Starting a new company is an attractive prospect. You get to choose your own hours, reap the financial benefits of your success, and be the key decision maker on how the business evolves. But it’s no easy feat. It takes serious investment of time and energy to get a new venture off the ground.
We spoke to Stephen Quinn, cofounder and CEO of Jobbio, about the realities of being an entrepreneur. Here are his top tips for starting a business from scratch.
Have an idea you love
Think you’ve got a great idea for a business? Think again. And then again, and again. Bear in mind that this idea will be your life for the foreseeable future so if you’re already growing tired of scrutinising it, it’s probably not going to be worth your energies.
So how can you tell if you’ve found the one? According to Quinn the idea worth investing in will be the one that consumes you. For him it was what kept him awake at night. “I’d had multiple ideas but this one wouldn’t go away, I knew that if I could get it right I could really solve a problem in a way that nobody else was,” he said.
Trust your instincts
Do your research but don’t be overly cautious. Starting a business is about being confident in your own ability to make the difficult decisions. Nothing will ever be perfect, so you need to learn to trust your gut. When it came to leaving his employment to start Jobbio, Quinn said it was as simple as risk management.
“I didn’t know it was a viable product before I quit my job - you never fully do - but for me it was the lesser risk to leave a job I didn’t enjoy, to pursue something I was passionate about,” he said. “Of course personal circumstances play a large role,” he continued, “I was at a point in my life where I didn’t have a lot of responsibilities like a mortgage or children so I had the freedom to make that decision.”
Be pitch perfect
Quinn says that having the idea for a business is often the easy part, it’s doing something about it that’s the challenge. “You need to convince potential users that you have a valuable product or service, potential talent to come and work for you and potential investors to part with their money, all off the strength of your vision,” he said.
As a founder being able to communicate the value of your business is the absolute minimum requirement for success. So, preempt the difficult questions, look at multiple angles and practice your pitch. Repeatedly. Refine your message until it’s bulletproof.
Keep the faith
Your business model may be solid, your idea revolutionary, your pitch flawless but there will still be setbacks. Sometimes it comes down to factors outside your control like timing or even luck. It’s just the nature of a startup. Accept that you’re going to hear 100 nos before you get that yes and don’t lose faith in yourself or your company. What’s really significant is how you react and recover from each rejection or setback. A thick skin is required.
“It’s really about building resilience at each stage, then you’ll get better at the tough calls,” Quinn said.
Use your network
Leverage every contact you’ve ever made to get your business out there. Whether it’s looking for potential custom, partnership opportunities or just advice, assume everyone can offer some value to you here.
Quinn believes that your network is one of your most powerful assets in the early stages of a venture. “I got on the road to sell Jobbio, I revisited old connections. You have to. The first investor to buy into Jobbio was actually introduced by a mutual contact,” he said.
An essential part of growing a business or evolving an idea is feedback. Don’t disregard someone else’s opinion because it doesn’t align with your own. It may be hard to hear but there are ways to get better at receiving it. The first is to listen intently to what the person is saying. Take notes so you can revisit them at a later stage and fully process what’s been said. The second is to look out for repetition. If there’s a pattern of comments or suggestions, you need to take action. The third way to get better at receiving feedback is to ask a lot of questions. If it’s negative feedback, what way could the issue be resolved? How could the problem have been avoided?
Find a partner
Without someone to bounce ideas off and support you through challenges, starting a business can be a difficult and lonely experience. Consider finding a business partner who can share the burden and help accelerate your growth. Stephen, who cofounded Jobbio with his brother John, says that the partnership was key to getting the business off the ground. However, if you do decide to take on a partner, choose wisely.
“Being brothers we obviously know the best way to communicate with each other but more importantly we have very complementary skill sets. Where I would be strongest on marketing, product and sales, John is very data driven, excels at building a finance-led story, and investment strategy,” he said.
It’s understandable to be protective of your business and to struggle with handing off tasks to others. However, if you want to succeed you need to learn to delegate effectively. You can’t go it alone. Communicate what you need from your team/partner and give them the space to achieve it. Quinn says that relinquishing control is an important part of scaling a business. “Avoid micromanagement. Hire people who are the best at what they do and then give them the leeway to do it,” he said.
Define your mission
Your mission underpins everything you do so be sure to invest adequate time in getting it right. This is about more than driving revenue, you need to figure out why your business exists:
What exactly do you do? Why do you do it? How do you do it?
Quinn says, “Without a strong mission you’ll struggle to maintain your brand and your team will struggle to maintain your vision.”
You put so much of yourself into your startup it can feel extremely personal when things aren’t going right. Try to keep your emotions in check and don’t allow frustrations to fester. The nature of starting a business is that there will be more failures than wins. Therefore, when the successes come around it’s important to celebrate them. That said, don’t get too carried away, things can change on a dime.
“There’s no scientific formula to follow when starting a business, unfortunately. We got kicked all over the place at the start. It’s to be expected,” he said.
Don’t be afraid to make changes
The best laid plans often have no place in the reality of a startup. To succeed you need to run consistent tests, assess the data, listen to your customers and make the necessary changes. Don’t cling too closely to what you thought would work, learn to adapt and learn quickly. Stephen says this is crucial to keep a young business alive. “If you see something isn’t working, you need to iterate or change or you die,” he added.
As your business grows you’ll need to recruit people. These hires are pivotal to your success. Don’t fall into the trap of hiring quickly for the sake of decreasing your workload or hiring a friend for the sake of it. What you need in those crucial early stages is someone who can take your business to the next level by offering a skillset you don’t have. Look for someone who understands your vision and shares your passion for the mission. This will lead to a much more fruitful working relationship than hiring someone because you feel your personalities gel.