As an entrepreneur, you will never be challenged to a greater degree than at the funding stage of your first startup. With no track record, no proof of success and no infrastructure, you have to find a way to prove yourself.
Getting from zero to success requires resolve, but it also requires a bit of savvy, particularly in terms of understanding how the funding process works. It helps if you're prepared for the questions and challenges you'll face. You should also know that even if you don't know a soul in the investment or banking communities, you and your company can still make a go of it. I know because I did just that, more than once.
From my experience, here are four key pieces of advice for anyone who is ramping up to launch their startup.
1. People in motion stay in motion
Many people dream up ideas only to convince themselves not to start working on them. They decide it's not worth the effort, or that they don't have the skills necessary to see it through. You've got to stifle the temptation to throw in the towel before you even step into the ring. The people who commit early are the ones who persevere.
Over-analysis leads to paralysis, so focus on what you know, rather than what you don't. No matter how big your vision, every victory begins at the starting line. The law of inertia proves that people in motion stay in motion, so don't let your hesitation stop you from getting started.
2. Find your focus, but be ready to evolve
Pick an idea and find a way to do it better than anyone else. At the same time, don't be married to it. Your first idea may not knock it out of the park, but your 30th might.
Be flexible enough to adapt, evolve and iterate. Your job as an entrepreneur is to exhaust all options and grind it out to find the differentiator that elevates you above the competition. Once you've found that, make it your central focus. Remember, you only have to be right once.
It can be tempting to cater to your clients' every need, but incorporating this tendency into your business model can lead to fragmentation. Don't try to be everything to everyone; do one thing really well.
Having a smart, small niche is great. A bigger niche is better. Best of all is owning a niche in a huge surrounding market, one that is growing and changing, because this gives you a significantly better chance of success.
Today, virtually every new company has to adjust its business plan as it develops. You need room for error. A large, dynamic market gives you breathing room so you can pivot, negotiate alliances and seize unforeseen opportunities.
3. Never. Stop. Networking
Developing a wide network of relationships will have a compounding positive effect on your personal and professional growth. Every new relationship you develop creates opportunities to expand your network by exploring that person's list of contacts. You never know which friend of a friend of a family member's co-worker can introduce you to your first investor or best advisor.
Having well-known names in your corner gives you a significant advantage in your early days, so develop these relationships as quickly as you can. Ultimately, the network you build will likely open doors to your company's growth and development, fundraising and, potentially, its eventual exit.
During fundraising, you'll likely present to dozens, even hundreds of potential investors, many of whom move in herds and are driven by social proof. It's critically important to develop relationships with notable people within your industry who can invest in your company and/or provide you with introductions.
Don't be afraid to reach out to notable people to begin developing relationships. You'll be surprised how willing they are to help you. Ask for referrals and follow up. Always continue to develop momentum as you build your personal network.
4. No retreat, no surrender
The common thread that all entrepreneurs possess is the inherent refusal to give up. As you move forward, you are going to hear every reason why your idea won’t work. Very infrequently — if ever — will you hear why it will work.
Because of this, you need to pitch your idea to as many people as you can. As you do, don't be surprised or discouraged by all the "noes" you encounter. Resilience, patience and thick skin are essential.
Remember that this is your idea, your business and your vision. At the end of the day, the direction your company takes will fall on you. Investigate your options and don't stop at the first roadblock. Success rewards the diligent.