2012 has been a great year. Lots of apps published, a fair few number 1 rankings and a lot of learning and fun along the way.
I have looking back over the year, so here are my 19 top tips for starting a successful startup in 2013.
1. Don’t build something that is already reduced to half price in the supermarket. Develop in a market with high demand.
2. Passive income is a beautiful concept. Whatever business you plan to start, make sure that when you make your product, you can make it once, and sell it multiple times.
3. Reverse engineer why the biggest companies in your business area are successful. Read their blogs and try out their products. Figure out why they are making money. Do this before you start to build ANYTHING.
4. The best things in life are free. Never spend a lot of money making a feature or element for your product until you have spent 3 hours googling for a cheaper alternative. Don’t reinvent the wheel, it costs too much money.
5. You can start a tech startup without a CTO and be successful, despite what the VCs say. One word – odesk.com
6. Use the two greatest startup tools known to mankind: Google search and twitter. If you know what you’re looking then search for more knowledge on Google. If you don’t know yet what you need, follow interesting people on twitter.
7. Free money is always nice. But you do not need grants, an incubator or an accelerator program to be successful. Sometimes they actually make things more complicated.
8. Start small and test your market. Got an idea for a great new game app? Great. Build a tiny section of it for $400, (outsource on odesk.com) upload it to a separate account on the app store and test your theory. Do not spend $28,734 and 17 months making it, launch it with no knowledge of the market and wonder why you’ve only got 10 users.
9. Build an audience or become profitable asap. A successful business is not defined by about how much money it spends, but by how much money it makes. Bootstrap. Keep your costs low. Hustle. Check your bottom line every day and keep spreadsheets.
10. Chances are you won’t success first time out. But throw enough mud against a wall and learn fast as you go, and you’ll see some of that mud will start to stick.
11. Don’t spend too much time with people who think they are important, like the sound of their own voice or sound great but have no proven results. The first two will give you a headache and the third will lose you money. Be a rebel, not a sheep. Implement only proven results.
12. Knowledge is power. Find great mentors. Think big, not local. Fire up google again. Find successful stories of startups and businesses in your field. Often these people have great blogs and share tips on twitter. If they have proven results, inhale every word they say. If they are doing a talk a 17 hour plane trip away from where you live, book your tickets and get there asap.
13. You should know four times more about your market than you do about your product. If you don’t, start learning fast.
14. Get your hands dirty. Understand every role in your business and be able to do stuff as well as hire people to do stuff. This is the best way to reduce risk, get closer to your customers, flush out rogue contract bids and get to market quickly with a high quality product. You have a lot more knowledge and with this you can avoid the problems instead of walking right into them and wondering how it happened.
15. Ego doesn’t make money. It doesn’t matter if Mom has three encyclopedias of your press cuttings at home and the neighbours are sick of hearing about you. Awards, press, retweets, facebook mentions, radio interviews, TV interviews – unless they directly increase your profits, will lose you money. You are wasting your time on your ego instead of your bottom line.
16. Make money from your customers, not from your VC. Getting money from your customers means your business is working and you have a sustainable way to make even MORE money. Getting money from your VC has no concrete alliance to the health of your business and will not last forever.
17. Network. Maybe not right at the start, but once you’ve got a few small projects shipped to customers and have a few dollars starting to come in, then it’s time for you to get out and meet new people. You’ll never know what will happen. I’ve won free clothes, bought a book, been offered a job, got my website fixed, been totally inspired, and met the most amazing people who I hope will be friends for life.
18. It’s all about the money. Spending 3 months invoicing accounts departments to get paid will make you cry. No one looks pretty with a blotchy face. Set up your business with a different payment model if humanly possible.
19. They say if you believe in it, it will happen. Sorry – no it won’t. When you believe it AND you work your ass off AND you have great mentors AND great knowledge AND you know your market inside out, then you have a small chance of creating something wonderful. And when it works, it is incredible.
Chocolate Lab Apps was founded in May 2012, its iPhone and iPad apps have been number 1 in 34 countries in the app store during the last 8 months in entertainment, games, photography, finance, health and medical categories.