How Do You Even Start A Business? 4 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Business!
Stefan Cheung is the CEO and Director of Corporate Strategy and Business Development of 6 Initiative and brings a wealth of experience from various areas ranging from clinical research, sales and innovation. Read more about his story HERE!
If you went on Instagram and randomly clicked on 100 people's profiles, almost 40% of those people would have something entrepreneur related in their biographies or posts. Nowadays, everybody wants to start a business and work for themselves. Can you really blame them though? Every year, cost of living goes up, your friends on social media are going on another Caribbean vacation, sipping on mojitos while you're stuck working the same job making 2% more than last year, while not being able to put any money aside for yourself. Sound familiar?
Then one day, as you're commuting home in some god-forsaken sardine can that your city calls "public transit" but is more of a sorry use of your hard earned tax dollars, a light bulb goes off in your head. "The next great idea!", you think to yourself. You pull your phone out of your pocket to write out your idea because that one motivational/entrepreneur/life coach/public speaker told you to after watching their video's for the 8th time on your lunch break.
"This time will be different", you tell yourself. But will it be different? I guess we'll know soon enough!
I say this because this was me, and so many other entrepreneurs that I've had the chance to get to know. However, let’s take a step back before we even think about starting a business. There are a lot of glamorous misconceptions on the so called glorious journey of being an entrepreneur. HOLD ON, what does that even mean?
By definition, being an entrepreneur is about participating in an enterprise at some level. Your product or service needs to offer a specific value proposition to an idea/product/service that is already existing (to remain competitive or innovative) or to develop a whole new product. However, a big step that does not receive enough attention is active due diligence and market research to scan the landscape and to justify the feasibility of the idea being one that can fill a gap, or improve the lives of others.
If you're going to start a business and you want to take one thing from this post, let me make this ABSOLUTELY CLEAR: It makes absolutely no sense for anyone to start any venture without looking into what is feasible, fills a need, or is marketable.
Furthermore, starting a business is a risk. A big one, and it’s not only about risking money, but it’s also risking time. I’m going to skip all of this as it would be best for another article.
When developing an idea, it needs to be refined continuously. What I mean by this is that you need to analyze your competition, and how well your competition is doing and the affected environment surrounding them. Do they have partnerships? Do you see new developments or pivots? Who and what are their customers looking for?
And NOPE, don’t even try to pitch the fact that there is no competition because what you offer is so revolutionary and innovative that no one has developed this idea. There are 7 billion people in the world, and the average person thinks anywhere from 60 thousand to 80 thousand thoughts every day!
6 years ago, I had taken a psychopharmacology mid-term exam. Basically, a night with no sleep. My friend at the time, and I had gathered at the Tim Horton’s at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. I was finishing off my undergraduate thesis at the time in substance abuse – yes I can definitely tell you certain stereotypes of cannabis-use are real, this research provided preliminary validation, at least for me. I had an idea, being sleep deprived, that it would be great to have an application to be able to run cloud-based research analytics. I only had a laptop at the time, and didn’t buy my first smart phone until later that year. LG sliders for the win!
Anyways, we decided as a joke to pursue it afterwards with my friend who happened to be a programmer. I took on the role of the product/project manager – a role every initial Co-Founder/CEO will take on. However, we weren’t sure if it was worth pursuing further as the team I worked with was following other pursuits such as career advancements, graduate school etc. 6 months from the summer of 2013, my friend sent me a Facebook message about a company who had a similar idea. I forwarded this to my old team, feeling very disappointed that an idea I had could have been worth millions. The fact of the matter is that we got caught up with the idea that this service would take us somewhere, while another group of people were focused on execution. The most substantial difference was that they validated their idea and it ultimately won support from other universities.
Oh and after reading up on them, their team was STACKED…I had to admit, their credentials looked pretty sick.
This taught me 4 important lessons:
1) Research your competitors or startups/companies with the capability to run the same idea. You might just draw additional ideas
2) Validate the idea by networking with people in the same industry – this gives more credibility to your validation –
I. Please don’t have them sign NDA’s before you talk. If you can’t give a high level overview – you need to work on your pitch!
II. I follow the assumption that people are too busy to bother developing your idea for themselves if they have their own stuff going on
3) You’re not the only one with a multi-million dollar idea – this made me feel very small, but helped me to see that I had to continuously be creative and agile in my ideation process
4) You’re not that good, there will always be someone smarter, faster, and better than you (and if not, don't forget supercomputers are a thing now. Google it). Be ready to outwork anyone, at least the mindset.
I. I will bet you that whoever is ready to outwork everyone else in the room, regardless of their genetic predisposition, will gain the valuable insights to be faster, smarter, and better. Of course there’s limitations, but that’s for another day
II. This was a very humbling moment for us as we felt at the time we had solved a (research) worldwide problem – it wasn’t the case
P.S. Almost a year after I had found out about that competitor company, they had closed down their start up. That’s too bad; I would have looked forward to their analytics application for my own research. I guess we all have more work to do!