Tech start-ups are big again. A series of notably successful IPOs have shown the bullishness of the sector and will be inspiring many new start-ups in turn, eager to coexist, cooperate with, or supplant the titans of technology.
Creating a tech start-up is most definitely cool. But it is hard work. If one wants to make something valuable, something that will last, there are a lot of tips out there. After co-founding two tech businesses, I know something about how the process of starting, building, growing, and scaling works. Here are tried and tested advice of evergreen tips that will help give a business the best chance to grow into something really special.
Solve a problem
My companies were founded because we saw a better way to manage a situation. Be a problem solver. If you have an idea, be sure it’s the answer to someone’s prayers. In the case of current business – big data is a real pain to optimise, manage, and deliver. We saw an opportunity to save enterprises time, effort, headache and budget in managing their big data investments and technologies – an error-prone, hard-to-manage and deeply complex process. Be the business that takes away a pain and you will gain real loyalty.
Learn from others
Let’s assume you’ve already had that bolt from the blue and inspiration has struck. Take some advice from non-partisan sources. Sound out the idea, see how it strikes other people whom you can trust not to run with it without you. Other people’s experiences are massively valuable to a founder, and you can mostly get this for free if you grow your network, and act well to others.
Know your onions
Plan your product, and understand your market, and know – really know – that you and only you can do this thing better than anyone else. It’s that well-founded belief that will sustain you over many inevitable sleepless nights, challenging funding meetings, wasted sales calls, difficult hiring decisions, and the dirty tricks of competitors and those looking to scam you out of a fast buck.
Plan like your life depends on it
This is one you will hear from every side, but only because it truly is core to the foundation of building something real. Create the most detailed, all-encompassing business plan that you can. You may or may not entirely follow it. As the business goes live there will be changes – there may even be a pivot if a feature or product really gains unexpected potential growth.
If you need to, change it all around
Famous pivots really are something special. Winston Churchill apparently once said: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” According to the Washington Post: YouTube was once a video dating site. Twitter started as a podcasting network. Instagram was a different and unused mobile app called Burbn. Flickr began as an RPG game. Groupon began life as an online fundraising site. And back in technology pre-history, Nokia sold galoshes. Many will have to run a web search for what a ‘galosh’ is, today!
So this advice is not to fear the pivot. But ensure that it really represents the right move at the right time.
Hire the best, hire the smartest
Likely a long time before that, or perhaps again, just after the plan to pivot has struck, if it does, the key advice that really could make a massive difference is: Don’t be afraid to hire in expertise the very moment you are out of your depth, as a founder. A great idea and great technology is one thing, but a business is built more on people than anything else. Hire well, hire early, and as many people as you can afford to drive the growth you need.
Know how to get ‘it’ into people’s hands
Whatever ‘it’ is, it’s got to get into customer hands. Is that something you want to manage? Do you want your business to manage that? Perhaps a distributor, or partners who will sell it for you along with services might be a great way to get it into the hands of fee-paying, happy customers.
Keep creative – opportunities multiply
Technology has really opened the door to many more entrepreneurial thinkers and doers. And within the tech sector itself there is so much opportunity to partner, optimise, improve and profit – especially in the complex areas of big data and cloud computing.
About the Author
Kunal Agarwal co-founded Unravel Data in 2013 and serves as CEO. He led sales and implementation of Oracle products at several Fortune 100 companies, and co-founded Yuuze.com, a pioneer in personalised shopping and what-to-wear recommendations. Before Yuuze.com, he helped Sun Microsystems run Big Data infrastructure such as Sun’s Grid Computing Engine. Mr. Agarwal holds a bachelor’s in computer engineering from Valparaiso University and an M.B.A from The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University.