For the last eight years, the Impact Centre’s Techno program has been training the next generation of young entrepreneurs. But when you’re first starting out, things don’t always go as you planned.
Here is some entrepreneurial advice from eight Techno alumni, talking about the things they wish they’d known before starting their business:
1. Make sure to plan for scale up
Leila Keshavjee, founder of Happy Pops quickly learned that you need to plan for scale up. During her first summer with Happy Pops Leila felt she missed out on a lot of events that she could have been at. Getting orders for thousands of her popsicles, she knew she needed more equipment to fill the larger orders she was receiving.
However, she didn’t expand her team and get more equipment until she got an exciting call for an order of several thousand popsicles. Leila, not expecting to become busy so quickly didn’t account for the time it would take to train new staff and grow her company from one full time employee to five.
2. Hire slowly, fire quickly
Founders of Steadiwear Mark and Emile, have learned from experience that you need to hire slowly and fire quickly. When first starting out they quickly hired their first employees, but took a long time before letting them go. Even when it was clear that they were not a good fit for the company. That mistake delayed their project and slowed the timeline down significantly, disrupting their original plans.
3. Nothing is ever really finished
“Nothing is final,” says Martin LeBreque founder of BreqLabs. Martin’s experience with starting a business has taught him that there is a constant need to keep adapting your technology and marketing strategy as demand evolves. He says, “ideally, my product would be priced at a premium in a niche market, sheltered from competitors.” However, he said, be prepared to spend a lot more time and money than you expect to get where you want to be.
4. Hardware can be hard work
Bin and Arjun, founders of iMerciv know how difficult hardware can be. Here are a few of their key pointers if you’re building a business around hardware:
- Proding a concept or creating a functional prototype is relatively pain free. Taking that MVP to a mass produced final product is the hard part.
- Beware the design houses/firms that will try to take advantage of you without providing any concrete results.
- Freelancing and outsourcing to the right people can seriously save you time and money.
- Don’t invest in tooling until you are certain there are no more design changes to be made.
- Manufacturing overseas is much more cost effective, timely and is of better quality.
5. Know your business inside and out
While building MultiMension, founder Julie learned that it’s crucial to define your product and prove that there’s a market for it. This is the best way to market yourself to investors. Julie also mentions that it’s crucial to set up a business model and define achievable milestones. Having a firm understanding of your resources and timelines allows you to set reasonable goals and stay on top of what’s next.
6. It takes time
Kalin Ovtcharov, one of Enceladus’ founders, wishes he knew how much longer it actually takes to get customers to adopt your project. They found that the companies they approached were pragmatists, which they believe is a good thing. Yet, that also made adopting a technology that wasn’t fully mature much more difficult. “The process of demonstrating a prototype to a potential customer and actually getting them to purchase initial licenses of permits took a lot longer than expected.” Kalin highlighted that timelines are highly industry specific, but understanding your market’s purchase cycle is an important step in establishing your business plan.
7. Cultivate important relationships
Sojourn Labs founders Phil and Jonathan have learned first-hand the importance of managing the relationships between startup founders. Phil and Jonathan said, “we were lucky to start with an amazing founding team.” However, they wish they’d been more proactive about cultivating founder relationships especially in the context of high-intensity startup environment. Be determined to build relationships as it’s a very important part of building a business with connections.
8. Think about all of your costs
Neda from Comfable Inc. found that the biggest hurdle they had to overcome was shipping. Small businesses that sell a product rely on shipping. It is one of the most important parts in customer satisfaction, and determines company reliability. Neda says, “the cost of shipping and related complications can eat away at revenue.” When first starting Comfable, they hadn’t anticipated that shipping would be such a large cost overall, almost as expensive as the product itself. It’s important to consider all of your expenses before starting a business, and to plan ahead where necessary, especially when it’s something that eats away at revenue.
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Heather Clayton is a Communications Intern at the Impact Centre.