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What’s a well-known piece of business advice some first-time founders might misinterpret or struggle to implement properly? 

Do whatever it takes to get the word out

New small business owners are told to do whatever it takes to get the word out about their business. But you need to strategize to market effectively. So many new small business owners blindly spend their money in hopes that their efforts will take their business to the next level. When you spend money on things like marketing and partnerships, pay special attention to what your efforts earn you back. Test one thing at a time and keep a close eye on your money. ROI is key. This is a good article to read to start marketing with a purpose.
Deborah Sweeney, CEO,

Listen to your users!

Blake MarggraffFirst-time founders hear it all the time: “Listen to your users!” This is very true, and yet very frequently misinterpreted. Technology startups create new and scalable tools for existing pain points, so it makes sense that the tech’s creators should become intimately familiar with the problem and the product’s consumers before crafting the solution. However, many founders misconstrue the advice to mean, “build your product exactly as your users tell you that you should.” Don’t fall into that trap! Rather, recall Steve Jobs’ quote following the release of the first iMac: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Perhaps an appropriate corollary to that statement is, “Once you’ve shown it to them, listen like crazy!”
Blake Marggraff, CEO, Epharmix

Take the time to hire the right people for your team

Jason KulpaWhen founding a startup, one of the biggest areas you may be pressured to invest in most is software and technology to ensure your company stays ahead of competition. However, investing in your company culture is equally as important. Take the time to hire the right people for your team to build a solid foundation, and strive to create an environment that makes your employees excited to come to work. Put your company culture first, and your employees will be more motivated and productive.
Jason Kulpa, CEO, Underground Elephant

Revenue comes from solving problems – hobbies come from trendy and cool

Kimberly LucasThe one prevalent issue I observe with first-time founders is that they fail to make sure that they are fixing a problem that needs to be solved. Many first time founders are highly visionary and create products because they are cool, or trendy. Revenue comes from solving problems – hobbies come from trendy and cool.
Another prevalent challenge that first time founders face is finding a headline. If you can’t explain what you do in 1 line, then you will not be able to engage a buying audience.
Finally, first time founders often believe that they can and must do every job in their company. While I believe that founders need to be versatile, they aren’t superhuman – and it is preferable that they determine where their value lies and then hire to any gaps that exist.
Kimberly Lucas, President/Chief People Connector, Goldstone Partners

Ditch your pitch and focus on your ‘why.’

Jeff WintersDitch your pitch and focus on your ‘why.'” Lots of “experts” suggest that when you’re describing your business in a sales setting, you should focus on your “why” and how your product or service helps people. For example, “Since I was a small boy growing up in Missouri, I have always cared deeply about taking data from disparate sources and combining it into one central database. That’s why I created” In B2B sales, though, the truth is that no one cares. When you are selling people something, they care about two things (and not in this order): 1. the benefit to them (their company and own job) and 2. the risk. Can this product or service help their company? Can it help their ascension within the company? Both of those factors are all about time, money, and efficiency. Risk is all about how the failure of the product or service (for whatever reason) negatively impacts their company or their role at that company. Neither of these relate in any way to your “why.” Here’s my favorite video on this:
Jeff Winters, CEO, Sapper Consulting

Young, first-time founders often ask for the sale too early and often.

Jason BarbourAds and deals are used so often (especially digitally) that consumers become numb to them if that’s all they see from a brand. When consumers are asked why they choose to buy from one company over another, it often comes down to trust. Establishing your company as a trusted brand involves putting out valuable content that entertains and educates people about topics related to your product or service. Gary Vaynerchuk talks about this extensively in his book “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.”
Jason Barbour, CEO, Metabolic Meals

Know your market, Find your partner, and Remember the three P’s

Ari Rabban

1. Know your market. Do your research, and make certain you’re a true expert in your field before you dive in too deep. You have an idea of a problem you’d like to solve, so study what’s already out there so that you know the other players and alternatives in the space.

2. Find a partner. Starting a business can be lonely. You will have plenty of potential advisors offering their two cents on your endeavors, but when they don’t have their own skin in the game, their opinions will only be worth so much. You’re the one taking risks, making decisions, and executing plans. Having a partner who complements your style and is walking the same path will make every step toward success smoother.

3. Remember the three P’s: passion, perseverance, and patience. In the end, luck may be what dictates success or failure. If you decide to start your own business because you don’t like your boss or want to do better financially, you won’t succeed without 100 percent commitment. If you can’t get up and move forward in spite of setbacks and naysayers, you’ll never stand a chance.

Ari Rabban, CEO,

Hire the jobs you don’t want to do

Jiffy IuenThis is a fantastic piece of advice when implemented at the right time. When you’re starting out, you need to be lean as possible. It’s also important to understand every part of running your business. You don’t need to be an expert in every required role, but you do need to know what it takes to do each one so you can hire wisely. Giving too much trust too soon to the wrong hire may be your undoing.
Jiffy Iuen, Founder and Creative Partner, Frank Collective

Understanding doesn’t mean acquiescence

Jim FowlerFirst-time founders tend to take their business school textbooks’ advice to “listen to your customers” too far. You have to understand your customers, but understanding doesn’t mean acquiescence. You also have to rely on your instincts: Steve Jobs would never have built the iPod if he only listened to public opinion.
Read more:
Jim Fowler, founder and CEO, Owler

Set proper milestones

David EhrenbergOne thing I coach startup founders on regularly is being sure to set proper milestones for their companies as they grow. Improper planning (or worse, a lack of planning) is one of the top reasons we see startups fail. Entrepreneurs should be able to put a solid 12-month strategy in place with realistic goals along the way, followed by higher-level quarterly planning for years two and three. It helps keep the company on the right track while showing a promising vector to potential business partners and investors.
Read more:
David Ehrenberg, founder, partner, and CEO, Early Growth Financial Services

Build a successful board of directors

Rachel JohnsonFirst-time founders are often advised to build a strong board of directors. We’ve met founders who simply ignore the existence of the board and others who stack the board from day one with multiple “advisors.” The truth is, every corporation is required to have a board, but what the board does and how its membership changes with time is often misunderstood. For instance, not only does the board make key decisions such as whether to fire the CEO or sell the company, but board members also often tap into their connections and expertise to help secure new investors or break into new markets. However, creating a board with a large number of experts doesn’t always translate into increased opportunities, but rather may create an unwieldy board process for even the least controversial of decisions.
We recommend that first-time founders read the TechCrunch article, “What you Need to Know about Startup Boards” by Samer Hamadeh and Adam Dinow, for a comprehensive look at building a successful board of directors.
Rachel Johnson, Founder, J+O

You have control of everything

Most business owners love the idea of being in charge. I wish I knew how detrimental micromanaging everything would be when I first started. I thought that I had to make sure everything got done and hovered over my employees, which didn’t do either of us any good. I now take a servant’s attitude to make sure my employees can take ownership of their work. Your company will grow bigger and faster the more you let your employees thrive. – Vladimir Gendelman, Founder/CEO, CompanyFolders


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