Business management

The Key to Surviving the Start-Up Life

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Sometime ago I was doing an interview, and one of the questions I got asked was, “what challenges did you have to overcome at the beginning of your journey?” It made me think back and reminisce about efficy’s beginnings – the founding idea, the planning, the struggles, the victories. There’s one thing I can say for sure, however: in our case –just as it happens with the vast majority of newly formed entrepreneurships—the start was full of challenges.

How to get started as an entrepreneur?

For us, one of the main issues starting out was definitely the money. We started the company with a relatively small capital --500,000 euro—which in paper might sound like a lot, but it was only enough for about six months or so. Therefore, I had to make a choice – and I decided not to get paid. I was lucky enough to be in a personal situation that allowed me to make such a choice, and I was okay with not receiving a salary for a while and to continue investing that capital into our project. 

This is something very important to keep in mind when you have the challenge of building a new company: there will be plenty of financial difficulties. The product, the servers, the infrastructure, the computers, the first team hired (and having to pay said team’s salary) … I believe tackling all these obstacles becomes considerably easier when you have a little bit of comfort in your personal finances.

The most important skills future entrepreneurs should consider.

My recommendation for entrepreneurs who are starting a company is to try and make sure to be at least able to pay your rent without worrying too much about it. For the best possible chance at success, you should be able to focus 100% on your business. I understand, however, that not everyone has the personal capital to invest in such a way – in that case, my advice would be to try and find an investor as fast as possible. The ultimate goal is to make sure you’re confident that you can survive and go through the challenges of building a business without worrying about yourself. In those critical first few months, the business should come first. 

Once you’re free from financial worries, your mind is in the right place to continue feeding your business and putting everything into making it work. And I think there’s a key element to achieving success in any entrepreneurial journey --to learn to get money from your customers. When you get money, you’re your customers, it helps you understand the market way better: if someone is willing and ready to pay for your services, it means it brings some value to them. 

The majority of up-and-coming start-ups that I’ve had the chance to speak with and advise on are usually focusing too much on raising money. And I witnessed it firsthand --back when I was an employee at my first company, we went bankrupt because the boss focused mostly on raising money. Unfortunately, he didn’t pay enough attention to making the business grow, and at some point, the investors started saying no and the business went down. 

It’s important that we as entrepreneurs know when the time comes to start making our own money. 

Convincing investors (preparing presentations, showing spreadsheets, going to meetings…you know the drill!) is obviously important and a skill any entrepreneur should have, but getting your hands and your product in the real market (with real customers!) makes you learn much faster and better. 

My suggestion to go into this seamlessly would be to get your customers ready to pay for whatever you deliver. Even if your product or company is not perfect yet, you should try to make them pay. You can give them discounts or promotions for being the first customers but start to drive revenue from your customers as soon as possible. This will launch you into the real world and get your business running the way it should.

Finally, one more piece of advice: don’t fear failure!

Time will teach you all you need to know, and even if this early period feels messy, as your business progresses you will get the chance to do more of the things you truly want to do. Nowadays, I’m much more comfortable with what I do, compared to the beginning. I definitely enjoy it more because I know I’m better at it: back in the early days I needed to do a lot of stuff that wasn’t up my alley just to keep the business running. However, those times passed, and now I can enjoy working in my field – the reason why I started a business to begin with. Such a time will come for you as well.

Fellow entrepreneurs – which skills do you think entrepreneurs should have? What advice would you give the new generation? In your opinion, what’s the key to surviving the start-up life?

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