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8 Ways To Grow Your Startup Much Faster Than Your Competitors

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 July 2, 2020

13 Common Life Problems And How To Fix Them

13 Common Life Problems And How To Fix Them

In life, we encounter problems as we breathe. But it doesn’t get to us until we feel a major impact, and that’s when it becomes a source of concern, hurt, or sorrow.

Life problems, depending on their magnitude, can be clogs in the wheel of progress, and we may not be able to attain our full potential if we don’t learn to place our problems in the proper perspectives as suggested in Robert Schuller’s Tough Times Never Last.

In this article, I have identified some common areas where you will most likely face problems as you make progress towards reaching your full life potential. I have also suggested practical approaches in handling, managing, and solving such problems.

1. Financial Crisis

We live in an uncertain world and a financial crisis may come at different stages of life. While you should always anticipate and prepare for a financial crisis, it may still catch you off guard or the magnitude may be far more than any preparation you have made over the years.

It could be that you lost your job or a major investment, got slammed with a lawsuit that threatens your savings, or have your livelihood be affected by a major disaster. So what do you do when you are in a financial mess?

Solution

To overcome a financial crisis, you will have to come to terms with the crisis. Acknowledge and accept the situation and begin recovery by setting your financial priorities right.

The next thing to do is to identify the cause of the crisis. If it’s due to a job loss, then your effort should be directed at getting a new job. If it is having multiple debts, look for ways to consolidate your debt so that your monthly debt repayment can be consolidated into one instead of being burdened with multiple payments.

You can also sell some of your assets to raise money to save the situation, or look for a better job if you are earning less at your current job. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from family and friends if you need to.

2. Health Crisis

Another major problem that might come up in your life is a health crisis. This is not far-fetched because our body systems work round-the-clock, even when we are sleeping. As a result of this, and if you don’t maintain routine health habits, health deterioration might begin to set in. Things might even get serious if you don’t attend to it early.

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Solution

When you are facing a major health crisis, the first thing to do is to consider lifestyle changes. This includes cutting down on junks, eating healthy diets, exercising, breathing fresh air, taking some sun, etc.

Apart from the lifestyle changes, you have to seek quality medical help and make sure you get different opinions about the state of your health so you can get the best affordable care.

3. Relationship, Marriage, and Family

There may not be anything as sweet as love and family life, but it can also be the source of pain for some. Human imperfections in a relationship can cause a major crisis in life. This has been a stumbling block to many on their path to fulfillment.

Solution

The best thing to do is to prevent relationship problems from happening, but if they do happen, you need to face reality and begin to take steps towards addressing them. Do your best to keep the lines of communication open as this can help in strengthening your struggling relationship. Talk about the challenges with your partner and look for common grounds.

You can also arrange to see a counselor together or read books that address the specific challenges you are facing. The worst thing you can do is to end a relationship and that’s only when you have exhausted all other options.

4. Workplace

The workplace is supposed to be a place where we dutifully render the services for which we’ve been hired.

However, it is not impossible to face animosity at work—dealing with toxic people who would rather not see any good in what you do. It might be caused by differences in background, attitudes, and unhealthy competition that can result in personal conflicts. This can create undue stress and reduce productivity.

Solution

Be as professional as possible when dealing with toxic people. Be kind and show understanding, and try to avoid personal confrontation.

You can even try to reach out to the persons and invite them over for a coffee and get to understand their worldview. This can help you to connect with them at their level so that you can avoid unnecessary stress for yourself.

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5. Career Pressure

In your quest to become more successful, you will likely encounter work-related pressure. Such can come when trying to stabilize your career or climb the career ladder. It can also come as a result of overworking and having no life. Career pressure is one of the most common life problems.

Sometimes, it may be that the promotion you are working hard to get is not coming or positions you are qualified for are being offered to others. The pressure can get more intense when you find that most of your colleagues are moving ahead of you.

Solution

Check to find if you have personal or attitudinal problems. Some attitudinal problems can put you at a disadvantaged end. It may be poor communication, poor personal grooming, or poor relationship and networking skills. If it is any of these problems, then work on improving yourself in those areas.

You can also observe your colleagues who are succeeding and take note of what they are doing differently.

6. Unfair Treatment

We are in a world where some people often think they have some privileges over others and may want to exercise this thinking and treat others unfairly. If you find yourself in an environment where you are being oppressed or treated badly because of your race, gender, or current status, this can make you feel really bad and can also affect your psyche and productivity.

Solution

There is the temptation to decry your treatment, defend yourself, and demand a change immediately, but you should really wait for the right opportunity to do that.

When the time is right, reach out directly to the person or authority involved, and make it private. Meanwhile, you should be factual about the instances of your unfair treatments. Don’t just say it that you are being treated badly; give several undeniable instances.

Once you’ve made your grievances known politely, keep being you. If things don’t change, you can cocoon yourself in that environment. If you have an option to leave, you can do so as well.

7. Emptiness and Boredom

When you are in a rut, everything becomes normal, dull, unproductive, and yet difficult to change. This can lead to feelings of emptiness and boredom. This may not seem like a serious life problem, but it can have a great impact on your life.

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Solution

To overcome boredom and emptiness, break out of your routines, and deliberately create a new experience for yourself. If you can’t leave your job to find a new one, start doing other things that reflect your true passion. Sometimes, the things that give us the needed drive in life are not our day jobs.

8. Confusion

Confusion is described as a change in mental status in which a person is not able to think with their usual level of clarity.[1]. It is inherent in forgetfulness and lack of concentration.

It can be caused by different things including medical and environmental factors. It can also be due to the experience of a loss, a heartbreak, or abuse.

Solution

Don’t allow the situation to deteriorate into something more serious. Try to snap out of whatever experiences you have had that is causing confusion. Seek medical help if necessary or talk to a psychologist.

9. Friendship Problems

We need friends in our lives to rob minds and hang out together and even help us when we run into trouble. But many people have found themselves in serious trouble as a result of the company of friends they keep. They’ve experienced jealousy, backstabbing, and betrayal of trust. Some friends have even used the information freely provided in times of friendship to betray trust.

Solution

Don’t open up on everything to friends. Keep some information only to yourself. If you notice that a friend is working against you, confront them with the truth. Limit your interaction with them or get rid of such toxic friends completely.

10. Haunting Past

We all have pasts, and we might have done some crazy stuff in the past before we begin to live a more civilized and decent life. But sometimes, the past comes back haunting. It’s even worse when life problems of the past haunt you back and become problems of the present.

It may be that what you have done is now striking your conscience, keeping you awake at night. Or someone who knows about it is trying to use it against you, and it is standing in the way of your progress.

Solution

Be true to yourself and forgive yourself. If it is an issue with another person, you can reach out to the person to settle with them. If it is a secret that is now being leaked out, own up to it, take responsibility, and move on.

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11. Safety and Security

You may find yourself in an environment where there have been unexplained murder, gun violence, police brutality, insurgencies, and other life-threatening situations. This can make you feel like you might be the next victim. What should you do in this situation?

Solution

Ensure that you watch where you go and keep your home secure. You can also get involved in a neighborhood community watch to collectively find solutions to the threat. If the situation persists, you can move to a more secure location.

12. Failure

Failure can bring disappointment and can also slow the pace of progress. But failure is also part of life, and we have to learn to deal with it. But what do you do when an experience of failure weighs you down?

Solution

You can read a book or biography to get inspired by other people’s success stories.

13. Grief

No one loves to grief but we can’t totally shield ourselves from it. The loss of a loved one is painful and, if not properly handled, can lead to an emotional breakdown.

Solution

Take your time to express emotions. You can also pen an emotional tribute to the individual. Writing can help us bring out the feelings that cannot be expressed otherwise, and it helps us breathe a sigh of relief.

You can also cope with your grief by helping them to realize some of their unfulfilled dreams or do something in their honor. Lastly, while you think about your loss, you will still have to move on, accepting the fact that life is transient.

The Bottom Line

Problems are what make life worth living. They help us adapt to become tougher as we adapt to different situations. Always remember that whatever problem you are facing has a solution or, at least, a manageable approach.

Therefore, never allow your challenges to stop you from fulfilling your true potentials in life.

More Tips to Help You Get Unstuck

Featured photo credit: Danka & Peter via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Medicinet: Confusion: Symptoms & Signs

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