How to Start up your Startup
It all starts with the right idea, even one that comes to you by accident
Starting a business has always been a dream of mine. So as a young entrepreneur, I thought that I had most things figured out.. but the truth was I hadn’t. This may sound a little controversial, but the idea for Hipster came by accident.
The year was 2018, and Bok (who is the co-founder of Hipster) and I, computer science graduates started some product companies including a book barter company called Barterli where people could exchange books to promote reading. We pitched this idea to StartupX and it took off pretty well, even the National Library Board partnered with us to propel our idea forward. We partnered with some developers to bring our idea to life and the other incubator companies started to take notice that we could quickly launch products and re-iterate versions, so the cohort startups in the incubator we were a part of started to reach out to us for help. Coming from a programming background and having some entrepreneurial senses, we offered to help. Mainly, we were curious how we could bring their ideas to life and enhance them so their products actually take off.
So we started helping them part-time for 2 hours a day. This led to more startups wanting us to help them. What started out as a part-time hobby, became a full-time business. Bok and I employed more developers- and just like that, Hipster, a humble software development company was birthed.
Today, the company undertakes projects across various industries like edu-tech, finance, productivity, travel, F&B for subscription models and even blockchain. The team is now 60 men and women strong. Our USP is that we are developers who know how to put ourselves in the founders’ shoes through our own start up ventures.
Advice to the budding entrepreneur: Elements you need to get started
Some practical advice to start off
Find an SEO-worthy business name: now that you have your winning idea, choose a name for your business that is unique and relevant. Down the inevitable road, this will help you in SEO and marketing. Shakespeare once said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet“. Unfortunately, this isn’t true of SEO.
Find a co-founder that can complement you: statistics state that about 80% of partnerships fail within the first year. When choosing a business partner, it is important to exercise caution and to be selective. Find someone you can trust. After that is established, the right partner is also someone who will complement you, that has strengths that vary from yours. In the case of Bok and myself, Bok takes care of business development and finance, and I take care of the technical aspects and operations.
Do your market research and competitor analysis: Sometimes, what you want to create is there already – either in the target market or somewhere else. Learn about existing solutions, and don’t re-invent the wheel if someone is already doing it unless you can do a lot better, instead of slightly better. Also, talk to users about their pain points and see what they say about your product before you create anything.
Don’t be disheartened by NO’s: when you first start out, you will get a lot of NO’s everywhere you go, The NO’s with explanations are very important to hear and introspect. NO’s however, are a good sign that you are really innovating. Take failures with curiosity and change your course of action without getting disheartened.
Network with like-minded people: this will get you ahead more than any kind of marketing. Give before you get. When we were starting out, we did a lot of pro-bono work for the right client. This allowed some good association to a company no one has ever heard of before. Partner with as many companies as you can with the goal of helping them do better.
Keep learning: read good books, watch good videos on every topic related to your startup – sales, marketing, scaling, product development. Look to people who have pulled a business off successfully to guide you so you don’t need to re-invent the wheel.
Bootstrap as long as you can: a large investment isn’t needed to start off anything. Work with what you have. There are a million free tools out there at your disposal.
How to grow your business: How we grew, Best practices, What to invest in
Product quality – Real Meaning of MVP
Never ignore the quality of the product. Focus on the MVP or Minimum Viable product – a product of minimum features with top-notch quality rather than a very poor quality product. When considering the development of a product, consider how it will impact the customer, do your research. Before a product is ready for launch, start marketing it. Value and prioritise design and branding. We see many startups ignore this fact. We all agree that people with good looks get an advantage in life. Good handwriting has its own benefits in school. The same is true for a product with a good design.
Be realistic by taking calculated risks
Take risks but the calculated ones. Consider how much money will you lose if a risky venture fails. In our early days, we made the mistake of too aggressively expanding into too many new markets. Needless to say, that didn’t work out.
Appreciate early clients and serve them well
Learn to love and appreciate your early customers. They may not pay a lot of money but they pay opportunity costs by giving you the opportunity. Treat them well, they are gonna be testimonials for all future customers.
As the captain of a ship, people look to you to be their leader, to impart vision and direction. Employees that join startups do so because they believe in the leader’s vision, that they are working towards something concrete. They partner with you and in some cases sacrifice through pay cuts because they know as the company accelerates so will they because of the contributions they are willing to make. In a start-up, vision and culture is everything. People skills are more important than any tech skills. Empathy and a high emotional quotient will get you ahead. Always be clear with your team members and promise only what you can deliver. Value and appreciate your employees, especially those who have been with you for some time. Be humble. Kindness goes a long way. Be realistic when planning future milestones. Focus on creating values and building a great culture.
In approaching any new venture or opportunity, and in all your dealings, always try to solve problems. Be patient when starting out and remember it’s a slow and tough climb to the top. Businesses that seem to have it all together are really a product of all the hard work poured into it. The answer to what it takes to do X – is whatever it takes. There is so much still to learn, so we should never stop learning, growing, or evolving.