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Painkillers or vitamins?: Five tips for a first-time entrepreneur – StartupSmart

For every entrepreneur, one thing is guaranteed – you will make mistakes. Some mistakes will be unique to your startup; others may fall into the category of ‘common’ mistakes that entrepreneurs make.


With the former, you want to get up, adjust and keep going. With the latter, well it’s better to avoid them altogether. How? By listening to advice and finding valuable mentors who have done it before.


Here’s some advice from my co-founder and co-CEO Josiah Humphrey and I it found most valuable when building Appster.


1. Build something that solves a huge problem

Many first-time entrepreneurs try to come up with an idea that’s completely novel or alters an existing solution. In some cases, they’re looking to build a product that can somehow improve consumers’ lives.


All three are fine as long as you ask yourself one question: “Is this something people need so badly they’re willing to give their credit card details to an unknown startup?”


There are two kinds of products, painkillers and vitamins. While consumers may be willing to buy vitamins, they simply have to buy painkillers if they have a headache. As a startup with no brand, and limited marketing budget, you’re much more likely to succeed if you’re selling a painkiller that solves an existing problem.


2. Go the extra mile to build an outstanding team

When faced with two potential employees, one with a great attitude and the other with great skills, always take the former, as you can train for skills but not for attitude.  Try to find the top people that fit your company culture – period. It doesn’t matter what industry they’re from and how polished their CVs are – some people have it, some people don’t.


Look for people who get things done and stand out and go the extra mile to find them. Entrepreneurs like Tesla’s Elon Musk are known to have called top university professors to ask for referrals. In the early days of Oracle, Larry Ellison always asked candidates – ‘Are you the smartest person you know?’ If they answered no and mentioned someone else, he hired the other person instead.


3. Find valuable mentors and advisers

There’s a study called Startup Genome that analysed 100,000 startups around the world. Not surprisingly, startups with helpful and experienced mentors raised seven times more money and had 3.5 times better user growth.


A respected advisor with a track record will boost your startup’s credibility in front of investors, business partners and customers. An experienced mentor can also help you avoid many mistakes.


4. Focus on growth

‘Build it and they will come’ is not a good phrase for a modern day startup founder to live by. It is a hangover attitude from the dot-com boom, and we all know how that ended up.


Startups are about growth. In many cases, there’s one opportunity and limited time and money to take it. No matter how great your product is unless you develop a great sales and distribution model, it probably won’t succeed.


LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Dropbox, and even companies like Tesla, all developed a great user/customer acquisition model allowing them to acquire users, sometimes without spending a single dollar on marketing.


5. Listen carefully and trust your instincts

While building a company, you’ll get across a lot of advice. Keep an open mind, and follow your judgment.


Mark McDonald is the co-founder and co-CEO of Appster.

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