Five Startup Tips

By Conor O'Neill | November 23, 2006

Damien, he of 1000 ideas, all of them good, asked a bunch of us for our top 5 business tips. Here are mine re-published with some extra context. Nothing too deep, just solid practical stuff I’ve learned in 14 years of working in tech, many of those in start-ups.

Talk to as many people who can advise you as possible both in and out of your business area. Most people are happy to help and advise.

I can’t stress that one enough and I still don’t do it enough. Sure you’ll get the “let me tell you what you’re doing wrong” brigade but sometimes those guys have nuggets too. It is very important to extend outside of your business area to avoid the echo chamber effect. I was a little too drunk on the web 2.0 viral kool-aid when I started the LouderVoice effort. Talking to people in traditional industry has been a great leveller there.

Planning is important but don’t fall into the analysis paralysis trap. If in doubt, just do it. Carpe Diem.

Applies to everything I know but I still fell into the trap again this time around. August was a write-off as I waited and waited for a potential investor to make up his mind and I revved and re-revved the spec. When that fell through it was a great wake-up call and the attitude now is just do do do. Get it built, tested and out there and if it isn’t right, change it.

Have a strong vision but be prepared to admit you are wrong. If the market doesn’t bite, you are the problem, not them.

I made this mistake in the second start-up I was involved in (the first one I co-founded). We were sure that the crash was the usual tech cycle dip. Our plan was to launch in early 2002 and catch the recovery in Summer 2002. Doh. Not only did the recovery not happen, India ate our lunch when we weren’t looking. Took me the guts of a year to admit that the business would never grow the way we planned. This time, I take my lead from Munjal Shah, a man with a backbone of steel to change direction the way he did.

There is plenty of state help out there. Engage with them as early as possible. Don’t wait until you are “ready”

We all criticise the state agencies and sometime they deserve it but generally I have been highly impressed with the people and the help I’ve received. I never felt we had great support back in 2002 and I’m not sure what the reasons for that were but this time I cannot complain. Our EI Dev Advisor is excellent and her non-tech background is actually a big help. She pointed me to the Genesis Programme, The Technology Transfer Initiative and The Business Angels Partnership. Not only that but the feasibility study grant was provided with far less fuss than 2002. I’ve attended some great training sessions and received excellent guidance. It’s never too soon to talk to EI, so if you have an idea, get it down on a page of paper and give them a call. If you are more suited to a County Enterprise Board then they’ll guide you appropriately.

It is as stressful as hell but you should still be enjoying it. If you aren’t, then question your motivations.

Loving every minute, even the bad ones. The word passion is bandied about too loosely but it really is necessary (not sufficient) to be successful. I wasn’t ready to make the jump this time until the fire in my belly was strong enough. When it was burning hot, doing a 9-5 became unbearable. You don’t get into a start-up for money, you get into it to build something that is different, that solves a problem, gets someone excited or makes people think. A few bob at the end would be nice too.

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