Escape member Kate Jackson runs fantastic dinners for those wanting to leave the City. She shares her story about what she’s learned here.
“I recently met a friend who is looking to leave law and start his own business. Having taken this path myself, I shared my experiences and offered what advice I could. I thought that some of the points that arose over our noodle lunch would also be useful for prospective Escapees.”
1. Focus on the things you know nothing about
It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing the things you know well and neglecting the things you know less about. For me, with a legal background, I focused way too much on the legal issues, dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s and making sure we were watertight on everything. This is important of course, but at the start it’s less important than thinking about your product and how to promote it. Most startups don’t have an in house accountant or lawyer and manage to function without these specialist skills. It is natural to focus on the things you know more about because it’s easier, but this is often the wrong priority.
2. Find a partner
If you are starting a tech project and you’re not technical, then find a tech partner. If your business will be run online and this is new to you, partner with someone with online marketing or e-commerce skills. This will save you money at the outset and ensure you have an informed sounding board as you progress your plans.
3. Know your skill gaps
You can’t be expert in everything and trying to be can be counterproductive. Accept at times that if you (and/or your partners) don’t have a required skill that buying it in help might be necessary and a better course of action than starting on page 1 of a textbook.
4. Take advice
You’re smart, you’ve got common sense and you’re commercial. After all, you have spent how ever many years in a corporate environment advising your company or its clients. I learnt that none of this replaces real business experience, which builds up over time. Find a mentor or advisor that is willing to help you and your business, whilst you find your feet. A quick call to someone that has faced the predicament you are currently facing 10 times before, can save you a lot of stress.
5. Research for free
Ask your friends, contacts and your target market what they think of your idea. If they don’t understand or wouldn’t use it, find out why. Many people have a fear of sharing what they are doing in case there is a copycat lurking around the corner, waiting to pounce and steal their idea. I always think this is unjustified. If you have an idea, it will usually be based on some changing market factors and trends and you won’t be the only one to know about them. The chances are that any number of people around the world are thinking about something similar to you. This doesn’t mean they, or the people they tell, are going to do it. As you know, having an idea is easy, doing something about it is a whole different ball game. Sharing is good and getting feedback is even better. Someone hearing your idea with fresh ears could give you that valuable bit of advice or introduction that you need. If you are feeling bold, get involved with one of the early stage product demos in and around Tech City and demo your product to a focus group.
6. Network effectively
There are so many networking events in London for startups, look for example onTableCrowd, Meetup and Google Campus. If you go, make sure you have an objective (e.g. looking for a tech partner, looking for a mentor) so that you get something out of it, other than a pile of business cards and a handful of shallow conversations. Also know where to draw the line. Introductions to someone’s brother’s friend who knows something about something connected to your business can see you running on wild goose chases rather than focusing on your business.
7. Know how you are going to market your business
Unless you have buckets of cash to pay for marketing, you’ll need a marketing plan to get customers for your business. Unless you have that one-in-a-million idea, your website just wont’ go viral when it goes live (sorry to be the one to break it to you), so make sure you have mapped out your strategy in advance. You could have a great product but if no one knows about it, you might as well not have bothered.
8. Enjoy it
There will be great days, good days, terrible days and atrocious days, but you’ll never be bored and you and your business could end up living happily ever after. So enjoy it!
As always, I’m happy to help anyone if I can. Do join TableCrowd’s regular social dinners if you are looking to make the move and leave the City to sound board your ideas off others in the same boat.