By Kee Nethery, an EO Silicon Valley member, and CEO and founder of Kagi and El Loco
There are so many reasons to not start a new business and so many people who will say you are crazy for trying. Of course, if you are reading this, you likely did start a business. It’s obviously too late for you (and me), so I’d like to share what I’ve learned for those friends and family who might want to follow in your footsteps. I’ve been involved with four new businesses; one as an employee and three as the owner. Here are some things I learned along the way:
- You see opportunity that others do not. Entrepreneurs look around and ponder, “Wouldn’t it be good if …” and then really think about what it would take to test that thought. Self-driving cars, private rocket ships, ride-sharing, military lawn gnomes, smartphone games, and in my case, localization that makes translation of apps easy so the world can share in the experiences those in the developed world take for granted.
- None of the offerings work as well as you think they could. Sometimes the business idea is an incremental improvement. Even though Google Maps and Traffic was around for years, it wasn’t until Waze, the crowd-sourcing traffic application, was developed that drivers could bypass accidents and avoid long commutes on the road.
- The “experts” say a solution is impossible. I love it when experts tell me something can’t be done. An entrepreneur finds a way to test their ideas as inexpensively as possible because sometimes the experts are correct. But when the experts are wrong, the first solution can get a stronger foothold in the marketplace. The world is filled with companies doing what the experts said couldn’t be done … will yours be among them?
- You know your market. It can be as simple as people repeatedly asking you to help them with your specialized skill. Perhaps potential buyers are asking for a product no one makes. Or maybe you make something for yourself and others want it, too. When you’re thinking of starting a business, you will want to know who your customer will be and why. In my case, I had worked with the app developer community for more than 20 years. I knew their needs and could test my new company’s service because of the strong existing relationships with potential customers.
- Accept that it will take longer and cost more than you think. Entrepreneurs are optimists. Either have enough cash to keep you going for three times longer than you originally think it will take to finalize your product or services, or fund it from your day job while you grow your new business. Once you get into building anything new—a service, product and especially anything to do with software—expect to encounter roadblocks you could have never imagined when you started out.
- You know how to execute or you can hire someone who does. Despite the EO mantra of “work on your business, not in your business,” when you get started, you are probably the only employee, so you or someone you hire needs to get stuff done. Your business has to be able to satisfy customers.
- You are willing to take risk.
Friends say they don’t know how I sleep at night with everything they imagine I worry about. It is true, my responsibility today is large … but it got that way gradually. Asking others for help because of my deficits is a daily occurrence. In the past 20 years, I’ve surrounded myself with people, knowledge and systems that help me minimize and manage risk. Most entrepreneurs I know—myself included—struck out on their own because failure was an option. In their mind, starting a business couldn’t be worse than their existing employee job, and they figured they could always go get a job if the business failed. Is it crazy to start a business? Yes, but I don’t know any entrepreneur who doesn’t love it.