Having worked with both Fortune 500 software giants and two-person startups, I can attest to the fact that dreaming is a good thing. Yet, I've also been frustrated as some of these same companies miss a key opportunity to pivot, misdirect resources toward a wrong audience, or fail to put their grand vision into practice.
The best tech entrepreneurs know how to make their dream a reality by being pragmatic and incorporating sound business advice at the right moments. As you begin to launch, here are key milestones that can make or break a venture.
You have a great idea that has the potential to change the world. Think again. In most cases, your idea or product won't and can't be everything to everyone. This mindset turns great ideas into mediocre initiatives.
Right now, we are working on a launch plan for a powerful tool that allows employees to easily share information across an enterprise. Initially, the founder envisioned this idea taking off as a consumer app, capable of growing as large as Twitter. Despite lofty expectations, user testing revealed low engagement rates among consumers but extremely high interaction between ecosystems of employees in a corporate setting.
Once the company identified this niche audience, they found their strategy and allocated more resources into the enterprise version of their software. Although the founder was understandably disappointed to learn they didn't have the next Twitter on their hands, he ultimately avoided pouring tens of thousands of dollars into an app designed to be everything for everyone.
By finding a niche, the company was able to truly solve a problem, design a more focused strategy, hire the right people, and ultimately deliver a better product. The company has since realized tangible success in a group of enterprises piloting the solution.
Dream big, but don't miss an opportunity to truly and significantly impact a narrow group of people.
Determining the right time to launch your start up is twofold. As a PR professional, I'm often asked about a media blitz when people talk launch—"How are you going to make sure every news outlet, blogger, and influencer in your space is raving about me?" In reality, there are two stages of a launch—the public launch and marketing launch.
Before launching marketing efforts, consumers should have a glimpse into your product or service. It is critical to test the message, product and audience. Do you have the right solution for the right people? If you find you need to pivot, now is the time. Once you have established a defensible market position, you can get the message out.
Outside perspective can save months of labor and development costs. Groupthink runs rampant in the tech community, which is why it's so important to seek out a mentor who emulates the business qualities you want to build, not just a person you know well in the same field.
Let's say you are developing an awesome new app and have a best friend who also happens to be an app developer. While it might seem natural to ask her to be your mentor, it's not always the best decision. Although she understands the space and may give great technical tips, she may not understand your specific market, business strategy and how to effectively identify the real needs of your users. Plus, as your friend, she'll tend to cheer on every one of your ideas instead of giving you the critical feedback you need.
Find someone who isn't afraid to offend you and who has been successful in moving a similar company forward. You may not want to hear your idea is terrible, but that reality check will force you to think in new ways and ultimately build a more successful company.
Your friends may not get your idea. Your family might want you to get a "real job." VCs will turn you down. Trust your gut and believe in your product. Sometimes the onlookers may be right, but if you constantly adhere to their opinions, you'll never know what could have been if you just listened to and believed in yourself. Find the right balance between both sides.
I met a tech entrepreneur whose mother called him every week and urged him to go to law school. He was in the midst of developing a company focused around online video in the entertainment industry. She didn't understand how tinkering around with YouTube could lead to anything long term. But he believed he had something. At the point I talked to him, he was laughing because his small online video business was making him more money than his father, the lawyer, made that year. His mom was still worried but understood.
People will doubt you and your idea. If you believe and work hard enough, you can make it a reality. Sometimes the biggest mistake a tech entrepreneur makes is missing the opportunity they've created for themselves.
[Image: Flickr user Coal Miki]