There are a million ways to grow a startup, but one of the most effective is to learn from those who have already experienced what you’re going through.
The most successful businesses today were once startups. Over the years their leaders have gained the experience and knowledge to help them grow, in some cases into multi-billion pound businesses.
We’ve gathered the best lessons from some of the world’s top entrepreneurs to give you a first-hand insight into what works and what doesn’t – because sometimes the only way to see the horizon is to stand on the shoulders of giants.
1. Listen to your customers. “The companies that I really admire the most are the ones that have a deep visceral understanding of why people use their service, and they figure out ways of making money that are completely consistent with how people are feeling and what they are doing at the time.” – Ben Silbermann, Co-founder and CEO of Pinterest
2. A risk-loving spirit is not a prerequisite for success. “One of the most frustrating types of resistance I encounter when talking about lifestyle design or entrepreneurship is a general response along the lines of: “That’s great for you, but I have kids and a mortgage. I’m not a risk-taker.” The fact of the matter is, most of the uber-successful entrepreneurs I know hedge their bets and place small bets while keeping one foot on secure ground.” – Tim Ferriss, serial entrepreneur and best-selling author of “The 4-Hour Work Week”
3. Stay on top of your cashflow. “There are a lot of startups that burn through cash excessively. Yes, you need money to fuel growth, but if your primary strategy is pure spending, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Once your team is used to a culture of spending, it’s extremely hard to roll back and put accountability in place. Learn from the tech companies that went bankrupt in the late 90s when the capital markets dried up.” – Vincent Mifsud, CEO of ScribbleLive
4. Focus on what you do best and outsource the rest. “When I first started I was doing everything myself; a VAT return would take me over a day, then I found out I could get an accountant to do it for £75. It is difficult to switch from being an engaging, friendly sales person or account manager to pressuring suppliers to do things quickly, to working through cashflow with your accountant. They are very different mindsets. In my view the person running the company should be able to do every job in the company, but they should employ people who can do it better.” – Guy Blaskey, Founder and Director, Pooch & Mutt
5. Quickly get over failures and mistakes. “I have made so many mistakes, and such really stupid ones, I would start blubbing away if I could remember even half of them. But do not dwell on cock-ups, I say. You don’t learn by your mistakes – at least I don’t – so best to blunder on making fresh ones.” – Charles Saatchi, Co-founder of Saatchi & Saatchi
6. The importance of feedback. “Take as much feedback from as many people as you can about whatever idea you have… seek critical feedback. Ask them what’s wrong. You often have to draw it out in a nuanced way to figure out what’s wrong.” – Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors
7. …But be careful who you choose to listen to. “Too much of the wrong feedback and ideas can choke your creativity and your beliefs. Feedback is the lifeblood of a startup, but you need to be able to put the feedback in context. Does the person giving you feedback share your lens? Do they fit your target persona?” – Nick Kellet, Co-founder of Listly
8. Be steadfast in your beliefs. “I think it’s essential for good entrepreneurs, leaders in general, to be firm and principled. Having strong views allows one to make difficult decisions rapidly. Having strong principles ensures that the DNA of a company (or country) is rooted in something tangible and aspirational, which is what protects and enables the greater vision and long-term viability.” – Krishna Gupta, Founder and Managing Partner of Romulus Capital
9. There’s no better time than now. “If you’ve got an idea, start today. There’s no better time than now to get going. That doesn’t mean quit your job and jump into your idea 100% from day one, but there’s always small progress that can be made to start the movement.” – Kevin Systrom, Co-founder and CEO of Instagram
10. And finally, persevere. “It’s hard… You’re sinking, your life sucks, and your business isn’t going anywhere. Oh yeah, and you’re not getting any younger, either. And just when you think about finally throwing in the towel, and saying “f’ all this!” that right there is the test that all founders are eventually faced with: when things get too hard, you decide to stay, or you decide to quit. My advice is this: Before you decide, look at all those great, successful businesses that inspired you to start your own. They stayed.” – Ben Chestnut, Founder of Mailchimp
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