"As entrepreneurs we like to think that the world bends at our whim, but it doesn't work that way," says Amos Winbush III. He should know. He started out as a recording artist but then lost the data on his smartphone and got an idea for a business that would back up mobile data and allow consumers to take it with them if they switched carriers.
Today, his company CyberSynchs has more than 343 million users worldwide, but that never would have happened if Winbush hadn't been ready, willing, and able to step outside his comfort zone multiple times. At the recent webinar "Setting Up Your Small Business for Success in 2014" he shared some of what he's learned:
1. Keep things lean.
In fact, if you possibly can bootstrap your new company, that's the best approach, Winbush says. "Finding out what the key metrics are that cost your operation and minimizing that number by using your network is the best thing a small business owner can do," he says. "If bartering will help do that, it's an option."
CyberSynchs started out in 2008 with $80,000 of Winbush's savings and one way he kept costs low was by initially hiring people who agreed to defer their salaries in exchange for stock options and a small amount of equity. That decision enabled rapid growth, he says now, because it meant everyone in the company had a stake in its success.
2. Don't think you have all the answers.
"You don't want to build a product, put it out there, and hope it finds a market," Winbush says. CyberSynchs gathers input from consumers and uses that information in its design.
"We found our success by being vulnerable," he adds. "We asked consumers to tell us how to make our product better."
3. Be of service to your customer.
"A lot of people launch companies because they either can't find a job or don't want to work for someone else," Winbush observes. "The customer is secondary."
You'll be much more successful if you start by considering your potential customers' needs when you design your product or service, he says. "Then your customers will become ambassadors for your brand."
4. Don't be rigid.
"Be responsible to your business, not rigid to your idea of what it should be," he says. The day may come when you will have to pivot, and you don't want to be stuck on the notion that you spent six months working on a business plan and can't deviate from that plan.
CyberSynchs had to pivot big time when its original B2C model proved too expensive to maintain. The company had gathered 13,000 subscribers, but the effort was costing $30,000 every six months. "Remember we only had $80,000 to start the business," Winbush says.
So CyberSynchs changed to a B2B model, cold-calling major telecommunications companies and partnering with them to sell the service to their customers. That move grew the user base to 343 million.
5. Understand your true intentions for your business.
A lot of people say their intention is to make a lot of money, Winbush says, but if that's really your intention, you may wind up doing things that hurt your brand. So put some real thought into what you most want your company to accomplish.
For Winbush, the move from a consumer to a B2B product involved some soul searching. "Most people haven't heard of us, and that's fine," he says now. "Our true intention wasn't to be a household name. It was to release our product to the marketplace and have millions of people use it and love it."
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