Wendy's founder Dave Thomas once said:
"What do you need to start a business? Three simple things: know your product better than anyone, know your customer, and have a burning desire to succeed."
Besides the fact that it's hard to argue with the man who started a company that today boasts over 6,000 locations and generates approximately $1.6 billion in annual revenue, Thomas is right. Entrepreneurs must know their products. Entrepreneurs must know their customers.
And as for having a burning desire to succeed, that's a given. Starting a business is easy. Building a successful business is incredibly difficult. Without a burning desire to succeed, you'll never work through the inevitable challenges and roadblocks.
That's why my list of three things every entrepreneur needs to start a business is a little different than Dave's:
1. Know your customer.
That requires knowing your customers. It requires knowing what they need, what will solve their problems, what will eliminate their pain points -- in short, what will make their lives better.
No matter how groundbreaking your solution, it only has value if it benefits your customers.
So, how will you know? Test, test, and test some more. Create a minimum viable product (MVP). Get feedback from friends, family, and colleagues. Refine your idea. Test and refine some more.
In the process you'll move past the natural temptation to focus on what you want to provide and start to understand what your customers want. You'll make your product more intuitive. You'll make it easier to use. You'll learn how people respond, and how to effectively market the benefits of your product so customers immediately grasp the value proposition you offer.
While every entrepreneur trusts his or her instincts, successful entrepreneurs also trust testing, data, and the process of validating an idea.
In short, they trust their customers -- because they know them.
2. Know yourself.
When I started LogoMix, I knew how to identify customer needs. I knew how to solve customer problems. I knew what would help customers grow their businesses.
What I didn't know was how to actually build a product that would make my vision for the company a reality. I knew a little about coding. I knew a little about HTML, and system architecture, and user interfaces.
But I'm not an engineer. That's why the first full-time employees I hired were engineers. Their programming and technical skills complemented my marketing and product management skills.
I know my strengths. More important, I know my weaknesses.
Take a hard look at what you're capable of doing. Then find partners or freelancers, or full-time employees (whatever is right for your particular needs) that fill in the gaps.
And make sure you don't hire people to help you do what you do well. Don't hire people so they can take on some of your workload. Hire people who will do things that are absolutely critical to the success of your business.
In short, hire people to do the things you can't do, but that absolutely must get done quickly, efficiently and most importantly, well.
3. Narrow your focus.
Lofty goals are awesome. Lofty goals can help inspire your team. It's great to go after a huge goal.
Just make sure you focus on achieving all the small goals that will get you there.
That's especially true if you plan to bootstrap your business and count on the revenue you generate to fund operations (and further investments). You'll need to provide sufficient value to customers so you can generate revenue and profits.
That should be your initial focus: building a viable business.
Then you can take the next step. Maybe you'll invest in marketing. Or in new products. Or in new services. Or in much-needed infrastructure.
The key is to focus not on the ultimate goal, but on achieving each specific target that will get you one step closer to that ultimate goal. In time, the "size" of the goal you try to achieve can grow as your business grows.
Say you've developed a new collaboration tool and your goal is to land an enterprise-level customer. Great. But enterprise-level customers are hard for startups to land. In the meantime, focus on landing 50 small customers. Do everything you can to hit that target. Later on, you can leverage your growing customer base (and what you've learned from acquiring and retaining them) to casting a net where the bigger fish swim.
Set a huge goal. Then set smaller goals that support your huge goal -- and do everything you can to achieve those goals.
Do that, and with luck the future will take care of itself.