The biggest challenge all early-stage companies face is learning how to scale.
Serial entrepreneur Angela Benton has been through it herself, and now she sees this struggle everyday at NewME, a San Francisco-based startup accelerator she founded that focuses especially on supporting minority and women founders.
"Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. I think most people are afraid of fear," Benton told the audience Thursday at Inc.'s annual Women's Summit in New York City. But fear--and a healthy dose of honesty--can help you navigate those early, uncertain days, she said.
NewME, which first launched in 2011, has worked with more than 300 early-stage startups worldwide, backing them with about $17 million, collectively.
Along the way, Benton learned much about the particular challenges first-time founders face. Here's her advice:
1. Define roles, and don't be afraid to delegate.
In the early stages, it can be tempting to take on everything yourself. The best entrepreneurs know when and where to outsource.
When Benton first launched NewME, she brought on a program manager to deal with the day-to-day aspects of the business. That allowed her to spend time making and developing important relationships with investors.
"I could not afford to not have those relationships in the investment community," she said.
Benton also said that sometimes the most valuable employees come from unlikely places.
"My biggest piece of advice is to seek out people who are thinking outside the box," she added. "Seek out people who aren't as familiar with your industry.”
One other helpful tip she offered: Surf resources like Salary.com, a database that compares salaries for various roles at businesses across the country. Check out what kinds of roles other companies have filled and use it to help you figure out how you might delegate duties at your startup.
2. Talk to your customers, and be flexible.
The odds are high that your business model is going to change over time.
NewME, which initially launched as a 12-week course, is now just a one-week course.
Benton said she realized she needed to pivot when NewME was only supporting about 16 entrepreneurs annually. "I saw all of this demand that really wasn’t being served. I felt kind of stuck," she said.
Communicating with your target demographic--and knowing exactly who you aren't serving--will help you develop your model into one that can last.
3. Be honest with yourself.
Entrepreneurs, it's true, are an optimistic lot. That's not always a good thing.
"A lot of times, we're not being honest with ourselves," said Benton. "When you're honest with yourself, you're going to be much more successful."
This is when becoming more comfortable with fear is important. Are you simply afraid of pushing forward, or are you afraid that what you're doing isn't working? That's the key question. With time, experience, and the support of mentors you can fine-tune your intuition so that you can tell the difference.