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Must Read: 10 lessons to build a successful start-up

Last updated on: June 05, 2014 14:12 IST

Image: How can you turn your idea into a business?
Photographs: Illustration by Dominic Xavier/ Madanmohan Rao,

Some of these lessons will help you turn your million dollar business idea into a successful venture.

A number of books address business skills and motivational approaches for entrepreneurs, but this new book brings together a wide range of case studies beyond the usual suspects, and provides 10 useful sets of lessons for entrepreneurs to go from concept to cash.

In his book Launch! The Critical 90 Days from Idea to Market, serial entrepreneur and start-up coach Scott Duffy offers pithy advice and inspiring quotes, such as this gem from the late great African American literary icon Maya Angelou: "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."

The 12 chapters are spread across 218 pages, and make for a quick and interesting read as well as a useful reference.

Here are my key takeaways from the 10 sets of tips from Duffy’s playbook for start-up founders.

1. Find and grow your big idea

There's never a bad time to start a business, or a bad age.

What matters is your insights and determination to succeed.

Learn from those who think out of the box -- they actually do not even recognise that there is a box to think outside of.

If you have a big idea, break it into smaller pieces.

Don't whine about pressure from the boss, or lack of time, or costs, or educational background, or what others think.

Get fear and ignorance out of the way.

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2. Manage your risk

Image: You must know how to troubleshoot.
Photographs: Illustration by Dominic Xavier/

Separate your business from your personal account.

Confide everything in your spouse ('chief venting officer') and set time aside for personal life.

Get a professional to manage your books from day one.

Get legal help to guard against litigation.

Exercise to stay healthy and think creatively; schedule your work around your exercise, not the other way round.

Movements effectively change your mood.

Stay focused by controlling your 'inner dialogue' -- ask the right questions and that will help steer you away from risk and panic.

Develop this into a positive habit. 

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3. Create a supportive environment

Image: Have a circle of friends and mentors to motivate and guide you.
Photographs: Courtesy

Stay away from the proverbial crabs who pull you down.

Create a Fab Five circle of friends and Top Three mentors -- and change some of them as your business scales.

Also find others to mentor, it gives you new perspectives and a sense of empowerment.

Build your own personal brand -- be authentic, original and sincere. Show how you can overcome failure.

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4. Plan effectively

Image: Be clear about your goals, have a strategic plan of approach.
Photographs: Illustration by Uttam Ghosh/

Do not just have a big idea, have clear goals, a strategic plan and a sense of direction.

Where do you want to be in three-five years?

Get feedback from customers, trust the data.

Don't treat your business as a hobby, go fishing instead.

When you walk into a new industry, be humble and enter with a beginner's mind. 

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5. Build the A-Team

Image: Build a team of talented professionals under you.
Photographs: Illustration by Dominic Xavier/

Build a good team so you can work on the business rather than just in the business.

Be the CEO: Chief Energising Officer.

But if your heart is actually in the product and not the daily running of the company, get someone else to be the CEO.

Distinguish between the roles of visionary, entrepreneur, manager and sharpshooter.

Scale your talent, and let them go if they can't scale.

Maintain the key relationships with partners and customers.

Create a culture of continuous learning.

Get a business coach if necessary.

Make sure you have full agreement with your partners on commitment of time and finance, and voting rights as well as exit strategy.

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6. Unlock creativity

Image: Encourage young talent to come up with fresh ideas.
Photographs: Illustration by Dominic Xavier/

Create a common purpose in your organisation, a sense of community and pride of ownership.

Hire great people, help them think wild ideas and give them the resources to execute.

Encouraging experimentation and small bets, and don't penalise failure.

Combine business with pleasure, and brainstorm in unusual settings.

Open people’s minds and break down organisational silos. 

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7. Be smart when you raise capital

Image: Be careful about your investments.
Photographs: Illustration by Uttam Ghosh/

Be lean, thrift and scrappy as far as possible.

Be clear exactly when you need funds, how much, how fast, from whom, and in exchange for what.

Be prepared for the hard work, stress, disappointment and even disillusionment when dealing with investors.

Be careful about how much equity and preferences you give away to investors.

Investors have heard a lot of hype before, so stay away from making tall claims and trying to be everything.

Build a great team and a great pitch.

Choose investors who can give you more than money, but networks, talent and brand. 

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8. Launch, listen, learn

Image: Collect feedback, learn from your mistakes and adapt accordingly.
Photographs: Courtesy

Don't start by doing too much -- begin with a minimum viable product.

Don't be like a hammer only looking for nails.

Collect great feedback and learn from it.

Be prepared to receive negative feedback, even if you think the customers 'just don't get it.'

It's OK to focus small; there are riches in niches.

Develop avatars or persona of your customers; don't just profile them, engage them in conversation.

Leverage social media, but be authentic in your presence; an 'hour of power' online each day goes a long way.

Learn how to engage effectively with partners, master the art of barter.

Ask customers what matters to them, and how they know their needs are being met.

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9. Stay the course

Image: Look out for opportunities that spell growth and success.
Photographs: Illustration by Uttam Ghosh/

Whittle away till you have a good product and team.

Look for growth opportunities, but be aware that sometimes growth will also burn your cash and cannibalise you.

To become even more efficient, keep a detailed diary and identify areas where you can delegate even more.

Stay in the 'zone,' in the flow of things. 

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10. Be prepared for crises

Image: Realise that things will go wrong; make sure you have a system in place to fall back on.
Photographs: Illustration by Dominic Xavier/

Learn how to see things not just at normal road speeds but race-car speeds.

When things begin to go wrong, don't go into denial.

Identify the problems, get your full team involved.

Get over your ego and reach out to advisors, mentors and other seasoned entrepreneurs -- it is a badge of honour for them to help you and they will.

Cut fast and cut deep if you need to trim your team.

Make sure you have your family on board to understand the depth of the crisis, you may actually discover new sources of strength and support.

Join start-up clubs and entrepreneur meetups. And once you have succeeded, give back to other entrepreneurs, invest in new businesses, and give back to society, the author concludes.

After all, it is the dreamers who keep the economy moving, who create jobs and growth.

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