Growing a startup from scratch is like jumping out of an airplane and trying to make a parachute using a thread and needle as you plummet towards the earth.
You want to create the first-ever of something but resources are limited and time is running out.
To raise your next seed round you need case studies, but to get case studies you need a round of funding.
Sometimes it's fun and exhilarating, but the other 23 hours a day you feel like you're gasping for air as you wonder why you left your regular job.
Unfortunately for entrepreneurs, the odds are not in your favor. In fact, over 95% of seed-stage startups fail to raise a Series A.
However, there are startups who do succeed, and get successfully acquired or even go public.
What separates the winners from the losers? There's a lot of factors, and it's not always easy to draw correlations.
However, there are three hacks that many startups have used to become successful:
1. Leverage the Latest Technologies
When you're building a new company, it's not easy to do it alone.
Many companies will try to build software that makes their day-to-day tasks easier. In some cases, this works. In most cases, building software that isn't tied to the company's core value proposition only serves to take away time and resources that could be spent on product iterations and important tasks.
While large companies have the luxury of outsourcing some of their tech needs and purchasing expensive software platforms, startups don't have the budget for this.
Fortunately, there are a few options for startups who need fast growth but don't have the funding to support an enterprise-grade software.
HubSpot's Startup Software enables startups to manage their entire online marketing regimens from one single platform, at a price point that any seed-stage startup can afford. From SEO, to content marketing, and from lead generation through lead conversion, the platform provides startups with a top-to-bottom marketing solution that replaces software like Wordpress, Yoast, Hootsuite, Buffer, and Mailchimp.
In addition to HubSpot, Mixpanel has a soft spot in their heart for startups.
As mobile apps become increasingly popular and many startups build their business model on mobile, it is becoming increasingly imperative to be able to measure the ROI and understand the activity of your app. Without understanding user behavior on the app, startups lack the information to iterate effectively. Mixpanel has been a saving grace for many startups who need the data on their app but lack the budget.
2. Customers Before Product
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of believing that "if we build it then they will come."
Some of the smartest tech gurus and innovative minds believe that if they create something valuable then people will recognize its value and adopt the product. Unfortunately this is far from true.
Even if you create something so unique and valuable that it has the potential to provide value to virtually any user, this doesn't mean that your customers will understand, believe in, or even recognize its value.
Rarely do people adopt a new product without some sort of encouragement from a friend.
Rather than relying solely on the merit and functionality of your product to attract users, your goal should be to go out and get those users yourself. Promoting your product and selling to customers should be a key focus if your goal is to have your product be absorbed.
Don't wait for your product to be perfect; ship it, test it, and iterate. Lean practices are what helps keep your startup afloat.
3. Build Your Brand Today
As the saying goes, "fake it till you make it."
Even though your startup might not currently have the success you hope it one day achieves, success begins on day one with the image of your company that you create. The way that the world sees your company, the way that your customers and investors perceive and understand your brand - that is the basis of your success.
If you can grow a strong, unique, enticing brand early on it will parlay into long-term success. Branding is about understanding your customers and investors, understanding what they want, and catering to that perspective. All else being equal, a strong brand will be the deciding factor for many prospective customers and investors when deciding which company to support.
The reason why branding is so important for the growth of early stage startups is because everything is speculative at that stage. Startups don't have the long-term proven success, the customer base, the proven product, or the tangible metrics to demonstrate their value.
There simply isn't enough substantive value in a pre-Series A company to factually illustrate their value to the market. Thus, people rely on brand when evaluating worth.
Get press and focus on marketing. Don't wait for people to know your name - tell it to them.
4. Leverage partnerships with other entrepreneurs
There are countless other startups in the same position as you.
Rather than observing passively their actions and progress, try establishing a mutually beneficial relationship to learn from each other's successes and failures. Often times, people who are in a similar situation as you have things they can teach you.
Also, because of their relatively small size, each startup usually has a weakness. By talking and spending time strategizing with other startups, you can more easily define and ameliorate your weaknesses and continue on your path towards success.