Starting and growing a new business has much more in common with a tornado than you might expect at first glance. They both begin with a lot of howling and blowing and, if you're not careful and lucky as well, you could end up losing the house. While it's never a good idea to bet against Mother Nature or gravity, the good news is that many of the things most likely to bring your business down are man-made and sometimes the product of your own actions or --more likely - inactions.
It's increasingly clear that the costs today of true inaction far outweigh the risks of just about anything you're willing to try to do. Keep in mind though that refusing to do things cheaply or quickly or too broadly or before you're fully prepared isn't inaction. It's good decision-making. The things you say "no" to will in the long run will have a far greater favorable impact on your ultimate success than any quick hits or shortcuts you get roped into pursuing before you're ready or before it's time. Two easy ideas to keep top of mind: 1) Don't say "maybe" when you should say "no" and 2) Don't try to do something cheaply that you shouldn't do at all.
Everyone is an expert on everything and a million people are willing to give you advice-- especially when they have no responsibility or liability for the outcomes. (See Expert Advice is Overrrated.) Their advice almost always sounds the same: "do something now"; "go big or go home"; "if you snooze, you lose"; "be the first mover", etc. But sometimes the best decision you can make is to say "no" and that's not because you don't want to act --it's because you want to act when and how you choose, and when the time is right. It's not always the popular choice or decision, but it's almost always the smart one.
There are certainly going to be some unavoidable risks and existential threats to your company that you'll need to respond to. You'll go nowhere if you try to keep your head in the sand and just creep carefully forward. Things are moving too rapidly in the global marketplace to act defensively and a go-slow strategy of risk avoidance can be a death sentence for a startup.
At the same time, there are also some bumps in the road and some obvious pressures and problems that you can sidestep if you keep your eyes open, pay attention to the signs, and know where to look. The trick is not to let any of these influences (the need for speed, the gospel of scale, the ecstasy of expansion, etc.) or the influencers (analyst and media musings, competitors' and critics' complaints, investor agendas, politicians pushing for publicity) pull your business apart. Screw up your courage, stick to your guns, do what's right for the present, and be ready to flex in the future.
It's really a matter of physics. Critical mass actually is critical and it's your job to build or assemble CM and to hang on to it. You as an entrepreneur are a centripetal "force" pulling everything, all the time, toward the center --you're focused, attentive, deeply involved, trying to hold a lot of things together. And you're up against centrifugal forces constantly conspiring to do the opposite: pulling things away from you. That includes "trying too much too soon," "spreading yourself a mile wide and an inch deep," "trying to be all things to all people," among others. But as any good entrepreneur knows in his or her heart, you can't have it all.
The trick is to not get tricked into trying.
While many of these concerns are external and market- or competitor-driven, the most insidious ones are from the folks you think are your friends and who technically should be looking out for your best interests. Here's a flash: if they're human and they're breathing, they're looking out for their own interests first. That's just human nature and not a bad thing per se, it's just something to keep in mind as you consider their suggestions and thoughts. A grain or two of salt doesn't just make the soup tastier.
Influencers come in several recurring types, sizes and shapes. Watch out for these:
(1)VCs and Aggressive Investors
Most of these guys never met a farm they wouldn't bet and your business (in their minds) is no different. Full speed ahead is the only speed they're interested in and, if you don't make it, they'll be long gone when the layoffs begin. Only moonshots matter; being in the middle of anything else is mediocre at best and boring, which is even worse. You're trying to build a strong foundation for a sustainable and profitable business and they're trying to find stories they can promote and sell to the next round of greater fools. It's not easy to tell these people to cool their jets and that your pace doesn't reflect the depth of your passion or your commitment. The best advice I can give you is to try to make sure that you've got some board members and other advisors (not investors) who've actually run businesses to help take your side in some of the silliest of these arguments. They can help you push back. (See Why It's Better When Board Members Back Off.)
Politicians also love big winners, but they love patronage more. Their primary goals are favorable publicity (no surprise) and spreading the wealth around, meaning spreading your wealth around. As soon as they see a roaring success in the city, they want to put you and your business on the road and have you build copies and clones throughout the state or the country - whether it makes the slightest sense for you to do so or not. Because their focus isn't on your progress, prosperity or profits, it's on the populace at large and, as they see it, the more sites and stories the merrier. This is a great way to over-extend your business so much that nothing works anywhere and then - of course - it's gonna be shame on you when it all comes tumbling down. Meanwhile, they'll be over the next hill chasing the newest shiny story. Rapid expansion is always exciting until it isn't and it looks easy to everyone who doesn't have to execute the plan.
The media operate on a simple principle. They'll love ya 'til they don't (hello, Groupon); they're always waiting for you to slip on that banana peel and take a tumble. I realize that they're a necessary evil, but you need to be very careful that you're not saying things or doing things (even worse) to "prove" something to these people because (a) it's never enough to satisfy them in any case and they won't believe you anyway; and (b) it's a fool's errand to waste your time trying to impress people whose livelihood is much more about finding the warts and shortcomings in your story than in celebrating your successes. The best thing I can say about your interactions with most of the media today is the advice I heard long ago about why it makes no sense to wrestle with a pig. Only the pig enjoys it and you just eventually end up covered in mud.
The bottom line is simple: these are all distractions that do next to nothing for your business and are best avoided as much as humanly possible. Keep your head down, keep your eyes on the prize, keep moving forward and all the rest of this stuff will take care of itself if and when it matters at all.