Since I sold my startup, Partpic to Amazon, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my journey as an entrepreneur. There are three elements I now know are keys to succeeding in business: understanding your customer, launching your business at the right time, and having a great support system.
Know Your Customer
The number one piece of advice I have for aspiring entrepreneurs is to do customer discovery before building. Many entrepreneurs fall in love with an idea before they’ve truly validated a problem. Serial entrepreneurs and authors Steve Blank and Eric Ries popularized the concept of customer discovery, which is the process of creating a hypothesis about your solution, questioning potential customers, and refining your hypothesis based on your learnings. Customer discovery is not asking your friends if they like your idea. Most of your friends will say “yes.” Instead, you have to ask people you don’t know. If you are already in business, it’s still critical to constantly interview your customers to ensure your product or service is meeting their needs and expectations.
Building and growing a business can be a lonely journey. Even if you are a solopreneur, it is impossible to build a sustainable business without support. When I came up with the idea for Partpic, I sent my mom an email to see if she would support me in my pursuit. Luckily, she agreed. Having her in my corner throughout the journey made a world of difference. If you don’t have a supportive family, consider joining a community of entrepreneurs. Early in my startup, I joined the community at ATDC, a startup incubator in Atlanta, which gave me access to established entrepreneurs, mentors and peers who were on a similar journey. Today, I have a great network of peers at The Gathering Spot.
Be Conscious of Timing
Have you ever heard of WebVan? It was an online grocery store and delivery service founded in 1996, which raised over $800M from venture capitalists and an IPO. In 2001, it filed for bankruptcy and shutdown. In 2012, Instacart, another online grocery delivery service, launched and is now valued at $8B in 4,000 cities. So why did Webvan fail with essentially the same idea that Instacart is succeeding with today? Many have concluded that timing and lack of awareness about the market led to its downfall. When Webvan started, there was no such thing as smartphones or the “gig economy”. Instacart had the advantage of both. The moral of this story is to be aware of timing when building your company.
To gauge if the time is right for your venture, ask yourself these questions:
- Does everything I need to build and grow my business exist today, or will I have to build something new?
- Is the market ready for what I am selling?
- Will customers be able to pay for my product or service without friction?
- Has anyone tried solving this problem in the past?
While mastering these three areas won’t guarantee your startup success, it will certainly help increase your odds. Best of luck in your journey!
Jewel Burks Solomon is the co-founder of Partpic, which raised over $2 million in seed funding. Today, she is an advocate for representation and access in the technology industry.
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