4 Must-Haves for a Successful Startup
Mayka Mei '06
This is my last startup column for Illuminate. I’m not leaving my column entirely! I’m just dropping the beat. (Bah-dum-tch!)
In the startup world, a “pivot” describes a company-wide shift in direction. I’ve been through company pivots before switching focus, audience, and offering in the span of weeks. On a macro level, we make pivots in our personal lives all the time. As a case in point my entire life just pivoted: new job, new city, new industry. Much to the chagrin of my fellow Bay Area natives, I recently moved to Los Angeles to work in animation production. I’m still in bright-eyed, bushy tailed mode absorbing the world of entertainment, but as I rack up miles driving the 134, I’ve gained just enough distance and hindsight for a final look back at my #startuplife.
Here it is, folks, the four must-have ingredients to a “successful” startup – simplified and distilled to fit perfectly in between your stand-up check-ins:
Is your idea life-changing? Well that sounds great, but how about just solidly “good”? Modern day innovation doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to attract venture capital money, but an idea has got to be ahead of the game to gather support. If your elevator pitch is met with furrowed brows, don’t fight the market. You must adjust your product.
“Community” is a fuzzy word, and arguably the least understood in the sea of measurable factors applied to track business success. In the retail world, your community is your paying customers. In today’s social networks it’s your users – but their power goes beyond dollars and into endorsement, influence, and connection to your brand. Breadth and reach will always sound impressive, but depth of engagement is really what’s going to show potential users and investors what your community’s worth.
Ideas are a dime a dozen in Silicon Valley. At any given moment there are at least two other groups pursuing the same idea as you – and they’re probably sitting right next to you at Sightglass Coffee. What will differentiate you from the competition if you’re in a pitch war? Humans are simple creatures, so make sure it looks good. Make it stand out! (But not in an obnoxious way.) Good design doesn’t necessarily mean buttons patterned in a perfect Swiss Style grid. Good design also means intuitive interface and a product roadmap that anticipates the next wave of user requests.
Is there a leader on your team? Do you trust everyone? Is at least one person well connected? Do your cumulative résumés have proof-in-the-pudding credentials? Is the group balanced? Do you know how to deal with each other when the going gets tough? The importance of assembling a stellar team should be clear: Every person counts, and you should be able to think of each of them as a partner.
Of course, no one ever got anywhere believing that only four factors affected the final result of a brand. So when I say these four components are “must-haves,” I mean that they are the four pillars from which every startup’s foundation must start. No matter how many walls and levels you add to that hypothetical building, you will need a great product, strong community, good design, and overachieving talent in order to break ground.
’Notice which ingredients I didn’t list up there? Timing. Luck. They certainly help – and in fact they can make or break a business at any stage of growth – but they can’t be wireframed, planned, or manufactured. If you do somehow find a way to produce Timing and Luck, then please ping me.