Leading entrepreneurs offer up five tips for your start-up

The guys over at Bizdaq recently reached out to 27 leading UK entrepreneurs and asked them "What piece of advice would you go back and give yourself when you embarked on your first start-up?" Here we take a look at the key highlights...

1. Competition

Competition for your start-up can be both good and bad news. Obviously, every start-up dreams of reaching thousands of customers with a unique proposition which has no direct competitors. In reality, it’s an unlikely scenario - though you may have identified a pricing or performance differential that sets your business apart. That said, if there are already successful competitors in your chosen market, at least it means a demand exists for it.

Read: Why are there fewer female entrepreneurs than male?

The key is to establish a niche, if you can. Customers may be persuaded to leave existing suppliers if you can demonstrate a competitive advantage. This may involve finding ways to complement existing products and services or tailoring your proposition to the specific needs of a vertical market. Either way, it’s more practical to focus on delivering the biggest impact you can to the sector you serve instead of dreaming about the billion-dollar idea.

Try not to get involved in a 'race from the bottom' with competitors who will try to do what you do more cheaply. Unless you have the buying power of Poundland, you’ll lose the game. 

What our experts had to say:

  • Matt Fox, Co-founder of Snaptrip: "Focus on how I can make the most significant and impactful business possible for the sector I’m trying to operate in."
  • Kerry Roy, Founder of Camp Katur: "Do not give too many trade secrets away"

2. Rapid growth

If you’re lucky enough to discover and capitalise on your niche, you may find that demand for your products and services will rapidly take off, which also means you’ll need to find a way to accommodate your growing client base. This kind of exponential expansion can then be a headache for start-ups.

While it’s not always possible to predict the precise path of growth when you’re starting out, it’s certainly worth considering how you could scale up your operation and identifying the staffing and organisational adjustments that would need to be made to facilitate growth.

Read: Entrepreneurship born out of unhappy places, according to research

The transition from start-up to fast-growing enterprise is often one of the biggest ‘success’ challenges new businesses face and yet it’s often not given the same consideration as, for instance, worrying about financial challenges that may negatively impact commercial progress. 

In fact, planning for growth associated with success is crucial to future success and should form part of your start-up strategy.

What our experts had to say:

Martin Campbell, MD of Ormsby Street: "Make sure the business was structured for growth... what works when you are small won’t necessarily work when you become bigger"

3. Nurturing talent

Another side effect of rapid expansion is the need to find and hire new talent to help tackle the startup’s growing needs. If your business if dependant on highly skilled people - especially in the technology sector- it’s something you’ll have to plan for rather than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. Even if you like to think you can do every job in your company, it’s important to start delegating early on.

Read: Three tips for when making your first angel investment

Recruiting top talent may sound like a bit of a luxury in the early days but if it’s mission-critical, it soon becomes a priority. It’s not uncommon for high-growth start-ups to leap from a handful of core employees to over 100 in just a few years. The need to recruit the right employees in a short period of time can put enormous strain on a business.

Obviously you’ll want to attract people who are not only good at what they do in order to help you move the business forward, but who also share the ethos of the company.

It’s a big challenge to scale up your operation while still maintaining the same level of shared purpose across the business, but it’s one that our experts specially state needs to be tackled head on. 

What our experts had to say:

  • Guy Blaskey, Founder and Director of Pooch&Mutt: "The person running the company should be able to do every job in the company, but they should employ people who can do it better."
  • Tim Fouracre, CEO of Clear Books: "Delegate early and trust others."

4. Keeping up

Technology moves fast and keeping up with the changes can be a big challenge for start-ups. In many ways, it’s easier if you keep your vision simple - do the thing you do really, really well and focus on building new products and services that deliver great value.

It’s important to anticipate upcoming opportunities and to strive for innovation but stay close to your customers’ needs and don’t get distracted by new markets or technologies that lead you away from you niche.

Read: Research finds that fear stops potential entrepreneurs launching businesses

Fortunately, it’s easier and more cost-effective than it ever was to invest in the tech you need to deliver you proposition to your customer base. Cloud-based services and mobile access enable collaborative, multi-site opportunities for communicating with colleagues and clients alike, and mean that big brands and tiny startups can operate from a level playing field - from a tech perspective at least. 

What our experts had to say:

  • Eduardo Martinex, Co-founder of Geniac - "Build simple, 'great' things"
  • Patrick Pulvermüller, CEO of Host Europe Group: "Focusing on what your customers need and how best to deliver that in line with your business goals will ultimately lead to success"

5. Staying afloat

A major challenge for start-ups is staying solvent. Businesses aren’t automatically worth more money just because they’re a year or two older - you’ll need to reach some milestones before you can expect an increase in valuation and successful financing.

You can seek advice if you don't know how to set or achieve milestones. An early milestone may be that you’ve removed an element of risk - possibly by hiring some key talent, overcoming a technical obstacle or trialling your product with a group of customers. Once you’ve proven your business model works and you have a plan to scale up your processes, you can be more confident of securing finance. Log your predicted milestones and keep track of progress.

Read: How should entrepreneurs start their day? 

Try to conserve you cash by making the right decisions at the right time - there’s no point hiring lots of sales and marketing people if the company is still in beta test mode, for instance. However, once your business model is validated, you’ll need to be prepared to commit your capital resources to bringing in business.

It’s a tough call for first-time CEOs who need to find the balance between guarding resources and investing in growth.

What our experts had to say:

  • Claire Moran, MD of The Forge Public Relations: "Instead of panicking, take a logical look at what you can do to move things forward and seek advice where necessary." 

Read the full roundup here to learn more useful start-ups tips from the experts: 27 successful entrepreneurs reveal their top start-up tips.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.


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