This might sound intuitive, but successful entrepreneurs are the ones who embrace failures, surround themselves with great mentors and take responsibility on every level. Successful entrepreneurs are agile and open to reinventing and adapting. They must be coachable. They’re able to maintain balance for long-term growth and stability. They set boundaries with themselves to not become too affected or disappointed by the highs — like successful fundraising — or the lows — like losing a vital customer. If you get too drilled down with problems and allow the lows to hit you hard, you’ll undoubtedly miss out on opportunities to expand your vision.
Having the prowess to ID problems that will come your way in advance is the make or break of a successful entrepreneur. No one hands you a crystal ball, so as you look to grow your startup, you need to maintain control, not lose it, as you bring on more hires. Having transparency and insight on every level rather than losing touch when you have “bigger fish to fry” will give you the visibility needed to make informed decisions. Developing a system where transparency is offered to you consistently will provide you with the key ingredient — an ability to ID pending problems and address them in advance, not in retrospect.
Here are five must-haves to set yourself up for startup success:
Why do you have the best team to win? What complementary skills does each founding member have? Often, your founding team isn’t the right team to scale with. Individuals who serve you well in the early stages might not be right in the growth stage. This reality can be hard to swallow, so being agile and knowing when to pivot is key. My company Verbit, an AI transcription service, was founded by a speech expert, an engineer who could scale our product and me, who brought the business skills to recruit talent and convince investors and customers to join our journey. These three angles allowed us to be versatile and build the groundwork to succeed. The team has changed greatly since, but those first few hires are critical.
What gives you an edge? Can you provide unlimited scale? What about profitability? Are you a must-have technology that eliminates manual processes? Understanding these factors allows you to articulate your offering to investors and customers and develop your marketing strategy. For technology to be successful, it should be hard to imitate. Investors don’t want to back you without understanding your competitive landscape and your technology’s benefits. Think about your tech and how you’ll leverage it and communicate its widespread usage and perks.
In 2011, I faced transcription challenges as a lawyer and wanted to solve them. I didn’t pursue it then as the tech wasn’t mature enough and the timing wasn’t right for training a speech algorithm. If I started Verbit then, the company would be unlikely to be where it is today.
Take another example: Better Place was established years ago to do what Tesla is doing now. It was launched before the market was ready and went bankrupt. It wasn’t the right timing. Seeing the success of Tesla now, it’s clear how critical timing can be. It ultimately comes down to a gut feeling: You need to be with the trend at the beginning, but not too soon before the tech is mature enough or the market isn’t ready.
The team culture
As Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You need smart, dedicated people who execute in the same direction and contribute to a healthy culture. Strategy can be strong, but your team must be aligned. Jeff Lawson of Twilio articulates the importance of establishing core values and a framework on how to articulate them. For me, it was about:
- Collaboration: We only succeed together.
- Winners: We must be motivated to achieve our goals.
- The joy of creation: We’re all working hard, but if we’re not having fun what we’re doing won’t work well.
Instill your values into your employees daily, but doing surveys to make sure your values match is key.
The total addressable market
To be attractive, you need to showcase that your business is meaningful. Its valuation is set by the market. How big is your market? Entrepreneurs make their careers about building something big and meaningful. What impact can you make? The market for my company is $30 billion, which helped us make the case that we would reach $1 billion in revenue in the next five years. Simply put, smaller markets have less value. Consider that as you strategize, and don’t be afraid to tweak your original ideas and tap into greater use cases.
With the right talent, technology, timing, team culture and an understanding of the market, you’re primed to be more successful. You’re nothing without a good foundation, a story to bring to the market and people who challenge you and complement your own skill set. As a former IDF paratrooper, arming myself with these assets is the most backed and supported I’ve felt approaching a battlefield — even if it’s just the high-tech startup one.