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“I was always destined to become an entrepreneur.”
This was the first sentence Niamh Bushnell spoke at InspireFest 2015, a conference held in Dublin, Ireland last week to connect professionals interested in the future of science, technology, engineering & Maths.
She was on stage to give tips to potential startup founders who may be struggling to get their idea off the ground. Bushnell told the, predominantly female, audience that she was enterprising from a young age, persuading an Italian man to drive herself and her friend the length of Italy, for free, when she was just 18 years old.
Since then Bushnell has worked for Enterprise Ireland, has become an Angel Investor, and has set up two companies of her own while living in New York City, the first of which sadly failed.
She shared 10 lessons she has learned over her career thus far, from communication challenges and picking the right co-founders to the issue of becoming too emotionally involved in your idea. Below are her tips for anyone looking to start their own business.
Lesson 1: Don’t lost track of the market.
You have a great idea – brilliant. But as your idea, and product or service develops, be sure not to lose track of which direction the market is going. Will your idea still be relevant is 6 months? Are you keeping up-to-date with your competitors? One of the most important things to know when starting your own business is to never lose track of the market.
Lesson 2: Being busy doesn’t mean you’re being productive.
Anyone can make themselves busy, but not everyone can be consistently productive. Make sure you are spending your time working on the right things, the things that are most important to your business taking off. Start with spending time doing the things you love then try to get the more difficult tasks done when you are feeling more motivated.
Lesson 3: Choose everything carefully.
When starting your first business, it is imperative to choose every small element of it with extreme care. Consider your phone providers as much as your investors; be as picky when choosing internet services as you are with choosing talent.
Lesson 4: There are no shortcuts.
You need to tell yourself this again and again because taking shortcuts will only end in a lot more work further down the line or in some instances, ultimate failure. Everything takes time and everything needs to be done properly. Taking shortcuts with your startup is a BIG no-no.
Lesson 5: Tech is challenging.
If you have tech in your product but are not a techie yourself, you will need to learn to be an excellent listener. If you’re co-founder is good at the tech side, and you’re not, you will need to find clear ways to communicate to ensure you both understand the direction you wish to take your product.
Lesson 6: Successful businesses LOVE numbers.
It’s all about the numbers, both at the beginning of your journey and cone your business is established. Investors want to know numbers: How many customers do you have? How many are you retaining? How big is the market? How much profit are you making? Always keep track of the numbers for everything, no matter how small.
Lesson 7: Know both your macros and micro market.
This is about knowing what people are up to in the ‘virtual town hall’. Knowing your market isn’t just about keeping an eye on your competitors and your sector, it’s about understanding and being aware of the bigger picture. Watch the news, read newspapers, subscribe to tech blogs and stay up to date on everything and anything that could potentially affect your business.
Lesson 8: REALLY like your co-founder.
Some people say you should never go into business with friends. While that isn’t exclusively true, you do need to be VERY careful with who you decide to start your business with. You have to really like them. You need to like them so much that you would willingly invite them over for dinner every night of the week. If you don’t get on with your co-founder, your business is doomed to fail from the get-go.
Lesson 9: Beware of ‘good enough’.
This is about focusing on a problem that does not need to be fixed. If the general public feel the product or service they currently use is ‘good enough’ that there is probably no real need for a new one. Don’t try to create a market where one does one already exist.
Lesson 10: Avoid all the ‘startup hype’.
It is so easy to get sucked in by the hype that surrounds the startup sector. Everyone wants in and some people have even become serial startup founders, jumping form one startup incubator to the next. Just because there is funding available and a great selection of accelerator programmes does not mean they will take you to the next milestone. You’re idea and features need to be killer and you need to work harder than you have ever done before in order to get it off the ground.