My summer’s over in 4 days. I could not have wished for a better experience between my 1st and 2nd year at the GSB. The first 10 weeks I had spent at Google, working with an amazing Brand Solutions team, and the remaining 4 at a fitness start-up in Mexico City called Instafit. The latter one was a part of an international experience that is a required element of the GSB curriculum (in one form or another) to graduate on time:) To fulfill the requirement, among other things, I had to either write a follow-up paper or 4 blog posts – 1 every week. I figured, I won’t bore you with all 4 and just share my humble thoughts on starting your own company. Enjoy.
A few days ago at a dinner, Oswaldo, the founder of Instafit, asked me, which start-up would I join back in the US after the experience in Mexico. My response was: ‘none’. You should have seen the expression on his face:D It is not because I didn’t like my experience at Instafit, on the contrary, I loved it! Mainly because it showed me how hard it is to become successful when you start a company from scratch.
So now comes the part where I tell you why and reveal what I’ve learned over the past 4 weeks:
1. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK. If you know influential people (ideally with lots of cash to spend) and most importantly they know and value you, you are in a good place to start a business. These people will not only connect you with potential investors, but also can become mentors that will advise you on the direction of the company, can serve on your company’s board (which should be a good anchor during the initial rounds of raising capital) and can also be potential customers for your product or service. Of course you can try doing all of the above without prior network…it just seems SO MUCH HARDER.
2. BE #1, #2 or #3 AT A START-UP. OTHERWISE, DON’T BOTHER. The amount of time, energy and money (including foregone salary:)) one needs to invest to have a shot at being successful at a start-up is disproportionate to what you get in exchange, if you don’t own a substantial stake in the company. Also, at least in the early stages (which can last several years), the founders call the shots. If you’re not one of them, your role is reduced an internal consultant. Nothing wrong with that, but to me it defeats the purpose.
3. LOVE YOUR IDEA. BE THE EXPERT. You either believe that your idea will change the world and you are really the expert in the field, or you won’t be able to sell it to anyone. If you don’t wake up every morning thinking that you’ve got a game-changer in your hands that is addressing a real consumer need (that they might or might not know yet) – you’re doomed. I think:) Passion is a must, because that’s what makes your team follow you. And you want consumers to feel that passion to buy into your product’s promise.
4. SPEND MONEY ON MARKETING. A LOT OF MONEY. BUT SMARTLY. There’s a great book by Byron Sharp called ‘How Brands Grow’. One of the top insights from the book is this: ‘When you look at the data, what works in branding is surprisingly simple – making the brand easy to buy – by maximizing its physical availability and creating an attractive and memorable set of distinctive brand assets; sensory and semantic cues such as colors, packaging, logo, design, taglines and celebrity endorsements that make the brand easy to like, memorize and recall. The real challenge of marketing is all about availability – available in the mind and in the store.’ To do that you need MUCHO DINERO.
So? My problem is that today, on Sept 18th, 2014, I’m nowhere with all 4 points. It doesn’t mean that this won’t change 10 months from now, but I better start figuring out how to make it happen
ps. and btw I think Instafit is on its way to becoming very successful. Check out the product at InstaFit.com (it’s in Spanish).