They are now household names, but Apple, Amazon and Adobe didn’t become giants overnight. They all started life as a small idea in the minds of just one or two founders who dreamed of making it big. While the vast majority of startups won’t go global, who’s to say that your business idea won’t be the next Amazon?
We asked young entrepreneurs in retail, tech and marketing what they wish they knew when they were starting out, and here are their 13 practical tips to start your journey from start-up to scale-up:
Find your why
Entrepreneurship can be tough, and that’s partly why it’s such a rewarding pursuit. You will, however, need a source of motivation and resilience to get through the hard times in the journey of every new business.
“Find your purpose, which will be bigger than the company and its activities” says Joe Darwen, founder of sustainable marketplace Veo. “Once you establish your purpose, and what goals you want to achieve, you should develop your vision and maintain that clarity. This is what keeps you on track.”
Learn from others’ mistakes
“Talk to as many people as you can who have set up similar businesses” says Jessica Alderson, co-founder and CEO of personality-based dating app So Syncd.
“Learning from the mistakes and successes of other people is invaluable. The advice we received from our mentors has set us on the right path and saved us months of work.”
Develop a growth mindset
Growth is not linear. You’ll find surprises and setbacks along your journey, no matter how carefully you prepare. The trick is to cultivate a growth mindset, so you see every challenge as a chance to aquire new skills, knowledge and resilience.
One of Britain’s most notable entrepreneurs, Sir Richard Branson, said, “there’s a very thin dividing line between success and failure. If you go the wrong side of that line, you will have learned all about the struggles of building a business. That’s the time not to give up. Think why did the last project go wrong? How can I do it better next time?”
Be agile and adaptive
“A lot of entrepreneurs are perfectionists about their business but if you launch a perfect product, you've launched too late” says So Syncd’s Jessica Alderson. “It's much better to get a first working version of your product out there and learn from feedback from real users.”
Ask for help
“My first start-up was doing great, and we had strong prospects of getting series A funding” says EdTech founder Adnan, “but potential investors wanted us to make changes before they’d commit. I didn’t always understand what they were asking us to do, so I kept saying no.
In retrospect, I wish I’d asked for help. I should have found mentors and friends who could give me advice, and help me understand that those changes were necessary. In the end, we never secured the funding.”
Invest in your network
“Build your network early on”, says Jessica Alderson. “Having a wide network is crucial for founders. Whether you are looking to secure investment, hire a CTO or you just need moral support, having a network helps”.
Learn more about how to build successful business connections with our 7-step guide to networking.
Identify a gap in the market
One of the major reasons why startups fail is due to misreading market demand. So speak to real business owners and potential clients to find out what they want and need.
“As we're a B2B business, I sat on LinkedIn and spoke to as many business owners as I could” says Ravi Davda, CEO of Rockstar Marketing. “I listened. I understood what their pains were from a business perspective, and identified areas where I could help.”
If you can provide a perfect fit between the problems your potential customers are facing, and the solutions you can offer them, you’ll be well on the way to boosting your business’ chance of success.
Veo's Joe Darwen emphasises the need to be contrarian as a startup. “To be contrarian is to challenge the status quo", he says, "and do things differently. If you create a product or service that is already well serviced in the market then it is much harder to break through. By doing something different you will have people doubt you, even friends and family.”
If you’re getting negative feedback from trusted professionals in your industry, then you may need to reconsider your ideas. But if it’s coming from people that don’t have access to the data and expertise that matters, who may feel threatened or confused by your bold new ideas, don’t let their doubts knock you off course.
Get your finances in order
You may not have millions in the bank, but now’s the time to prepare for when you do. Start by implementing simple, robust, transparent financial processes that work across the whole of your business, so that you’ll be well prepared for scaling up.
Our ultimate guide to start-up funding is packed full of practical guidance, if you want to learn more.
Find a mentor
Need support, inspiration, or a sounding board to bounce ideas off? A mentor could offer you all of that and more.
Reach out to people in your network over LinkedIn, or try a formal mentoring service like Mentors Me. It’s a free, government-backed service that connects you with experienced support via quality-assured mentoring organisations.
Contact support organisations
There are tons of support organisations out there for young entrepreneurs. Why not check out some of the following?
- Youth Business International can help you find funding, mentoring and technical training through its collaborative network.
- Virgin StartUp offers masterclasses on useful topics and helps entrepreneurs access funding and other resources.
- UnLtd runs an award scheme for social enterprises to get financial backing.
- NACUE (National Association of College & University Entrepreneurs) is the student enterprise charity, supporting college and university students to develop their business ideas.
- Entrepreneur First runs a six-month graduate programme to encourage university leavers to start a business.
- The Prince’s Trust helps 18-30 year-olds who are unemployed or vulnerable to found their own businesses. Check out their resources for starting a business, including template business plans.
Don't give up
If you quit, you’ll never find out what your business could have been. So when you feel like giving up, take a little time to reflect, reconnect with your mission, and remind yourself that you’ve got the ideas, the passion and the commitment to make it happen.