5 Things to Think about When Starting a Startup

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Hey, Tech Innovator – as a start-up, what was the biggest mistake you’ve made?

Recently, when speaking on a panel about startups and entrepreneurship for the Loyola Center for Closely Held Firms, this Tech Innovator was asked a very salient question: “What was the biggest mistake you’ve made?”

My answer drew laughter when I replied, “I don’t remember the biggest mistake, because I make so many of them.”

But the question raised an important point.  To avoid the pitfalls that cause 9 out of every 10 small businesses to fail within the first ten years, what should you think about when starting your own startup?  Here are the top 5:

  1. TIMING – There probably will never be a perfect time to launch your own startup. People say that opportunity does not knock twice. But I believe you may get many opportunities, the key is to realize it and jump on it.  For me, it came from gut feeling.  Another panelist said that he got an indication that it was time after he created a business plan, and his bank approved a loan.  This was his affirmation that the time was right.
  2. FAMILY – Starting a company, especially when you are leaving a job to focus on it full time, you have to think about your family situation.  What does your spouse think about it?  He or she should understand that you will have to work 18-20 hour days, some days, with no time off on the weekend.  You won’t often have time to pick up your kids from school or run them to practice or lessons, so you need to make sure your spouse understands this before you launch your startup.
  3. RISK – Starting your own startup is all about taking risk, so prepare yourself financially.  life_fear_fly_jump_risk_sparrow-3b32ebe08cfbb4558fdd55fbb382697d_h_largeFor me, when I talked to my wife, I said I will give myself 6 months.  She said, “Does that mean you won’t get paid for 6 months?”  In many cases, yes.  So think about how will you handle your family responsibilities.  Maybe you have a working spouse, and can survive those 6 months without a major change.  Or perhaps you will have to make sacrifices for the short-term.
  4. PERSEVERANCE – The startup is what you want to do.  It takes time.  For many, there will be a need to work as a consultant on the side to earn money and buy time … but then they get a job offer and continue down that path of earning income and receiving health benefits, and forget all about their dream.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Plan to persevere.
  5. SELF IMPROVEMENT – Many people who come from a background of holding a job will over-estimate their skills and abilities for running a startup.  For example, if you worked as a director of software development, you may think you can design a new technology.  If you worked in marketing, you may think that you know everyting about marketing.  But the truth is that you have only worked in a narrow capacity, while starting a company requires that you work in every capacity: marketing, sales, finance, fulfillment, customer service, human resources, etc.  How are you going to get customers?  How are you going to differentiate yourself from the competition?  How are you going to assure customer satisfaction?  How are you going to improve your skills in these areas?  In some cases, if you don’t have the skill and don’t think you can acquire it, perhaps you will need to partner with someone whose strengths complement the areas where you are weak.

The last thing I would think about, after you launch your startup, is how do you plan to give back?  How will you help improve society and the city you live in?  There are many opportunities to be involved as a mentor to high school students, join a board, or become involved in the issues that impact your community.

Starting your own company can be the most difficult and most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.  For me, every day is a new adventure, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and make a difference for others.  If you are considering launching your own startup, I say, “Go for it!” But give some serious thought to these 5 key issues first.

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