is an ongoing process because the market is fluid. That is: Apart from finding the initial product-market-fit, you must continually finetune your delivery to meet the needs of the market.
In a talk at Stanford, Peter Reinhardt, co-founder, and CEO of Segment shared some insightful tips on how they arrived at this magical concept. “Product-market-fit feels like stepping on a landmine. Your product seizes from being something you’re pushing to the customers; it feels like the market is dragging you forward. If you’re wondering whether or not you have it, you don’t. It doesn’t feel like a vague idle interest or a glimmer of hope,” he says.
To test their product-market-fit, Rahul Vohra, CEO and co-founder of Superhuman surveyed their users with the following specific questions:
i. How would you feel if you could no longer use our product?
A: Very disappointed B: Somewhat disappointed C: Not disappointed
ii. What type of people do you think would most benefit from our product?
iii. What is the main benefit you receive from our product?
iv. How can we improve our product for you?
Their main objective was to ensure that a minimum of 40% of users would be awfully disappointed if they no longer have access to the product. With this, they are able to segment their early adopters from the idly-interested ones and continually improve the product to raise the score above.
To quote Peter Reinhardt, until you’ve achieved a product-market-fit, you should spend all your energy on engaging with your customers and iterating on the product, not on marketing. Like Toro Orero, founder of TravelGee.AI once said, a prototype is far better than a thousand pitches.C
To conclude, if you want to build a thriving business, there are no shortcuts or magic pills – it’s a process of disciplined, determined and deliberate work. In the wise words of Princewill Omorogiuwa, author of Achieving the Phenomenal In Africa, “without exception, you have to pay the price in time, effort, and delayed gratification to be successful.” People who wish for things to magically turn around for them often end up waiting forever. If you’re like me, you need something more reliable: You understand that what you’re building is precious and you want to do it right. Even though you’re progressively nimble, you’re no longer in a hurry.