Founding a startup backed by an “amazing idea” that you believe will change the world sounds quite glamorous when you think about it. The allure of startups is taken a few notches higher when you read about that hot-shot entrepreneur who become a billionaire in his 20s, courtesy his startup.
But the truth about startups is far different than what you’ve come to believe. With 3 out of 4 startups failing – yes, you read that right – ensuring your startup delivers on its expectations is not easy. There are so many things that can go wrong and typically, do go wrong. Some entrepreneurs are able to tackle these challenges and come out on top, while others are forced to quietly bury their startups.
But even if your startup does manage to brave the odds and survive, it still has to maneuver through numerous bottlenecks that impede its growth. Such bottlenecks just keep on coming and you need to meet each one of them head-on if you don’t want them to interrupt your startup’s growth journey. Growth is very important for startups, because if it ever stops growing, it will die. Startups cannot afford growth stagnancy in their life cycle; their very nature means that they cannot survive without uninterrupted growth.
Let’s take a look at these logjams that have the potential to stall growth:
- Inability to Market your Value Proposition
Here’s a situation for you: You’ve come up with a great product idea that is a massive improvement on similar products that are available on the market. You bring this product to life after loads of effort, but you find that your worst fears coming true – there are no takers for your product.
What do you do?
Fix: Even if you are bringing a game-changing idea to life by way of your startup, you still need to tell this to your target audience.
Build a compelling narrative around this value proposition.
There is a thin life of difference between a product that will be ‘nice to have’ and something that is a ‘must have.’ You must aim for the latter. So begin by taking a very close look at your product and dissecting it threadbare. Pinpoint the strengths of the products, and compare these with the benefits offered by similar products. Identify the features/functionalities that are offered by your products/service alone and what you will have in front of you is the ‘reason’ why a buyer will actually commit to purchasing your products/using your services.
Every product has a Unique Selling Proposition (USP); as the owner you need to create a buzz around this product USP. Try making it bigger than it already is and keep hammering it into the mind of your target audience that your product is definitely a cut above the rest.
- Lack of Control
There comes a time in the life of every startup when they have to get their bearings right.
The defining characteristic of a startup is a small group of people taking up a diverse range of responsibilities on their shoulders and trying to dispense them to the best of their abilities. The product engineer can also be in charge of hiring, and the sales rep might also be laying out the marketing strategy and so on and so forth.
This is when chaos ensues and you, as the founder, don’t know who is doing what; whether everybody is handling their responsibilities right and more importantly, whether or not your startup is meeting its objectives.
Fix: Use technology to see you through it. There are a range of software tools available on the market that will help you run your startup.
Also, make sure to take stock of your startup’s activities every week. Hold team meetings every Friday where every team member talks about what they’ve been doing through the week and their plan of action for the upcomng week. This is the time when you could even assign new responsibilities to team members.
As a startup founder, you need to adopt a hands-on approach for your startup, but remember don’t be too hands-on. Delegate responsibilities and make people accountable for what they are in charge of. To put it simply: Don’t be a control freak.
- Inability to Hire the Right People
Your startup needs to be staffed with talented individuals who are as passionate about the project as you are. This presents a huge hiring problem. Can anybody really be as excited about the products or services your startup is developing and selling as you? After all, you are the startup’s founder; it’s natural that you are invested monetarily, physically and emotionally in it. How do you expect your workforce to do the same?
Fix: You don’t. Yes, by all means try to find people who are excited about the prospect of working with your startup, but to expect them to be as invested in your startup as you are is not practical. Your #1 aim must be to find people who are talented, skilled, and who have the requisite knowledge to work for you. They also need to be passionate about the job they are doing; while this is not the same as being passionate about working for the startup, you still get the results you are looking for. If, over time, an employee comes to see the startup as his own and works accordingly, that’s an added bonus. Startup hiring: How to build your ‘A-Team’ is a great read on this subject.
- Want of Credibility
A question for you: You want to buy a product. There are two businesses offering that product. One is a startup that has just entered the market and the other is a big player who has spent many years satisfying the needs of its customers. Who are you going to buy the product from? No prizes for guessing that you will prefer the business with the successful track record.
Where does that leave the startup? Nowhere, because if a large percentage of its customers begin to think along the same lines, it will have to shut down shop. A number of startups face this problem, especially in the initial years, when they’ve just got their businesses up and running. They are unable to become the first choice of customers when there is another option available, especially from a company that has a better reputation in the market.
Fix: Take steps to build your startup’s reputation from day one. One of the better ways of doing this is to implement a blog on your site. Start publishing high quality content on it. High quality, in this case, refers to content that is not only well-written, but also provides useful information to your target audience about a certain aspect of your business domain, not necessarily your product or services.
Also get your content published on respected websites whose readership consists of your target audience. Share links of this content on social media so that they reach the maximum number of people. Think of every person who reads and appreciates your content as a brick that helps builds your reputation. This is just one of the many ways that you can build the reputation of your startups. A word of warning – reputation-building is a continuous process. No end of credibility can ever be enough.
- Waning Interest
Passion for your startup and its prospects can go down over time. Don’t be surprised. Entrepreneurs can lose interest in their startup for various reasons, including stagnant sales, inability to innovate, boredom, high levels of stress that become really very difficult to manage, and a general lack of motivation.
As can be imagined, this will impact growth, if you allow things to remain as they are.
Fix: Remember why you started the business in the first place. Try remembering all those goals you had set for you and your business to achieve, and which have been forgotten. Also list all of the challenges you overcame to bring the business this far. The idea is to bring back some of the spirit that you seem to have lost. Something else you can do is take a long break, if you can afford it. Put someone you trust in charge, and take care of business decisions remotely. After all, you are the boss. You don’t have to take anybody’s permission to take a leave. So why not take one.
Think of bottlenecks as an opportunity to grow your business. Use them to fine tune the rough edges and make your business more competitive. If you think of them as challenges, you will be putting yourself under tremendous pressure – something that can work against you. Also, don’t ignore a bottleneck, thinking that it will resolve itself. It won’t. You always need to back yourself to find a solution for these pain points, implement them, modify these solutions if they don’t work and keep at it, till you succeed.
Image credit: CC by anika