The basic startup success factors? A good idea, dedication, clarity in one’s objectives, proper marketing. These are a given, and they’ve been covered on just about every business blog under the sun. But what about those insidious little factors that could sneak in and ruin everything without your knowledge? There are plenty of factors that could hinder a startup’s overall success – ones that aren’t all that obvious.
1. Providing better than average customer service
The key to providing a good customer experience isn’t rocket science. It’s simple empathy – the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another. If there are areas within your operation that feel shaky, put yourself in the shoes of your customers (or hypothetical shoes, if you do not have customers yet). Go through your website as if you were a customer. Ask yourself questions like, “would I want this delivery method?” or “would I wait this long for service?” or “would I be happy with this email response?” If there is any wobble, and you can’t answer with a definite yes, your customer service needs some work.
2. Continuous learning
Startup founders must be diligent about personal education. If you’re done learning, your business is done growing. According to the Startup Genome Report, “startups that have helpful mentors, track metrics effectively, and learn from startup thought leaders raise 7 times more money and have 3.5 times better user growth.”
There are plenty of tough lessons to learn in the early years of a startup – and that is for those who are lucky enough to make it that far. By trial and error, founders must learn what issues are worth worrying about, and which can’t be controlled. This not only leads to wisdom and insight, but also helps to avoid burnout.
3. Retaining employees
The importance of finding quality talent is a given, but retaining that talent is often less emphasized by thought leaders. Particularly important for new startups is the need to retain team members. This gives a startup a distinct identity to settle on and a foundation from which to grow. Retention is also crucial for partners and investors who play a firm role in the development of the startup.
4. Not just “following your passion
There is a difference between what you want to provide and what people want to spend money on. Yes, it’s a match made in heaven when those two things happen to align, and the idea you are passionate about becomes a lucrative endeavor. However, you shouldn’t assume that there is high demand for a technology or service without doing much research. Be sure your industry is in a growth phase, or at least confirm that there is a subset of people awaiting the solution you will offer.
How do you know if an idea for a new startup, product, or launch is viable? There are a number of online tools and resources to help tease out an answer, however, a little communication goes a long way. Talk to those already in the industry, and anyone you know that suites the description of your target market. Business leader Janet J. Kraus, uses a simple and clever method for determining the value of an idea, called oxygen, aspirin, or jewelry.
5. Scaling at the right time
Scaling too early is another common problem for new startups, and as much as Forbes tirelessly tried to warned you, you could scale too soon without even realizing it. Again, according to the Genome Report, “solo founders take 3.6x longer to reach scale stage compared to a founding team of 2, and they are 2.3x less likely to pivot.” So this is especially risky for those flying solo.
But how do you know when it’s time to scale? Generally, you’ll be exhausted when it’s time to scale up. Founders who aren’t getting the help they need may get bogged down in miniscule tasks that a freelancer or assistant should be handling. If you feel distracted from core tasks, or like you are doing 10 different jobs to keep up with growth, scale away.
6. Not getting hung up on investors
For those working within service-oriented startups (i.e. there’s no tangible product), finding investors shouldn’t be a priority, as they aren’t going to invest in a startup that requires minimal capital. If nothing else is in place, finding investors will not deliver success – it will simply mean you have more people to apologize to when things go south. If you’re not even close to convinced, check out 10 Reasons Why I Self-Funded My Startup and So Should You for more considerations.
7. Precise Targeting
We’re often told in life, “not everyone is going to like you, and that’s ok.” This applies to startups too. Oftentimes startups will overcompensate with broad-scale marketing to make up for the fact that they simply don’t have a target audience, or more likely, they don’t know their target audience. A few quality, repeat customers will always trump a higher quantity of one-time customers. If you’re looking to be around next year, focus on the few customers who return for big purchases, not the bundles who drop in for the metaphorical pack of gum.