While the journey of every company from start-up to success is different, there are some steps that every business must go through. We’ve started Virgin companies in many different markets, and some lessons crop up time and again, regardless of whether the sector is travel or telecoms.
Reiterating this point, I saw a wonderful talk from Naveen Tewari, the founder of successful start-up, InMobi. In the video, Naveen guides us through how he grew InMobi into the world’s second largest mobile advertising business - there’s a lesson in it for all of us.
Believe in your product: Buy into your own vision and don’t waiver it just for a pay check. You know your vision better than anyone else, and if you lose sight of it, the world will too. “It is your vision that will give you success, not your venture capitalist’s vision.”
Produce something of use: Build the best product you can, and make sure it has long-term value. This is something we’ve always focused on at Virgin – if you get into business solely to make money, you won’t. If you try to make a real difference, you’ll find true success.
Invest in what's going to scale your business: Identify exactly what you need to grow your company. Is it technology, engineering, infrastructure? “Don’t put people on the ground for that sake of putting people on the ground.”
Hire the right people: “If you get the input right, the output is far easier to manage.” At Virgin, our people are at the heart of everything we do, and are crucial to our success.
Give everybody equity: Shared stewardship leads to collective responsibly and increased passion. If you empower your employees to believe in the company like it’s their own, it's hard to fail.
Think globally: Ensure your product is world-class and can compete with any competition, anywhere. But don’t just go global for the sake of it. Naveen explains that it was an obvious choice to enter the US market, however it already had 16 competitors with more funding. So instead InMobi looked to South East Asia and Africa – competition was lower, but demand was higher. Find an opportunity and go for it.
Decentralise: While it’s necessary to centralise your business structure in the beginning so that you can run a tight ship, it’s not scalable if you want to be global. To be successful in different markets your company needs to work on local time, understand local geography and culture, and attract the best local talent.
What do I feel was the most resounding piece of advice in Naveen’s talk? “Just go for it… press the pedal,” which rings true with one of my favourite pieces of advice: "Screw it, let’s do it!”
These are solid starting points for evolving your start-up into a successful business. However, the road to success isn’t easy and successful entrepreneurs need both financial support and mentorship.