I recently attended a conference where Joshua Baer spoke about what he would do differently if he started a company today. As an entrepreneur with a host of technology companies under his belt that he founded, plus countless other start-ups he has mentored or invested in – he had a lot of great thoughts to share with his usual disclaimer – these may not work for everyone but they would definitely work for him! Here is a recap of Joshua’s Top 10:
1. Pick a problem you have personally or one you see repeatedly
When you start a company, you will invest a lot of blood, sweat and tears in it so pick something you are truly passionate about. Often this means you would be the user of the product or service too – which means you really understand the pain and the need.
2. Find a cofounder
As every entrepreneur knows, starting a company is hard and there is a lot to do. Finding a cofounder or several can help your idea become even bigger and better than originally anticipated because of the unique perspective they bring to the table. It is important to note though, co-founding a company is like getting married, so pick well!
3. Have as few secrets as possible
Although this may seem like it goes against the grain of traditional entrepreneurs, talking about your idea has huge upsides. When you share what you are thinking about, you will likely get good feedback, additional ideas and new connections that are relevant to helping your business get off the ground. The downsides are minimal, unless of course, you are starting a company with Mark Zuckerberg – then you may want to keep things quiet. But hey, Facebook is new to Austin so we should be in the clear. 🙂
4. Outsource as much as possible
“Entrepreneurs wear many hats” is a statement you hear pretty commonly. True – but there is only so much room on someone’s head! As a founder or co-founder, Josh recommends you focus on the aspects of your technology and company that will impact your business the most and that you are really good at. The rest should be outsourced, like accounting and marketing. He also noted that where you can use SaaS, do that option instead of getting software to put on your server.
5. Raise as little as possible
Joshua’s philosophy is only take what you need and aim for a business that does not require a lot of money. Having started several companies [some bootstrapped , some angel backed], and now as an investor himself, he knows that fundraising is not that much fun and it takes away from running the business.
6. Get customers to pay in advance
So often entrepreneurs think no one will pay for what they’re building – especially when it is still a concept. Yet if you are solving a real problem for a customer, they often will consider paying in advance because they see the benefit it will have to their organization. At the conference I attended, there were several entrepreneurs who had used this approach very successfully so I know it works!
7. Build mobile first
Mobile is where the growth is in the market, so Joshua recommends that if you have a problem you are addressing with your soon to be built software, design it to work in a mobile environment. Another bonus of this approach – building mobile first forces you to focus on what matters the most from a product development perspective because you can only have a few key buttons, etc. on the page.
8. Build in the cloud
Being a cloud-based company provides significantly more flexibility from a development perspective. As an example, in the cloud it is feasible to clone everything on new instances and run simulations to uncover problems in a matter of minutes or hours. In contrast, trying to do this using on-premise servers wouldn’t be easy or very feasible to do given the additional capital requirements and resources needed to set it up.
9. Build in Rails
Joshua shared that Rails programmers want to build beautiful and elegant code, which also means it is easy to read and easy to change. It is the language he prefers for his companies.
10. Go through an accelerator program
If you are just getting started on your start-up, be it your first time or your third company, he recommends going through an accelerator program as you’ll be around a bunch of other startups. Being surrounded by other entrepreneurs will add a lot of value to your growing business and the mentors there can help guide you on the path to success.
Austin has several great resources for entrepreneurs including Capital Factory [which Joshua is a Director of], Tech Ranch and Austin Technology Incubator. Looking for accelerators in other cities? Here is a good list with application deadlines included.