When I started my company, Metal Mafia, I didn't come from a wealthy family, Kickstarter didn't exist, and raising venture capital worth millions of dollars wasn't an option. Instead, I focused on creating a business plan that was thorough and a strategy that was sound. 12 years later my company is still standing (and thriving!), unlike a lot of startups that began with a ton of money in hand. So if you are dead set on the idea that starting a company can only come from a round of fundraising, think again. Here are 7 ways to set up a company with staying power-- even if you don't have a trust fund or a connection to Silicon Valley.
1.Carefully define your product offering--and understand that trying to be everything to everyone is a recipe for disaster. Niche is not a bad word. Know your niche, and think about the product attributes that will help you own it. Designing smart is far more important that spending big.
2. Spend only on the important things. Customers don't care if you meet with them at a folding table instead of a fancy conference table--they care that your company is focused on getting them the product they need, for a price that's fair, delivered when you promise it will be. So save the money you thought about spending on a chic office or a silly ping-pong table and put the money where it truly matters--on building a solid infrastructure for your company, on beefing up your product or service, and on doing more for the customer.
3. Don't farm things out. You need that external marketing team like you need that fancy office. Learn to do everything you can in-house instead of using third parties. When money is tight, you want all the control you can get over how it is spent. Learning every aspect of your business in the early stages will let you better understand how much things actually do and should cost. No subcontractor or external team will watch your bottom line like you do.
4. Get down in the trenches. No one likes to work with or for someone who is not pulling his weight. Yes, opening a company is a chance to call the shots, but your voice will carry further and resonate more with all those working with you if you, too, are in the trenches doing the hard stuff. Elbow grease costs you personally, but it also saves a lot of dollars.
5. Make your marketing about your customer rather than your company. The key to getting your company off the ground quickly--and this is a must if your pockets are shallow-- is focusing all your promotional materials on directly showing the impact the product will have on your target customer's life, rather than trying to extoll the product's virtues in a general way. The consumer needs to understand immediately how your product will change his existence--not how your product will change the world.
6. Always be selling. Let me say that louder--ALWAYS BE SELLING. Nothing is more crucial to an enterprise whose time is limited than making sales. Make sure that every person who works at your company, including yourself prioritizes selling as the number one activity to be engaged in. Every contact you have with the outside world should be about selling. Calling a potential client to let them know you exist is not enough. If you you're afraid to talk with your customers, you will fail. Ask for the sale on every call--loudly and directly.
7. Listen like your life depends on it. Whether it is seeking out the whispers about where your industry is headed or hearing out your customers' critiques of your product or service, listening with an open mind is the easiest and least expensive thing you can do to tweak, pivot, or grow your company in record time. And we all know that when you don't have dough, time is money.
Getting a new company off the ground is not about begging angel investors to buy in, or getting investment funds to buy you out. It's about having a market-worthy idea, an ass-load of willpower, and an even bigger commitment to working as much as it takes to make it happen.