Now might seem like a crazy time to launch a business, but in fact, there’s never been a better time. In the United States, more businesses have been launched this year than ever. Data from the US Census Bureau shows about 1.4 million new startup applications filed with the government through September 30, 2021, compared with 1.14 million during the same period in 2020. It might strike you as counterintuitive, given the economic uncertainty, but the truth is, new problems demand new solutions, and the ongoing pandemic has introduced no shortage of problems.
So, are you sitting on the next big idea? If so, you might be wondering: how can I start my own business? Here is a step-by-step guide to launching your startup this year.
1. Start With a Problem
When it comes to launching your business, forget everything you ever heard about “chasing” your passion and instead, chase a problem. What does that mean?
Solve an actual problem that you’re facing in the world. Venture capitalist Paul Graham (and early investor in Dropbox, Stripe, Reddit, and more) put it best when he said that the best startups have three common features:
- they’re something the founders themselves want;
- that they, themselves, can build;
- and that few others realize are worth doing.
Take Uber, for example. The inspiration for the app came when founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp found themselves stuck in Paris on a snowy evening and unable to find a taxi. Or Basecamp: founder Jason Fried had his “ah-ha!” moment when his web design firm was looking for a project management tool to improve their organization.
So, think about it: what is a problem that you want to solve today? Then, figure out how to build a solution.
2. Research the Market
Before you begin fine-tuning your concept, you’ll need to research the landscape and understand the current marketplace. As Startups.com founder Wil Schroter has written,
“Every minute you invest in researching online saves you 10 minutes of building your startup blindly, only to find out that customers are flocking to a different solution to the problem you’re solving.”
And don’t worry, “market research” sounds more complicated than it is.
Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, recommends:
“[making] a list of all the products or businesses you can find that are similar to the product you want to create or the business you want to start. For each of those companies, write down what you do and don’t like about them, pro/con style. Once you do that, write down all of the ways that your idea is different.”
Know what’s out there and how your business will propose to offer a different and much-needed solution.
3. Consider Starting as a Side Hustle
Before launching my company, Jotform, I worked full-time for a large media company. There, I noticed something missing in the world: easy-to-create online forms. So, I started working on the solution as a side hustle, continuing to build skills and experience at my day job without giving up my paycheck.
Eventually, the amount of revenue I earned from my side gig was higher than my monthly salary. That’s when I left the company and branched out on my own, confident I could continue to pay the bills.
We read the Crunchbase headlines about VCs and funding rounds, but the quieter—and I’d argue, safer and less stressful—route of bootstrapping may be a better option for prospective founders. And as long as your idea is solid, your business can grow just as big. Just ask Sara Blakely who launched her company with her own cash and never took any outside investments.
Starting small and growing organically can also ensure that your product is addressing the problem you set out to solve—before you infuse the company with your and your investor’s money.
4. Don’t Play the Waiting Game
Entrepreneurs tend to be perfectionists. With so much on the line, you want your product to be perfect before releasing it to the world. But the truth is, the only way to know if people will like and use your product is to get it out in the world.
As Rich Allen, author of The Ultimate Business Tune-Up: A Simple Yet Powerful Business Model That Will Transform the Lives of Small Business Owners, writes:
“It is always better to start your journey with a largely unfinished or unpolished product or service and allow its early adopters to help you make improvements. This likely means that you will not have your pricing firmly set, your offering complete, or your services automated. That’s fine.”
Don’t play the waiting game. If you do, a competitor might swoop in and offer the same (or better) solution to your problem.
5. Focus on the Customer—Not the Competition
One of the biggest mistakes I see in new business owners is focusing so much on the competition that they short shrift to the most important stakeholder: the customer. When you’re starting out, it’s essential to listen closely to customer feedback, ideas, and even complaints. Criticism helps us to locate our pain points and figure out how to innovate and improve.
Rich Allen writes,
“This first customer experience is invaluable to the direction, focus, and success of your newly formed business.”
Ask early customers what they like, what they would change, and any other insight about their experience. And don’t forget to look at the data. Anytime you’re releasing something new or updated, release it to a small group first and measure their reactions. That way, you can figure out whether you need to make additional changes before moving forward with the full release.
6. Share, Share, and Share
If a tree falls and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? If you’re working on an awesome new product and no one learns about it, does your product even exist?
Answer: it does exist (and it does make a sound), but it may as well not if no one knows about it.
There are so many easy ways to share what you’re working on. Tweet about it, blog about it, create a YouTube video about it, or write about it in a Substack newsletter. As it turns out, people often prefer getting to know your company through these largely free platforms.
For example, according to DemandMetric, 70% of people would rather learn about a company through articles rather than advertisements.  Through informal channels like blogging, potential users can get to know your product and your founder’s journey, which cultivates a more personal connection with the brand.
So, shout it from the rooftops, and pay attention to all engagements.
7. Get Ready to Delegate
One final tip for launching your business: learn to delegate, and fast. The most successful entrepreneurs know that hiring talented people to whom you can delegate decision-making will free you up to focus on bigger picture items like growing your business.
Take Disney, as reported by Harvard Business Review:
“Disney CEO Bob Iger has enabled the company to remain an innovative powerhouse by opening the process for creative decision-making to other leaders. As the company acquired widely recognized brands – from Lucasfilm to Marvel and Fox – he provided those leadership teams with autonomy so that they could thrive within the Disney ecosystem.”
Growth requires learning to stop micromanaging and trusting your leadership team to implement your vision.
Launching a new business may be nerve-wracking, but it’s also profoundly exciting. The seven tips I gave on how to start your own business have helped me to run and expand my business over the past 16 years, and hopefully, you’ll find them helpful, too.
Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com
|||^||The Guardian: Start me up: 2021 is on course to be a record year for new businesses|
|||^||Paul Graham: How to Get Startup Ideas|
|||^||Uber: So, what is Uber all about? Fun facts about the Uber story|
|||^||Basecamp: The story of Basecamp|
|||^||Startups.com: How to Start a Startup|
|||^||Masterclass: Sara Blakely’s Tips for Starting a Business|
|||^||Fortune: You Don’t Need a Finished Product to Launch Yor Startup|
|||^||Fortune: You Don’t Need a Finished Product to Launch Your Startup|
|||^||EU Startups: Why is blogging important for your startup’s growth strategy?|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: Building a Startup That Will Last|