Ed: This week we will be featuring a number of guest posts from undergraduate students from University of New South Wales who are building real businesses while still studying.
Today’s post is from Saksham Kapoor, the UNSW founder of Recommuso
You probably know one of them. They could be your brother, your sister, your best friend, your neighbour. Who am I talking about? People who think ‘gosh, I should really start a startup!’ of course.
Having a startup seems to be the ‘in’ thing these days – and with recent exits like WhatsApp ($19bn), Twitch ($1.1bn) and Instagram ($1bn), along with sky-high valuations like Uber ($18bn), Dropbox ($10bn) and Spotify ($4bn), it’s not hard to see why.
To all those people, I say: slow down.
Having a startup isn’t an easy decision. Having worked with two, and having had my own for over a year (Recommuso), I have learnt what sets the true entrepreneurs apart from the ‘wantrepreneurs’.
Coming up with a problem statement, i.e. the pain point you’re trying to solve, is not an easy task, and requires passion for the field/sector you’re targeting. In order to develop the drive for the product, you’ll have to feel strongly about the problem customers are facing, and have a strong desire to solve it.
You want to do as much research as you can (again, you’ll want to be really interested in the sector, otherwise you’ll burn out), looking for anyone else who’s addressing the issue you’re trying to solve. The only two times you should be following through with the idea is if
- No one else is in the space you’re in, or
- There are people in the space you want to play in, but you believe you can do better than them
Next up comes the research and validation. This is one of the hardest parts of the process, requiring you to poke holes in your own hypothesis and solution. Through self-correction and validation, along with the feedback you get from people, you’ll arrive at a conclusion about whether you should be continuing with the project or not.
As you talk to people, you’ll inevitably find that parts you felt were awesome, really aren’t what your customers are looking for.
On the flip side, it may be that something you were intending to drop is exactly what the market wants – keep an open mind. The most important part at this stage is to talk to as many people as you can, and get a good overview of what the market is after.
Most importantly, validate that what you’re trying to solve is a problem in the first place (or, hey, don’t – the iPad single-handedly started the tablet revolution).
And finally, when you’ve got an awesome game plan of what your startup is going to do, comes crunch time: implementation.
Implementation is when you get to test whether all your research, networking and hunch are actually what people want, and whether they are willing to pay for it. One of the oldest adages within the sector: the first dollar is the hardest. People will tell you it’s great, it’s revolutionary etc., but until they’re willing to invest in you, it’s not complete validation.
When you’ve got that initial bit of funding, you’ll know you’re on to something. It’s at this stage that you’ll find out whether your passion works out or not, and whether your vision translates into reality.
If the above sounds too difficult, maybe the startup life isn’t for you.
There are lots of online courses (the latest being the excellent How to Start a Startup course by YCombinator) that try to teach you what to expect.
While they may give you the basic knowhow, they can’t instil the one differentiating factor, which sets the successes from the failures: passion.
That’s got to come from your own drive, and willingness to go above and beyond what is required for success. For people who are unable to commit to the difficulties associated with founding, or being part of a startup, a corporate career may be just as, and possibly more fulfilling.
Taking a startup all the way will require many sacrifices, with the first being quitting your day job in order to free up your own resources for the project. You’ll fail often along the way, and have to be prepared to face the disappointment that what you wanted to create just isn’t working.
For the vast majority of people, that is simply not an option. In my next post, I’ll discuss how those with awesome ideas can use them within a corporate environment, and the pros and cons of doing so.
To clarify: I’m definitely not dissuading anyone reading this from starting their own startup. With my personal experience in the sector, I can say it is one of the most rewarding things you can do.
All I implore is that those who are considering it, to weigh up the pros and cons of going down this path, and ensure that they are willing to commit 100% to their goal. If you feel you’re able to do that, then your passion will help you take your idea to the next stage.
Photo by Robert Scoble