At the risk of sounding obvious, I’ve managed to identify something that every successful founder in history has in common: they all actually started their businesses.
I can’t tell you how many great ideas for transformative new products and services I’ve heard about over the years, only to see them never actually get off the ground.
One of the most common killers of unborn businesses is the perceived difficulty and risk inherent to being an entrepreneur. The initial stages of development can be daunting — first there’s the huge sunken cost of building something, and then there’s the very real possibility that no one will like or want the thing you’ve built.
If I could give only one piece of advice to an aspiring entrepreneur, it’s that the most important thing is to simply get a minimum viable product (MVP) out there. Taking an idea and externalizing it into a MVP should be the priority — there will be plenty of details to iron out later, but with a product live in the wild, you’ll be able to chart a better course for your new business.
Find a Starting Point
Websites and apps are a new company’s digital springboard, offering a high degree of visibility with relatively low operational overhead. Affordable DIY web development platforms like Squarespace and Wix have been around for a while, but historically speaking, mobile web and app development hasn’t come cheap, which can be a big roadblock for many young, bootstrapped enterprises as they attempt to swing into business.
But this seems a bit backwards, especially when you look at the numbers: Wired reports that about 65 million PCs were shipped in the second quarter of this year (representing a 10% decline from the same time last year), while global smartphone shipments tallied an impressive 338 million units last quarter. Apple alone ships about 61 million iPhones each quarter. The trend makes it clear that focusing on mobile app development is more important today than ever before.
The App Factor
I’ve got some good news for all new startups, small enterprises, and even
seasoned businesses that have been left out of the mobile game to this point: mobile app building has never been faster, easier, or more affordable than it is right now.
A new wave of user-friendly, DIY app building tools like Google’s Android App Studio, MIT’s App Inventor, and, of course, our own AppMakr, are completely redefining what is and what isn’t within the realm of possibility for emerging businesses. Now, in less than 20 minutes, someone with zero programming experience can build a high-quality mobile app for their company or new venture.
That might not sound like a revolutionary statement, but if you stop and think about it, the implications are pretty profound. No matter what type of business you’re running, the ease of implementation and low cost of creating a platform on which to interact with and sell to your customers represents a substantial competitive advantage in reaching today’s mobile consumers.
Where, in the past, these apps would have taken months and substantial investment to build, today’s tools aim to level the playing field for innovators across the globe.
Now Comes the Hard Part
Starting up your business is relatively easy in comparison to the next stage of the industrial lifecycle: keeping your company alive.
According to Bloomberg, about 80% of companies fail within the first 18 months of their existence. These days, developing a successful business model is a largely free-form and unpredictable process. Rigid, single-track-minded startups simply can’t adapt, and they typically crash and burn even faster than they sprung into being.
In order to stay afloat, many startups will have to pivot at multiple points during the initial stages of their existence. Often, new business opportunities will emerge as time goes on. According to Eric Ries, a successful pivot hinges upon the ability to identify when to stay the course, and when it’s time to change direction.
There are real-world examples of this idea in action everywhere: Groupon started out as a crowdfunding platform, Twitter was initially intended to be a podcasting platform, and Instagram was originally called Burbn, an overly-complex and highly unsuccessful mobile check-in app. Think about where these businesses would be today if they hadn’t recognized the demand for a specific function, and didn’t have the agility to scrap what they were doing and move in a new direction.
While building a successful business will never be an exact science, there are definitely some measures you can take to improve your chances. The key lies in adopting a nimble approach to your first round of go-to-market materials. Where a company may have had to blow their entire budget on an app in the past, now small businesses and startups can develop as many iterations of their mobile platform as they need to get it right.
Another thing that nearly all successful founders have in common is that when they failed (and they probably did, repeatedly) they never stopped trying. The beauty of DIY app building is that it makes failure more affordable — in other words, perseverance is no longer a cost-prohibitive personality trait.
Jay Shapiro, CEO at AppMakr, Startup Advisor, TED Speaker, co-founder DoGoodAsYouGo.org, Creator of EcoRoamer & All-around nice guy.