Tips to make a successful startup

Rules of success learned from various successful people and products.

Richard Branson about avoiding common mistakes

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1. Stay on Target

A mistake often associated with the first step is signaled by an entrepreneur’s inability to clearly and concisely convey his idea. You have to be able to generate buy-in from investors, partners and potential employees, so nail down your “elevator speech” — what you would say if you ran into an important potential investor in an elevator. Try using a Twitter-like template to refine the essence of your concept into just 140 characters. Once you’ve done that, expand your message to a maximum of 500 characters. Remember, the shorter your pitch is, the clearer it will be.

An associated error is lack of focus. If your start-up has been tagged as “the next big thing,” the adrenaline rush that comes with building buzz can lead to impetuous decisions and a loss of a sense of purpose. Many entrepreneurs end up sprinting in many directions instead of taking assertive steps toward their target. Clearly define your goals and strategies, then establish a timeline. Don’t let the other possibilities or hazy dreams distract you from achieving your goal.

Getting too far ahead of yourself is also dangerous. If your product or service is still on the drawing board, don’t get sidetracked by plans for future versions. As a general guideline, looking two or three years ahead is best, but the nature of your business and feedback from your investors will help you determine just how far ahead you should plan.

Be flexible, because just as lack of planning can be a problem, adhering blindly to your plan is a surefire way to steer your company off a cliff. A successful entrepreneur will constantly adjust course without losing sight of the final destination.


2. Be Realistic About Costs
Don’t shortchange your start-up when estimating the funds you will require — you’ll just diminish your chances of success. Keeping your expenses under control is vital, but don’t confuse capitalization with costs. The playing field is littered with undercapitalized start-ups that were doomed from the outset.

In the late ’90s, David Neeleman told me he needed $160 million in start-up capital for JetBlue — a huge sum, far more than most entrants to the industry manage to raise. Most of the so-called experts scoffed at the notion that he would be able to find the money and launch a low-cost airline when established companies were failing one after the other, but he stuck to his guns and raised the money. As a result, JetBlue had one of the most successful airline launches of all time, and turned a profit only six months after its launch in 2000.


3. Hire the People You Need, Not the People You Like
As tempting as it may be to staff your new business with friends and relatives, this is likely to be a serious mistake. If they don’t work out, asking them to leave will be very tough.

When Virgin starts any new business, we always hire a core team of smart people who already know the industry and its inherent risks. Take full advantage of the knowledge pool you’ve created; when a problem comes up, remember that nobody has all the answers, including you.
One of your goals should be to find a manager who truly shares your vision, and to whom you can someday confidently hand the reins so that you can carry out the next step.

4. Know When to Say Goodbye
A great entrepreneur knows when the time has come to leave the CEO role. It’s seldom easy, but it has to be done: few entrepreneurs make great managers. In my own case, managing the daily operations of a business simply isn’t in my DNA. (Or, as I’ve said to friends, “It’s not bloody likely.”)

Stepping back doesn’t mean turning your back on your business. At Virgin, I’m always involved in the launch of a new business, and then I gradually hand over control to the new management team as it starts to jell. But no matter how long it has been since I was at the helm, if I see something that I don’t like, I’m not at all shy about making my thoughts known and asking some very pointed questions.

Founders shouldn’t hesitate to re-insert themselves into their businesses when necessary — look at Larry Page, who temporarily returned to the CEO role at Google in April. That said, I had to laugh when I heard this news, wondering how many managers at Virgin businesses had thought, “Wow, I hope this doesn’t give Richard any ideas.”


Rules of success from Steve Jobs

1. Do what you love. Passion is evertyhing.

Jobs once said, “People with passion can change the world for the better.” Asked about the advice he would offer would-be entrepreneurs, he said, “I’d get a job as a busboy or something until I figured out what I was really passionate about.” That’s how much it meant to him. Passion is everything.

2. Don’t lose sight of the big vision.

Jobs believed in the power of vision. He once asked then-Pepsi President, John Sculley, “Do you want to spend your life selling sugar water or do you want to change the world?” Don’t lose sight of the big vision.

3. Make connections.

Connect ideas from different fields.

4. Say no to 1,000 things.

When Jobs returned in Apple in 1997, he took a company with 350 products and reduced them to 10 products in a two-year period. Why? So he could put the “A-Team” on each product. What are you saying “no” to?

5. Create insanely different experiences.

Jobs also sought innovation in the customer-service experience. When he first came up with the concept for the Apple Stores, he said they would be different because instead of just moving boxes, the stores would enrich lives. Everything about the experience you have when you walk into an Apple store is intended to enrich your life and to create an emotional connection between you and the Apple brand. What are you doing to enrich the lives of your customers?

6. Master the message.

You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, it doesn’t matter. Jobs was the world’s greatest corporate storyteller. Instead of simply delivering a presentation like most people do, he informed, he educated, he inspired and he entertained, all in one presentation.

7. Sell dreams, not products.

It is a known rule in marketing. People buy dreams, pleasure, etc not product functionality.


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