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From the moment of conception to the pinnacle of success and beyond, startups encounter bumps, grazes and sometimes giant crashes along the way. Building a successful company that goes “all the way” takes grit and determination — and learning from others is one of the best ways to get inspired.
Throughout my many years in the world of tech startups, there are a few key ideas that have stayed with me. Here are five objectives that have proven useful:
1. Understanding your audience
When it comes to understanding the needs, wants and mindset of your target audience, the dogfooding theory is a great way to go. It is irrelevant to produce a product or business for a customer you think exists. Instead, you must ask yourself the following: Would I actually use this? Does it give added value? Does this customer actually exist?
While I was leading the development of Windows Defender at Microsoft, we would “dog food” everything — the whole operating system and every piece of software included in it. It’s a critical element of developmental experimentation. We used to see these huge corporations building products they think people want, but they weren’t actually consumers of the product themselves. Like a chef creating a dish that he himself wouldn’t eat. Why make the products when you don’t believe in their value?
Feedback and constant testing are also imperative. Keep going until you get the top results that you desire. There’s no law about how many times you can improve a version of a product.
2. Importance of building the MVP-way
The phrase MVP (Minimum Viable Product) was first coined and defined in 2001 by Frank Robinson and later popularized by Steve Blank and Eric Ries. In his book, The Lean Startup, Ries commented:
“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
Establishing an MVP is a critical way for companies to develop a gateway to success. Through an MVP, you can gauge how well something is working and whether people actually want it and find it useful. Put simply, building an MVP is a useful way to assess risk. Once it’s circulating, you can see where and what you need to improve — but taking that first step by putting something out there is crucial. Then you can test away to your heart’s content and utilize feedback where it’s constructive.
3. The F-word
Another important aspect of business-building is that dreaded word: Failure. However, failure is okay and actually a necessary evil. Failure can give you a sense of perspective and open up new windows of opportunity in the future. Failure is acceptable.
Many great entrepreneurs failed multiple times first. From Edison’s legendary multiple tries before he created the electric light bulb to Henry Ford’s initial failure with William H. Murphy in the late 1890s. Yet failure builds resilience, so you must pick yourself up and try again. More than that, though, failure teaches us how to overcome obstacles. You learn where the gaps are.
4. Have a flexible end goal
Success in the startup world is not all about unicorns. There’s nothing wrong with slow growth. “Slow and steady wins the race” is an expression for a reason. You don’t have to take your startup public. There are different ways to exit a startup, and being a unicorn isn’t the only option.
In the tech world especially, everyone wants to be the next explosive big thing — the next Figma, Slack or TikTok. This isn’t typical, though. There are successful companies that built themselves up a lot slower. So, don’t be beholden to what the stereotypical idea of “startup success” is. Goals differ between various companies and products.
5. Don’t be afraid to pivot
Knowing when to pivot and when to say, “Enough! It’s not working. Let’s try something else” is key in working towards your end goal. Sometimes you do need to simply throw it all away and start from scratch. Typically, it’s easier for a startup than a legacy company to pivot. Take Netflix as an example. They pivoted from DVDs to streaming and then from the reliance on content from other companies to making their own content. Where is Blockbuster today?
In 2022, we see the same within the antivirus industry. Legacy corporations aren’t innovating in the way the new-generation startups are to protect against next-generation threats. An example of this is the recent attack vector that RAV researchers discovered involving the metaverse and virtual reality.
More often than not, the solution for legacy corporations is to buy up other products. Their business model is so stable that they are afraid to take on new technology and systems and disrupt their business. Conversely, young tech companies are constantly innovating their own products. We aren’t afraid to change or to take risks. Risk can be a good thing. It may not work all the time, but you may need to take some risks in order to advance your business.
The main conclusions to be drawn from here are: If you fail — learn from it. Take what you’ve learned, and apply it to future ventures. Additionally, calculated risks often prove worthwhile. Knowing your audience is another major key to success, as is knowing yourself. Taking something you love to do and running with it is always the best jumping-off point.