How To Start A Startup As A Small Business Owner
The Small Business Administration defines a small business as an independently owned entity built for profit and is not dominant in its industry. Startups, on the other hand, are temporary organizations created to search for a repeatable and scalable business model as definedby entrepreneur, author and investor, Steve Blank.
Based on numerous conversations with small business owners interested in building a technology startup, I found that entrepreneurs are mostly intrigued by the scalability and repeatability aspects of a startup that are not feasible under the small business model. In other words, I observed that most small business owners who want to start a startup are looking to build a venture that reaches and serves thousands of customers without necessarily needing hundreds of employees.
A successful small business owner recently told me that 80% of his business expenses are overhead costs that average $450,000 per month. He emailed, “I would rather run a $1 million business with 80% margin than generate $10 million in revenue and only keep $800 thousand.”
While simple projections can make sense, building a startup is one of those battles where “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face,” says Mike Tyson. However, just like any business, there are right and wrong ways to start it and there are many strategies by which an entrepreneur can mitigate risk of failure and increase certainty in the path to market and growth.
Here are two important lessons about startups followed by how to start a startup especially if you are currently running a growing small business or have developed expertise in a particular industry.
- A Startup Is Not A Small Business
While small businesses execute on a validated business model, startupssearch for one. Take the example of a restaurant. For as long as we can track humans, selling and trading food were how people survived for thousands of years. The main responsibility of a restaurant owner is to provide quality and accessible food at a price that justifies the value. One startup idea that comes to mind related to restaurants is a food on-demand app. Consumers have been used to buying food a certain way, therefore, the job of the entrepreneur is no longer making and selling the product only but in educating the buyer and validating the on-demand model which may sound viable but is not necessarily valid for every segment.
This important distinction simply means launching a startup with a small business building mindset will rarely work. If you have not previously experienced the ups and downs of startups, it is wiser to hire a mentor and team members who can help you build a valid, viable and valuable solution the right way.
- A Startup Is Not An App
According to CB Insights, it costs less than $5 thousand to launch a startup today compared to $5 million twenty years ago. Take a moment and Google, “cost of building an app.” Most of the estimates you will find exceed $100 thousand only for the first version of the application. The question is, if it has never been cheaper to start a startup why is the cost of an app in the six figures range?
The truth is, a startup is not synonymous with applications. Apps, web or mobile, are accelerators and, in many cases, not mandatory to launch a startup and deliver a solution. In most cases, entrepreneurs can deliver the desired outcome by leveraging existing tools and by doing things that don’t scale.
The founders of the food on-demand application DoorDash used Find my Friend app, their cars and a simple landing page to connect buyers with local restaurants and deliver the food. As CB Insights explains, thanks to open source technology and cloud-based tools, virtually every entrepreneur with an idea and a passion can launch a startup venture quickly and cost efficiently.
Based on conversations with first-time technology startup founders over the years, I found that most entrepreneurs rush into building an advanced application thinking that it is the quality and functionality of the app that determines the success of a startup. Many founders spend over a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars building a product just to realize it isn’t solving the right problem, the right way. Instead, here are three key steps that will help you alleviate risk and increase chances of success.
Focus On What You Can Control
If you are brainstorming ideas, keep in mind that your startup is more likely to succeed if you control most of the variables. In other words, ideally, you want to create a scalable solution in an industry you are already in with customers you spent years learning about and serving and with other key stakeholders like partners, suppliers or distributors that you understand and perhaps know.
This scenario will allow you to make wiser hypotheses, avoid many mistakes and accelerate the path to market by creating solutions you know people will pay for if not willing to invest in it before it’s launched.
Delay Automation And Focus On Manual Work
As noted earlier, many entrepreneurs at the early stages focus exclusively on creating a web or mobile app which are costly and time-consuming. Instead, find existing tools that you can leverage to solve the problem quickly and cost efficiently. It took the founders of DoorDash an afternoon to set everything up and receive the first order. They could have spent months building an advanced food ordering app but decided to start by doing things that don’t scale, gather customer feedback and generate revenue quickly and then progressively invest in the advance, scalable version of the product.
Forget Ads And Get Your Hands Dirty
One of the advantages of controlling most of the variables as stated earlier is that you can market to a group that knows and trusts you. Nonetheless, many entrepreneurs prefer to invest significant advertisement amounts hoping that this will accelerate growth. In reality, a startup is not at a growth stage until it validates a business model and finds product/market fit. When you use ads to acquire new users, you miss a big part of the opportunity to gain customer feedback and learn what needs to be adjusted and created next. Even billion-dollar companies like Airbnb, Etsy and Uber acquired the first users by personally meeting and assisting them.
It can be enticing for successful small business owners to jump on the tech startup bandwagon especially when cash is no longer a problem. Nowadays, for most startup business models, funding is not a determinant of successful execution and thus taking measurable and educated steps are key to startup success.