What’s a Startup to Do?

If I make it sound challenging to get an original idea off the ground and become successful in the online world, that’s because it is. I’ve seen dozens of companies try with ideas that struck me as wholly unoriginal, and fail a year later because they really thought they were doing something revolutionary.

So if you come along and just take an existing idea – like Myspace – and expect to capitalize on that with little additional unique value, you’re likely to fail. Companies need to focus on how they fit into an online space and bring something creatively new to the table in order to succeed. For instance, repurposing and rebranding syndicated content is not new, it’s not interesting, and nobody’s going to pay attention. Recreating successful services such as eBay, Myspace or Yahoo! Answers isn’t going to even be noticed by anyone. Taking an existing website’s concept and making it look like a Web 2.0 website with little additional value, well, people are going to see right through that.

So, without further ado, here are my Top 10 Suggestions for Startup Success:

  1. Take a clean-sheet approach to an idea, and try and come up with a truly original or unique idea, or a spin on an existing idea that will be instantly appealing to people.
  2. Sketch out your idea to its fullest, without looking at any possible competition. If you want to lead, you have to assume the horizon is endless and everyone is behind you, not in front of you.
  3. Turn your idea into something of substance with a demonstration of it that actually works as soon as possible. Long before a business mode or business plan, a working demonstration shows you (and others potentially interested in your idea) what’s possible.
  4. Survey the competitive landscape after you’ve virtually finalized your own thinking on the service or product. I know this sounds counterintuitive and much too late in the process, but most people who are innovators online don’t just copy and improve on other people’s existing ideas. They take it two steps further from the onset and only look at the competition when their own idea is firmly planted.
  5. Write the business plan and ensure there are reasonable assumptions throughout. Too many companies and startups fail making grandiose assumptions about traffic growth and word-of-mouth potential. Remember, there’s only the equivalent of one or two “Myspace’s” every year and you’re not likely to be one of them.
  6. Get a full-blow website up and running as soon as possible that takes the demonstration and turns it into a full-blow, scalable offering. Apply the Web 2.0 graphical treatment to it if you must, but don’t sweat the look because that is the least important element of your business.
  7. Find others online that are in a similar industry and can understand what you’re trying to do. Have them advise or consult with you about your site and service, and then, most importantly, listen to them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve consulted for companies only to have them ignore my advice and eventually have the project fail. The project may have failed even if they had listened to my advice, but the correlation is noteworthy. Don’t bother with an advisor or consultant if you’re not going to listen to them.
  8. Be patient. Startups take time and most may need more than a year to really gain traction and traffic in the online world. Even the most innovative of ideas don’t always get recognized immediately. Since it’s easy to get discouraged, consider joining an online startup group (there are tons of them) and get further advice and support from them.
  9. Leverage your own social networks and get the word out. You’d be surprised at who might be interested in your website or idea, if they only had heard about it.
  10. Be positive in every conversation you have with partners, possible business investors, even your customers or users. Say “yes” first, even if you think the answer might be “no.” You might be surprised at how such a simple rule might change your outlook about the potential of your website and business.

Good luck!