Here’s some of my super-secret winning strategies from fifteen years of building startups.
Stay in stealth mode until the last minute.
The last thing any startup needs is people finding out about it.
You can get attention later — that’s not difficult. You don’t need the distraction of customers clamoring outside your office while you’re still refactoring your NoSQL database structures.
Especially when you consider competitors. It’s instant death if someone were to launch at the same time as you, so you’re right to keep all your ideas completely secret. Once you launch, then millions of people will know about you, including competitors, but by then you’ll be a full 4 months ahead of the rest of the world, making competition impossible, even if they are two Stanford kids with $150,000 in funding and the wind of YC at their backs.
That means you can’t talk to potential customers either, because people talk! And worse: some of those potential customers — the ones willing barely willing to part with $20/mo — would rather save that money and instead quit their day jobs and start a brand new company ripping you off. Their meager feedback isn’t worth the risk!
Oh and absolutely don’t talk to other entrepreneurs or advisors who can and surely will copy your idea. Just read the history of any startup or interviews of famous founders and you’ll find one thing in common — no one had mentors or found value vetting ideas and brainstorming with people who have trod this path before.
Get it right the first time.
With those millions of customers anxiously awaiting your launch, like the conclusion of the Harry Potter movies, you absolutely must not disappoint them with a shaky v1.0.
Look around — other software companies wait until there’s no bugs at all before they release. That’s why they have no usability problems nor lack important features. With all those fully-completed products, it’s a mystery why UserVoice even exists. I guess some people are chumps!
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That makes prevention, like, 16x more valuable than cure. So take your time before you release, even if that means years.
Don’t ask anyone if they’d pay for your product.
Of course they’ll pay; the math is simple:
By using your product they’ll save 45 minutes a day. Even if they value their time at only $20/hr, and only 20 work-days a month, that’s still a savings of $300/mo. Your tool is $20/mo, so this just mints money!
Customers literally can’t afford not to buy it. Maybe they should buy it twice.
That’s how buying decisions are made — cold, rational, and based on micro-economics 101 — so why waste your time and theirs verifying the obvious?
Write the code first.
Writing software is tricky. You’ve been doing it for 6 years, so this is the part of the business you know best — and you know the difficulties that await you!
The easy part of this startup will be getting attention and making sales. Getting people to a website is easy — it’s not like there’s 1,000,000,000 other websites clamoring for attention. Getting them to buy once they’re there is even easier — why did they come to the website if they didn’t want to buy? Getting consistent attention from the media is easy too — why wouldn’t popular bloggers want to write about you all the time? Getting reseller deals is simple — why wouldn’t they want to make more money, in the grand tradition of the win-win?
No need to work on that end of the business, because a great product sells itself. The world isn’t littered with startups having decent products and barely any customers.
Rather, you need to focus on coding — the one part of the business you understand and have the most confidence in. Double-down on what you know!
Don’t face your fears now. If you shut your eyes and learn a few extra shortcuts in TextMate, maybe everything else will work itself out by the time you get there.
Don’t work too hard.
Building a startup is hard enough — don’t make it worse by working too hard.
All the great startup founders are known for 30-hour work-weeks. It’s one thing to be passionate — that’s great of course — but that doesn’t mean you should be waking up at 2am in a cold sweat. You need your sleep!
Steve Jobs didn’t work constantly, Bill Gates had lots of hobbies, Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t tethered to his laptop, and Tim Ferris really did become a best-seller by writing and then promoting his book only 4 hours a week.
Startups don’t require obsession — that’s an unhealthy rumor perpetrated by all 300 startup founders ever interviewed on Mixergy. They’re all lying — they actually lead healthy, balanced lives. They don’t want you to know their secret, because this keeps potential competition at bay.
Don’t fall for it. A startup is a job just like any other — you can leave work at work and make sure to take all your vacation days.
What’s your advice? Help out your fellow entrepreneurs an add more wisdom in the comments.