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There's No Business Like Your Own Business: Six Essential Tips To Launching A Successful Startup

Have a game-changing business idea but don't know where to begin? A Harvard professor, Techstars' CEO, and three of Forbes' #Next1000 honorees share their best advice

6/17/2021 1:08:00 AM

Have a game-changing business idea but don't know where to begin? A Harvard professor, Techstars' CEO, and three of Forbes' Next1000 honorees share their best advice

Have a game-changing business idea but don't know where to begin? A Harvard professor, Techstars' CEO, and three of Forbes' Next 1000 honorees share their best advice.

ana Donofree endured many sleepless nights grappling with the terrifying decision to leave her 9-5 corporate merchandising job in Denver in favor of diving full-time into her startup.“I didn’t have friends or family who could help me financially support my business, and at that point, it was only bringing in around $500 a month,” says Donofree, 39, the founder and CEO of AnaOno, a company that makes lingerie for people that have undergone breast surgery—often related to a cancer diagnosis—including mastectomy, reconstruction, and those that experience chronic pain. “I realized, however, that the money I was making from my day job was meaningless if I didn’t have the time to put it towards my passion.”

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With that, Donofree took the leap in 2015, fearing almost immediately that she “made the worst decision of [her] life.” Fast forward six years, AnaOno has appeared onThe Today ShowGood Morning America, serves 30,000 customers per year, and projects revenue of nearly $3 million for 2021.

“It’s conventional wisdom but it’s true,” starts Donofree who was originally inspired to launch her business as a cancer survivor who underwent a mastectomy, “being an entrepreneur takes resilience and a good amount of naivety to just jump in.”Maëlle Gavet, the CEO of Techstars, the prestigious global seed accelerator, echoes this sentiment. “To build a business and succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to have inordinate amounts of grit, resilience, and is one of the most terrifying and stressful experiences, but also the most thrilling, joyful, and life-changing. If you have an idea and really want to try it, you should give it a shot.”

While an idea may be clear, for first-time entrepreneurs, execution is likely not. Gavet, along with Tom Eisenmann, a professor at Harvard Business School who teaches entrepreneurship, plus three of Forbes’ newest Next 1000 honorees, including Donofree, offer the following advice on how to launch a startup:

Determine If Your Idea Solves A Real ProblemWould-be entrepreneurs need to figure out if their business answers a real unmet need in the market. Will it solve a fundamental problem? If so, is the potential customer base big enough for the solution to sustain a startup? “If you don’t have a really big, hairy problem to solve, it’s unlikely your company will be successful,” says Gavet.

Study your customers and devise tests to validate your hypothesis with expending as little capital as possible. Talk to and interview potential clients, run focus groups or conduct surveys. “Many entrepreneurs think they can see around corners,” says Eisenmann. “They want to plunge into building and selling without doing the customer discovery. It takes real discipline to do this upfront work, but it ends up saving the entrepreneur from the more arduous task of fixing mistakes later on.”

Launch An MVPOnce an entrepreneur determines there’s likely a viable market for their product, it’s time to launch an MVP or a minimal viable product. A concept from the book,The Lean Startupby Eric Ries, an MVP is a “version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

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An MVP offers just enough features for early adopters to be able to use and provide feedback on but avoids potentially unnecessary work that further development would require. “The gold standard of a successful MVP,” says Eisenmann, “is getting someone to pay for it.”

Network“You never know who might give you your next breakthrough or a great idea, so talk about your business to everyone who crosses your path,” says Gavet. “Talk to your cashier or your taxi driver. Think about networking in an extremely broad sense.”

It’s also critical entrepreneurs be plugged into the industry they’re trying to disrupt. Collecting industry-based insights and feedback by being radically transparent can make a good idea a better one. “There’s magic that can come from a random connection,” says Gavet.

Find The Right TeamAn entrepreneur needs to be a jack of all trades, so finding partners and employees with complementary and advanced skill sets is necessary. “A good idea with bad bedfellows is bad business,” says Eisenmann. When funds are tight, conducting due diligence to determine who these people are is worth the effort.

“Early on, hiring someone who ends up being a bad fit can really hurt,” says Donofree. “Take the appropriate amount of time to find the right people.” As Gavet puts it, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Early hires will have a big impact on defining company culture which can be incredibly hard to change.

Raise Money“You have to raise money,” Eisenmann puts plainly. “While there are some exceptions, most companies die because they couldn’t raise enough capital,” adds Gavet. “I wish it was the case that entrepreneurs could focus on just building and perfecting their product, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. It’s one of the entrepreneur’s primary jobs to raise money.”

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Fortunately, there are a number of ways to accomplish this. Donofree received grants from FedEx and Intuit, while Kelli Jones, a fellow Next 1000 honoree who is the founder and CEO of Noso Patches, an outdoor gear repair company out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, launched a Kickstarter early on to fund her business.

Jaime Martinez, another listmaker and founder and CEO of Schola took out bank loans to fund his EdTech startup that in 2020 generated over $1 million in revenue. “Raising capital is necessary to build an amazing product and is part of a startup’s journey,” says Martinez. “But it’s not the destination.”

Be Prepared For Your Life To Change“Make sure you’re passionate about what you’re doing,” says Donofree, “Because running a startup is an all-day everyday commitment.” Working 9-5 hours will more than likely be a thing of the past as you launch your business.

That said, creating boundaries and finding the joy in what your doing is crucial. “It’s really hard but you have to learn to say ‘no’ to certain things and set limits with your time,” says Jones. “Otherwise you’ll burn out very quickly.” Eisenmann adds, “Having a startup is sort of like having a child that you’ll need to care for far into adolescence.”

Whether an entrepreneur builds the next unicorn, completely fails or lands someone in between, the consensus is that it may be worth taking the chance. “We only have one life to live and if what you’re building can change someone else’s life, you have to give it try,” says Donofree. “That said,” she adds with only slight irony, “if I had known back then what I knew now about launching a business, who knows if I would have done it.”

Read more: Forbes »

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