Steve Jobs, creator of Apple Computer, had some wonderful words of advice for the students of Stanford University in 2006, and they are as true today as they were then. “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work,” he said. “And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
That’s the first great lesson of successful tech startups. Yes, you have to fill a need or solve a problem; that’s what technology is all about. But the greatest technology entrepreneurs are visionary, and they love what they do. They see past what is the need today into what is the next great thing tomorrow. Even more than that, they create the next necessary idea. After all, who would have thought you would need a phone that works wherever you are, acts as a mini-computer, and takes pictures, all in one small package?
Lesson number two is to learn. You truly don’t know it all. Dean Stephens, CEO of health-tech company Healthline, a health-information site with millions of monthly visitors says, “Building a business is always a work in progress. Always leave yourself open to change. Be willing to be off-balance for a little while so you can eventually find your stride.”
Don’t be afraid to build on other’s ideas. Great tech startups often take on challenges that others have given up on or thought couldn’t be monetized.
“Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice,” advised Jobs.
The “Mother of Modern Computing,” Admiral Grace Hopper, said, “Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.” Change is what the future is all about. You can’t change the future if you are unwilling to change yourself. Learn more.
Assembling the right team is lesson number three. Harness the energy of youth. They are the ones who are willing to work until all hours of the night and get up early and do it again. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, worked around the clock to make his first venture, Zip2, better by sleeping short hours under his desk and getting other employees to wake him up at daybreak so he could get back to work. Find people willing to work under those conditions and you’ll have the right team.
When you need more ideas, don’t feel you have to remain within your team, though—crowdsource! There are millions of ideas and skills out in people-land just waiting to help your startup. Take advantage of it.
All startups need funding. But don’t just go the traditional route and look for venture capital. Access a much larger pool by crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a great way to get capital for your new tech business, and there are four ways to do it. Offer a stake in the company for equity-based funding. People often want to more than feel a part of a company; they want to share in the wealth, too. You can also go the route of donation based funding, if you plan to make your startup a non-profit. The third way is more like banking: lending based crowdfunding, where your investors get their money back with or without interest. And last, reward-based crowdfunding offers your investors a reward for their investment.
And here is, perhaps, the most important lesson of all. Take risks. Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, says it well. “The biggest risk,” he says, “ is not taking any risk… In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Image credits to Robert Scoble