Building a startup is one of the most difficult things you'll ever do.

It's one of those pursuits in life, very similar to aiming to play professional football or basketball, where even if you execute flawlessly, success still isn't guaranteed. There's a bit of luck involved. A bit of "right place, right time." But most of all, it really asks you, the founder, to stay committed through all the ups and downs. I have dozens of stories from my own journey as an entrepreneur in my book, All In.

Over the past few decades building a handful of different startups (and also investing in founders and their businesses), I've learned that success is heavily dependent upon how well you have to know who you're truly selling to, how scalable your processes are, and what's going to interest them enough to spend money with you--as opposed to someone else.

Here are the three aspects of your business you should need to have clarity around:

1. Geography

While your business can start in a specific city, town, or state, having the ability to repeat the same processes over and over again will not only help your business grow faster, but it will help protect against copy-cat competitors (or anyone who tries to do what you do, better). This is ultimately how you scale, fast. Unless your goal is to have one small location with no online store, then you should always be asking the question, "Where else would this business make sense?"

In addition, one of the big problems businesses make is they build what works for their team of five people--not what's going to work for dozens, if not hundreds of employees, targeting the same types of customers in various regions around the country (or world). From the very beginning, I encourage you to build internal processes that someone brand new could step into, learn, and execute well. And any time you find yourself doing any action that only you know how to do, stop yourself and ask the question, "How would I teach this to the next person?"

If you can't teach it, it's not scalable.

2. Customers

I have seen so many businesses ail because their new company was launched for the sake of one, or only a few, customers. But customer concentration can crush your business overnight. You need to make sure that what you're selling is something a lot of people want--not just a few people in your network or neighborhood.

Remember, even Facebook started as an extremely concentrated idea--connecting kids on college campuses (and only a few college campuses to start). So when you're first gathering information about customers in your immediate vicinity, ask yourself, "How many other people in the world would share this same customer profile?"

3. Product Or Service Offering

Can you imagine a restaurant with only two or three entree choices? I am really big on getting as much of a client's wallet share as possible. So, make sure you aren't just scaling vertically (deeper into one specific offering), but horizontally as well (multiple offerings).

Now, especially in the beginning, this is extremely difficult to execute. For every new product or service, you're going to have new processes, new customer profiles, etc. Which means you're really going to have to ask how fast you want to move, and how badly you want to build a successful business. As I like to tell all the young entrepreneurs I mentor, "Are you willing to go all in?"

Still, it's usually the first product or service that's the hardest part. From there, your customers will start to tell you exactly what they want: maybe they need help installing the thing they just built, or they want information from experts on how they can take things to the next level. Having upsells like these in place are what turn a business from a niche idea into an industry leader that has the potential to start putting pressure on competitors.

Published on: Apr 9, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.