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8 Ways To Grow Your Startup Much Faster Than Your Competitors

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8 Ways To Grow Your Startup Much Faster Than Your Competitors

Mike Tyson was once challenged by a competitor who boasted he had a plan to take the pro boxer down. When asked what he thinks of this plan, Tyson replied: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Getting punched in the mouth is basically the story of every startup owner. Obstacles cause delays, but here are some things to let you roll faster than your opponents — fresh from the school of hard knocks.

1. First, try selling something

The #1 mistake that all founders make is that they think, “If I build it, they will come.” Generally speaking, this is false. The best sites on the web are probably undiscovered. But, we have a bias — we only hear about the successful websites.

From what I see at incubators, getting initial users or sales is by far the hardest part of a startup. So, I would recommend getting experience selling something before you jump in. To give credit where it’s due, similar methods are discussed in the book Four Hour Work Week, and the Sumo Business BluePrint:

The Sales Test

  1. Get a graphic designer to make a few “concept” screenshots (or product photos) and having a “preorder” or “sign up for the beta” form.
  2. Don’t get a custom website yet. To save time, use LeadPages, Weebly, Wishpond, or SquareSpace to build out a sleek web presence without coding. I personally like Weebly for the main pages and its really great blog support. I’d then recommend LeadPages or Wishpond as your landing page. (Search Google for landing page services.)
  3. Do whatever the heck you can think of to sell it: Kijiji ads, Google adwords, or Facebook ads, and send over some traffic. Be creative!

If you can’t get a few people to sign up or preorder, odds are your idea isn’t worth building out. But congratulate yourself! Unlike other failed entrepreneurs who try to sell a bad idea out of blind ego, you will keep trying other ideas until you find one that sells naturally, without 1000 pounds of stress.

KickStarter, IndiGoGo, or Experiment.com are great ways to sell after making your first prototype. However, here are some things worth mentioning:

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  1. Even building the prototype and sleek video is a lot of work. So, first follow the sales test I recommend.
  2. KickStarter is ideal. They don’t accept many types of online businesses; check their terms before applying. IndiGoGo is a much less effective platform, but will accept almost anyone. With KickStarter, they promote you. With IndiGoGo, I’ve found it’s completely BYOT (Bring Your Own Traffic).
  3. Spend time and money marketing your crowdfunding campaign. Search online for tips to promote it. Often, they recommend building up your social network 3 months in advance.

2. Use a platform

You want focus only on the innovation. So, even though it may seem more expensive, use cloud platforms. I’d recommend looking into Heroku, BlueMix, Parse, Google Cloud, or Azure. If your chosen platform doesn’t support cloud storage, look into Amazon S3. Each has it’s advantages and disadvantages. For more on learning programming, you can see my last Lifehack post: How to Choose Your First Programming Language.

It’s tempting to think you can reduce costs by using your own server or Amazon AWS (which is lower-level nuts and bolts IaaS, not PaaS), but there are so many little things that a platform does for you:

  • Setting up servers.
  • Dealing with scaling.
  • IT administration.
  • Often managing and scaling a database.
  • Managing your environment.
  • Easy plug-ins to 3rd party services.
  • Basic backend analytics.

It’s tempting to think you can do all this yourself and save a few pennies. But your labour cost is the most valuable asset by far. You should also invest in using an MVC (model-view-controller) architecture.

Use a Cloud Database

Often you have other data or analytics you need to keep in a central database. Sometimes, the best solution is your web host’s MySQL. But that can become a silo, since it’s often hard to get it access to any cloud services. Consider using a cloud database. Google offers a MySQL solution with a 60-day trial. IBM’s DashDB is a cloud database with 1 GB of free storage. DashDB is based on DB2. It’s extremely similar to MySQL, has some extra bells and whistles (like JSON and dashboards), and lots of docs (Full disclosure: I work for IBM). Amazon RDS has a free tier as well.

3. Use a landing page service

Landing pages require tons of work, bells and whistles to get perfected. So, use a landing page service like LeadPages.net or WishPond. Do not pay a web designer to make your landing page or attempt to code it manually. Landing page services might not look as perfect as you imagined, but there are important reasons to use them. It’s partially the powerful features that they provide out-of-the-box, but there’s more benefit than just that.

When it comes to landing pages, you constantly need to experiment. Plus, you then need to do A-B testing. It’s not realistic to move rapidly if you need your team (or yourself) to code this manually. Remember, it must look proper for all OSes, all browsers, mobile and tablet. That’s just not realistic if you want to move quickly.

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Once you’re 100% positive about the landing page that works the best, you can then invest in coding it perfectly if needed. Although I’d argue that with less work, you can use the landing page service permanently.

4. Get a cofounder

If you want to move fast, you need help. It’s really tempting to try to do everything yourself, but even if you work 24 hours per day, it’s not realistic. I’d say, try to find someone who you’ve known for a long time.

It’s well known that single founders rarely make it. In fact, most incubators will not even allow single-founder startups. If you look at Microsoft, Google, Facebook, or Instagram, you’ll see they all had multiple founders. Even if one person took the lead, they still relied heavily on their cofounders.

Don’t expect a perfectly even division of labour. But, ensure there’s honesty about how hard you each want to work. Remember, always go to a hackathon or two with your cofounder before you commit, to see how he or she works in a team — even if one of you doesn’t code. Do hackathons to learn about each other and the latest coding trends quickly. But, don’t commit longterm to random hackathon projects.

5. Focus on only one thing

Do not get sidetracked. Have no side projects — ignore this advice at your own peril. If you have any other projects aside from your startup, it should be work-for-pay and be only for the sake of paying bills.

I know it seems like side projects might pay off, but the human brain just doesn’t work that way. If you look at big cofounders like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, you’ll notice that none of them work on 2 businesses in parallel. There are many serial entrepreneurs, but almost no parallel entrepreneurs. I have confirmed this with almost every entrepreneur I know: Dividing focus is deadly.

You may be thinking of people like Richard Branson, but so far as I know, he launched Virgin Airlines 12 years after he created Virgin Records. In other words, he had the cash and name to hire many full-timers by that point.

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6. Go to an incubator

An incubator is critical. It’s not just what the incubator organization gives you. That’s often less than you expect. It’s about absorbing the experience of the other 20 cofounders.

To show the power of an incubator, here’s a story:

I was running my business in isolation before I went for a visit to Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre. In just 1 day, here’s what I learned:

  • I met 3 cofounders, all of whom shared sensitive financial details about valuations, the current investment climate, and details about specific investors I was thinking of contacting.
  • I discovered a government grant program for a limited time that would let me hire a web designer for free for 3 months. And, I knew it was worth the paperwork because other startups went through it.
  • They tipped me off about a “founders and funders” event I could attend, where investors casually meet founders (10x easier than fighting tooth and nail for each investor meeting).
  • Marketing techniques that practically worked for the founders.

And much more. Here’s a dangerous line of thinking I’ve heard many times: “I don’t need an incubator. I’ve read books and attended events. I was told I don’t need an incubator. I have mentors. I don’t want to lose equity or pay rent, etc.”

None of these are valid excuses. You don’t need to be in an incubator for a long time, but you must go for at least a basic program. Check out a few of them in person. But I would say, even a mediocre incubator is better than no incubator. There are incubators that don’t take equity as well. You can find a list at Angel.co.

7. Get it designed professionally, faster

Right now, everything is about design. Get a professional designer with a portfolio you love. Even if you’re a great front-end developer, a pro designer will take that design to the next level.

I’d look around at individual designers on 99designs or Dribbble (more expensive) and choose someone who you like to make your design. Also, I’d recommend choosing an existing design and modifying it, rather than letting the designer make something from scratch. Every time I ask a designer to do something from scratch, I’m unhappy. It’s just never going to be what you have in mind. If you have all the time in the world, by all means, let them come up with some concept work. But, if you want to move fast on a budget, start with a piece of work they already have and ask to use that as a base and change specific things (including colours).

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Ensure they pay attention to colour. Ask for the colour scheme. I know that sounds picky, but the biggest difference I’ve found between a good and bad designer is that the best designers pay special attention to colour: Every colour should be in your colour scheme.

8. Assume things will take much longer to complete

There is really very little risk to creating a startup, as long as you follow 2 rules: Budget for 1.5 years of having no personal cashflow, and go to an incubator. You may close a seed round in under 6 months. But, things often take longer. You want a really, really long runway.

The hard truth: Sometimes, that requires asking your parents or a relative to move back in, or asking your partner to cover your living expenses. Don’t try to start a business without relying on a loved one. It’s tempting to try going it completely alone, but it’s not realistic if you want to be successful.

There’s a reason why so few people start successful businesses. It’s not because people have bad ideas. It’s not because they don’t work hard. It’s because it just takes a really, really long time.

Similarly, when you decide to do something for the business, like improve the website or add a feature, keep in mind that it will take longer than you think. So be selective — focus on work that will have the greatest impact.

If you like this article or have further questions, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter!

Featured photo credit: Mark Zuckerberg @ Cannes Lions 2010/Marco Derksen via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 13, 2022

15 Best Places for Expats to Live (And Why)

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15 Best Places for Expats to Live (And Why)

Many of us dream of living abroad but can often be scared to make such a big change to our routine lifestyles and leave our home countries behind. Daunting as it may be, living abroad can be a rewarding and fulfilling endeavor and can give you the quality of life you have been looking for.

From a warmer climate to a more easy going way of life, there are many foreign countries favored by expats who stay for a long time – and sometimes forever. Taking into consideration livings standards, opportunities and social aspects, here are our top 15 best places to live as an expat and why.

1. Thailand

A hot spot for expats, the ‘land of smiles’ as it’s commonly known offers expats a tropical climate, a huge array of sandy beaches and islands to explore, and a rich culture. The cost of living in Thailand is extremely low, and when combined with the friendly tax system means that disposable income can be very high.

Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city, offers expats great employment opportunities.

2. Switzerland

Another popular destination for expats, Switzerland offers exciting employment packages and a high standard of living. It’s great for those who love the outdoors, as there are many beautiful lakes, mountains to hike in and skiing in the winter. The school standards for expats are also excellent, making it appealing for those with children. English is also widely spoken so day-to-day living can be stress free.

Unemployment in Switzerland is low and expats moving here don’t need to worry too much about finding a job before they arrive.

3. Australia

Many foreigners who visit Australia don’t want to leave as it offers a great quality of life, beautiful beaches and a warm climate. Making friends in Australia is easy too, due to the lack of language barrier and the large number of expats who already live here. Australia is a great place to move to if you have children because of its wide range of schooling possibilities and recreational outdoor activities.

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Low population levels and high quality of life are two of the main reasons expats choose Australia as a place to live.

4. Singapore

Expats in Singapore can benefit from generous financial packages, great career opportunities and low tax rates. Although education is expensive here, it is rated one of the top places for raising children abroad due to the quality of the education system and the array of schools.

Public transport such as buses and MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) are cheap and very reliable in Singapore.

5. South Korea

South Korea offers expats a unique range of opportunities and a very different way of living. Jobs for expats are easy to find and usually very well paid, with apartments provided by the employer on the most part making living costs even lower. There are also many tight-knit expat communities in South Korea, making it easy to socialize and meet new friends. The excellent education system is also a pro for families wanting to move to this culture-rich country.

South Korea has a cheap public healthcare system and offers great medical care, with most doctors speaking English.

6. New Zealand

New Zealand is constantly on the lookout for skilled workers to expedite to the country – especially those under the age of 30 – and skilled migrants can be granted a stay for up to five years. It offers a good climate and although income levels can be lower than other countries, quality of life is high, with its awe-inspiring scenery, low crime rate and state sponsored healthcare.

New Zealand is great for those looking for a laid back and active outdoors lifestyle.

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7. Canada

Its national healthcare system, friendly locals and very high quality of life are just a few of the reason expats choose Canada as a place to live. It’s very welcoming to expats and skills shortages encourage foreigners to move here in order for the country to grow economically. It’s easy for expats to feel comfortable quickly in Canada due to its multicultural environment.

Canada was largely unaffected by the economic crisis, making it a very popular country for expats.

8. Qatar

Qatar is becoming increasingly popular among expats with an estimated 500 new arrivals every day. The salaries are generous and are tax free too, making disposable income very high. Car and housing allowances are part of many remuneration packages, and education for your children and airfares are often included.

The cost of living is lower in Qatar than in other UAE countries but salaries can still be just as generous.

9. Hong Kong

Where east truly meets the west, this bustling island has a population of over seven million people. If you’re looking for a fast-paced environment and an active nightlife, Hong Kong is definitely the place to be. Benefits for expats include its advanced healthcare system and elevated standards of schooling for children, along with great employment opportunities. The cost of living in Hong Kong can be high, so trying to negotiate a housing allowance with your employer can be beneficial.

Hong Kong is great for those looking for high incomes and career advancement.

10. Japan

As an expat destination, Japan offers a rich culture and a chance to experience a very different day-to-day life. Currently around two million expats live in Japan, and in the larger cities such as Tokyo a large portion of the population speaks English. English speakers are also in demand and there are a large number of opportunities for language teachers, especially in the capital.

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Japan offers a high standard of living for expats and a good education system for those with children.

11. Spain

Spain is a very popular destination for expats due to the high temperatures and year-round sunshine. EU residents don’t require a visa to work here, meaning the move can be a lot easier. Skilled foreign workers also continue to be in demand with jobs such as engineering, customer service, skilled trades and language teachers widely available.

A huge 14% of Spain’s population are expats from a variety of foreign countries.

12. Dubai

Two of the main attractions of moving to Dubai are the tax-free salaries and the warm climate. Some of the most popular jobs for expats are in construction, banking, oil and tourism. You can also enjoy a busy social life in Dubai as the expat community is thriving. Although it can be an expensive country, the tax-free salary means you experience a higher quality of life than in other countries.

You will need a work permit, residence visa and an Emirates ID card to live in Dubai as an expat.

13. Germany

Germany is one of Europe’s most populous countries, with around 82.4 million people. It’s a lively and inexpensive country to live in as an expat, and if you have children the education system is great and healthcare is to a high standard. An estimated 250,000 expats live in Germany currently, with the numbers rising every year.

If you are already an EU citizen, you don’t need a visa to live and work in Germany.

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14. The Netherlands

The Netherlands is a great place for expats who love the outdoors. Cycling is one of the main modes of transport and looking after the environment is widely recognized. There are a lot of English speakers in the Netherlands too, but learning the language can work to your advantage and make day-to-day life that little bit easier. Skilled expats can also benefit from a tax-free allowance equivalent to 30% if they meet the correct criteria.

It is often more important to be able to speak fluent English than to speak Dutch when looking for employment in the Netherlands.

15. China

China offers expats great employment opportunities with little competition. Those who embrace the culture and decide they want to live in China long term can see a host of employment opportunities as its economy is growing rapidly every year. Economists predict it will overtake the US as the world’s largest economy by 2018. China also offer expats low living costs and high disposable incomes, which is why many look to live here for a higher quality of life.

Shanghai and Beijing are the most popular destinations for expats who live in China.

Featured photo credit: Saulo Mohana via unsplash.com

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