Keep These 5 Things in Mind as Your Startup Gets Off the Ground

April 19, 2023

You quit your boring 9-to-5 and jetted off to Southeast Asia for a year with nothing but a backpack. You were dancing on the beach under a full moon when, suddenly, it happened. You got the business idea you knew would change your life. You wrote it down on a napkin and kept the little paper umbrella as a souvenir. From then on, you swore you’d never work for anyone but yourself.

A few years later, you have a small staff and an actual prototype. Soon, you’ll be sweating buckets on conference stages as you pitch your product to VCs. But with so many new aspects of the business in flux, how do you choose what to prioritize? What will help you maintain momentum and build a successful company? Here are five principles to keep top of mind as your vision moves from dream to reality.

1. Focus on Iteration, Not Perfection

Entrepreneurs can sometimes act like reclusive artists. They toil away in secret for years, not revealing their work to the world until they feel sure it’s ready. But unlike a great painting or epic novel, there’s little chance your app or invention will go to market posthumously. And the longer you wait, the higher the odds that a competitor will take over your niche. You may fear mediocrity, but you can’t let that fear drive you to total failure.

Don’t waste your energy trying to deliver an immaculate product or service right from the outset. You’ll never anticipate all your customers’ wants and needs on the first attempt. Instead, release your product when it’s good enough, and focus your perfectionism on fine-tuning your feedback loops. Get continuous input from your users and employees, and use it to improve over time. Brilliant startups don’t start out flawless; they get better and better with experience.

2. Don’t Worry Too Much About Scaling

Some startup founders think they need to disaster-prepare for potential growth way before it happens. They avoid simple, impactful solutions — like face-to-face customer recruiting — because these models won’t work forever. They invest in systems designed to support 100,000 hypothetical new customers when they barely have 100 real ones.

As the saying goes, don’t invest in an infantry of poultry farmers and an industrial coop before your chickens hatch. You don’t need a perfect system in place for every unlikely contingency. This especially goes for excessive hiring and infrastructure spending. Departments like human resources, marketing, and accounting for startups don’t need to look the same as they do for established companies. The internal workings of your early-stage company can be a little smaller and messier than you think.

3. Don’t Try to Do It All Yourself

As a startup founder, it can be tempting to try and have a hand in every aspect of the business. Maybe your wheelhouse has always been coding, along with just enough gift of gab to gain attention from investors. But now you find yourself drafting sales copy, balancing the books, and answering angry customer emails until 4 a.m.

Founder burnout is real, and the chronic stress of running a company can hurt your physical and mental health. You’ve already put together a small core team of the best talent you could find. Now, do your best to stand back and let your people do their jobs.

4. Prepare for the Trough of Sorrow

The “Trough of Sorrow” refers to a painful phase a startup experiences after a major setback. The term was coined by Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham to describe the common phenomenon. After the initial excitement and momentum of founding a company wear off, struggles ensue. Valued team members depart, investors lose interest, customers complain, and it can feel like there’s no way forward.

As a startup founder, you need to be emotionally and financially prepared for these inevitable periods of difficulty. Don’t panic. Instead, anticipate and plan for cash flow problems and hiring challenges.

Decide in advance how you will weather various storms. Rather than scrambling to fix what isn’t fundamentally broken, recognize that this is normal. Take breaks to recharge, and invest in your and your employees’ mental and physical well-being.

5. Build a Great Company Culture as Early as You Can

In later stages of growth, it’s much harder to impose the company culture you want. Habits and standards can develop organically, and they might not look the way you want them to. If you’re not careful, your startup’s working environment could grow toxic, and that’s tough to turn around.

But one amazing advantage to starting your own company is that you decide how it feels to work there. You set the tone, and you make the rules. So start early, defining your core values around ethics, diversity, and work-life balance. Model these values with your early employees and write them into company policies. You’ll see a ripple effect as the company scales.

Staying in Touch With Your “Why”

With so much to get done and so many balls in the air, it’s easy to lose sight of why you started. You set out to change the world, not to deliberate over the perfect logo font. No matter what challenges you face, you can’t afford to lose sight of the bigger picture. You’re here to solve a problem for your customers, and every decision you make should put them first.

All that said, running a great company isn’t just about keeping your customers happy. It’s also about giving yourself and your team what you couldn’t get from a regular job. As you scale, don’t forgo the things you wanted from this lifestyle: autonomy, creativity, and a real sense of purpose. Never stop showing yourself and your colleagues this is where you’re meant to be.


You may also like

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}