I moved to the Silicon Valley a few months ago. There’s a buzz you get being in a place like this. Everywhere you turn, there’s another famous company – Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Ebay, Netflix and I’m guessing, a lot more rising stars. It makes you feel like you’re surrounded by celebrities, like being in the Hollywood of technology and it gives you a sense that anything is possible.
And it got me wondering.
How many of more of these rising stars will become household names one day and how many will disappear into oblivion? And why?
So I asked a friend.
My friend, Sean Wilcox, is a typical Silicon Valley guy. He has worked in technology for years, been part of three successful start-ups and now co-founded his own company.
His own company. Oooh-Scary. Risky.
Well, at least to me.
He seems pretty confident and, after all, it’s his company so maybe I should mind my own business. But I’d rather know how he plans to do it.
Like everyone, he started with an idea that sounded reasonable enough. A socially responsible e-commerce web site called givium where unwanted items are sold to friends and a percentage of the proceeds go to charity. A good start. A good idea. No argument there. But how on earth is he going to take it from a good idea to a success story and avoid becoming a start-up statistic and how can other people do it too?
Being a good friend, he shared a few of his suggestions:
1. Surround yourself with the right people. It seems obvious, but it’s important when working in a small company that everyone work hard and be willing to wear different hats. People have to be passionate and hard working with a “do whatever it takes” kind of attitude.
2. Always focus on what the customer needs. Not just a little focus, but a relentlessly intense focus. There are three outcomes for a start-up company: go out of business, get acquired by another company or go IPO. In order to survive, you have to be willing to change directions if that’s what the customer requires (in tech jargon, it’s called a pivot). In one case, the company Sean was working for had to completely change the market in which to sell. It was a tough decision because they had to abandon their original concept, but it paid off big time.
3. Utilize social media! Social media has lowered the time and cost of advertising and acquiring new customers. You can use social media to advertise your successes, to sell things and keep your customers interested and loyal. These days there are so many tools at our disposal and it’s important to familiarize yourself with all of their potential. Companies like Cool Mojito and rSitez are a perfect example of businesses that utilize social media to help smaller companies get the most for their money and compete with the big guys.
4. Don’t suffer from analysis-paralysis. It’s exciting to start a business, but some people suffer from what is called analysis-paralysis where they wait until they have collected all of the right data before making a big decision. In a new business, you have to make decisions fast in order to beat the competition. If you get 75%-85% of things right in the beginning, you’re doing well.
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. I know, we’ve all heard that before, but it’s so true. In a start-up, the staff is small and the workload is huge so it’s impossible to do everything. And that’s O.K. Constantly reprioritize and focus on the one to three things that are key to moving your business forward. I think you’ll find that the small stuff wasn’t so important after all.
Looks like you’ll have to keep watching this space to see if my friend’s company one day becomes a household name. (I hope so – and I hope I still know him then!) But I genuinely believe that if all of the famous companies here in the Silicon Valley can do it – and they were just ordinary, hard-working people like you and I – then so can my friend, and so can you.