8 lessons for new founders [Opinion]

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In August I officially completed my first year of being fully dedicated to my food startup Yumamia

It’s been a year of hard work, long nights, excitement, stress, frustration and celebration.

The knowledge and skills I gained in just a single year surpassed everything I learned in a 12-year career working as a regional marketing manager for multinational companies.

I wanted to share some of the knowledge I gained with fellow aspiring entrepreneurs to save them valuable time and money; some of the advice might be common knowledge for more experienced entrepreneurs, but will definitely be helpful for the ones who are just starting up.

1. Being a part-time entrepreneur just doesn’t cut it

Before I was fully dedicated to Yumamia, I had a day job and for about a year I tried to juggle both. We had one employee dealing with our customers and partners, and we outsourced the website development to a third party company. 

This was our first big mistake. 

As a startup you need to hit the ground running from the moment of inception. You need to move fast, make mistakes fast, learn fast and progress very fast. That can’t happen at the start without being 150 percent dedicated. If you’re not doing this your progress will be much slower, putting you at the risk of competition catching up with you. And as a founder you need to be there every second in the beginning to grasp all the little insights that others might overlook.

2. Be resilient but flexible

We had to face a lot of failures. 

It took four major pivots and hundreds of tests until we finally reached the point we are at today. We had to be resilient and relentless, but also flexible to know when we should start from scratch on a new model.

If you are not seeing progress, it just means there is something missing that you need to figure out and tweak. Also, that may mean it’s time to pivot - and you will pivot, probably more than once, before you start seeing that hockey stick growth graph.

3. Relevant work experience gives you an incredible edge.

Prior to Yumamia I was working in marketing for a major F&B company in the region. It was my job to bring new international brands and introduce them to the Middle East and then maintain and grow those brands consistently over the years. 

I can’t tell you how much that experience came into play once we were ready to launch Yumamia, one of the first online homemade food delivery startups in the region. 

I knew exactly what to do, what to expect and what to measure to know if what we were doing was working or not, and if it wasn’t working I knew what was needed to fix it.

If I did not have this experience, we would have been stuck in a rut scratching our heads trying to figure out what went wrong. So before you decide to launch a startup, try to get a job in an industry relevant to the startup you want to initiate.  

4. Innovation has a price but it pays off

When you’re building something completely innovative, it’s harder to build and it takes longer to solve problems versus a run-of-the-mill business idea. After all, no one has ever done this before so there is no frame of reference, so you end up doing a lot of your own R&D. 

You need to keep this in mind when you’re working on your projections. You will need more time, money and human resources to start seeing results. However, on the positive side, you will get a lot of attention, respect, and a much higher chance of raising capital.

5. Learn, respect and then disrupt

Spend time researching the industry you’re trying to disrupt, meet professionals from that industry, and take their advice. Try understanding their current challenges, their current inefficiencies and how the industry currently operates. You will automatically be able to spot where the gaps are and how you can fill them with new innovation.  

6. Have two mentors

Having an experienced tech startup mentor is a no-brainer but unless your startup is a pure tech startup, you also need another mentor with extensive experience in the industry you’re trying to disrupt (for example a mentor experienced in logistics if your startup is a logistics app). This will help a lot in familiarizing you with the industry and will give you some good insights to work with.

7. More learning it and less winging it

Unless this is your second successful startup, no matter how much experience you have, you will never be prepared for this amount of responsibility right at the start. You need to make informed decisions all the time and as your company grows it needs a stronger and more skilled leader so you need to keep learning everyday. 

Try to dedicate an hour each day to read a book or take a course in a skill that you lack. 

8 Be prepared to deal with copy cats

Six months after launching Yumamia many copy-cats started popping up, copying our every move and using many unethical ways such as snooping around our office and sending us undercover staff members posing as job applicants and home cooks to try and get inside information. It’s a good thing we kept pivoting as they kept copying old models that were not working for us, which still kept us in the lead.

Unfortunately, many industry influencers in the region are very tolerant and supportive of copy-cats. You will hear things like ‘the market is big for both of you’. 

I completely disagree with this statement since you run the risk of being an overly crowded market and not being able to raise capital from the already very small pool of VCs in the region. Did you know that at an early stage, with each competitor that enters the market your own startup valuation goes down?

Make sure you are always 10 steps ahead by having an exceptionally strong team, constant innovation and ensuring that your future plans are strictly confidential. They can only copy what they see but they won't know what else you’re cooking.

Lastly, always remember that you only get a few chances to truly live out your entrepreneurial dream, so make the absolutely best out of it. It is an extremely bumpy road, but you won't want to trade the world for it.

Feature image via CSIT.

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