Guest blog by LSE alumna Diana Isac, co-founder and CEO of Winerist. She will be appearing on Generate’s food and drinks industry panel on Friday 26 February; come along if you’re interested in learning more about entrepreneurship in this area!
I knew so much less about myself and about business when Winerist launched three years ago. Although I had quit my demanding job in the City knowing I was going to work much longer hours, albeit for myself, I had very little understanding of the journey ahead of me. No matter how much I knew from the books I had read, or regardless of my Excel and PowerPoint skills and ability to structure essays, I was not prepared for what was to follow. As I look back at the last three years I can only feel joy looking at the product we have built. Looking forward to the three years ahead of us I am even more excited knowing that the journey will not be perfect but that it will be adventurous and rewarding.
Each startup journey is different but here is my humble advice:
Pick great co-founders
Frankly, I have a lot of admiration for entrepreneurs who do it alone. My journey has been different since I chose to work with a co-founder. I strongly believe that when running a company you need support, a reality check and that someone to challenge you. It is a frightening thing to deal with feelings of animosity in yourself and in your co-founder. In those moments you feel like the world has collapsed and that you have reached a dead end. But just like family, in business you have to compromise. Listen and learn in order to let go of your ego and surpass your desire to change the other person.
Obsess about your customers
Most founders I know focus on the micro or the macro picture. Very few are able to focus on both the detail as well as the vision. Somewhere along the way, obsessing about one or the other, one forgets that the user is the most important thing. We often get distracted by building ‘innovative’ technology, conferences and, of course, fundraising. In the process, we forget about the customer. Make sure to constantly think of your users: wake up and go to bed thinking of happy users and how to increase their trust. After all, customers give you the two most important things for your business: their time so you can learn from the data they offer you, and money so you can build revenues.
Don’t get distracted by vanity metrics
Traffic that does not translate into customers, articles in the press which generate zero revenue, millions of inactive subscribers, a big following on social media are not an indicator of the fact that your business is doing great. Learning from your engaged subscribers and generating revenue is what remains key.
Don’t get stuck on one idea but reinvent yourself
It is always so easy to obsess about things you feel strongly about. You might not see the obvious and, as a result, end up developing the product in the wrong direction. Always be vigilant and remember: there are competitors out there with bigger pockets able to take your business away. Evolving or pivoting (in my opinion an overused term) is necessary if you want to survive. This includes being able to let go of the original idea!
Get used to not spending too much money. Instead, focus on sales and don’t rely on investor money. Paul Graham also uses the term ‘Ramen Profitable’ which happens when a startup makes enough money to pay the founders. Not having enough cash and having to worry about generating it can lead to some of your best ideas.
Find something constructive to say to your co-founders and team
Always finish the day on a positive note. Say ‘thank you’, ‘well done’ and ‘you are amazing’ often. In startups you don’t get paid much so feeding the enthusiasm of your team and ensuring that people know they are appreciated is crucial. Do bond with your team over drinks etc. from time to time too.
Surround yourself by supportive family, friends and mentors
They are the ones who will believe in you, offer you a home when you are broke and feed you. Make sure you spend as much time with them as possible and ask for candid advice. They should also be the ones to tell you when you are being unreasonable. You might initially resent them for doing so but at the end of the day, they will act in your best interest so make sure you appreciate them.
Be brave and don’t give up
You are the driving force in the business so believing in it and not losing your morale is integral to your success. I strongly believe that starting a business is the best and most creative thing you will ever do so make sure you enjoy the journey and take time to learn from the amazing people surrounding you.