Starting something new is always challenging. We all realize that but still rush into the obscurity of a new business. Beetroot began as a start-up in Ukraine, and as such, we have endured more obstacles than most. We’ve learned an endless number of lessons and from each one, emerged reinforced, strengthened in our resolve and—just maybe—a tiny bit wiser.
We’ve also had the privilege of working, together, with a lot of start-ups, many of which we’ve grown up with, side by side. We would like to share a few insights, nuggets of wisdom, if you will, to make your journey easier.
Having no contracts
At the beginning of your entrepreneurial endeavor, working with friends and relatives comes intuitively. However, when entering the business world, everything changes. Saying “Let’s just do our thing, we’re working towards the same goal” is not quite enough. You need contracts, and they have to be watertight for both parties.
Having contracts doesn’t mean that you’re being a bad friend, just a rational one.
We once worked with a client who was also an old friend. We bonded over our passion for entrepreneurship and didn’t bother to sign a contract—the mere thought of legally regulating our friendship felt uncomfortable (don’t worry, we’re still friends). Things worked out well until we had our first strategy disagreement. Obviously, at this point, having a legal basis to fall back on would have helped tremendously. We learned, the hard way, that contracts are necessary. Having a contract doesn’t mean that you’re being a bad friend, it just means that you’re a rational one who knows your waltz from your tango.
Not delegating responsibilities
As with the majority of start-up owners, we did everything on our own in the beginning. It’s natural. Not only because all “start-uppers” are generalists, but also because we usually have no one to truly rely on. We like the thrill of diving headfirst into the unknown—and building a team takes time and success.
Eventually, we started growing, both in terms of people and finances. This enabled us to delegate at least a part of our enormous “to do” folder. But we didn’t. Why? Because we were scared to entrust our company to someone else who might ruin everything we worked for so long to build.
I’ll give you an example. Having had a vague vision of what Beetroot should be, and how our brand should look, we scrambled together an initial identity and communication. I can’t say it was bad—it was authentic and got the job done
Yet, once we’d invited a professional marketer to give his view on things, we were very positively surprised by how well an external person was able to understand our pain points. Someone different was able to take our vision and put a great, new spin on it. It wasn’t an easy call to make, but deep inside we knew that a generalist needs a specialist to unlock the real insight, shrouded by the confines of one’s own limited perception.
We strongly believe that the success of a start-up partly depends on how fast you’re able to entrust, at least some of your agenda, into the hands of another talented colleague. Every time we did so, we wondered why we hadn’t done it earlier.
Relying too heavily on a business plan
Some say you don’t need a plan. Most people say you do.
We had a pretty darn good plan and followed it with due diligence. In the end, it left us cold. It felt like it held us back more than it helped. We’ve updated our business plan once per year and each time saw that we followed through on only half of our objectives.
The success of your start-up will depend on your ability to adjust to circumstances.
Business plans are a fantastic tool when pitching the start-up to potential investors (*cough* I hope they don’t read this). They also help you get a good overview of your business and see the milestones. Notwithstanding this, when it comes to the real business environment—fluctuating and evolving—business plans can’t be too rigid if you want to play ball in the modern world.
The success of your start-up will depend on your ability to adjust to circumstances. Sometimes, it means changing your business plan on the move. Don’t let this scare you. Being a small start-up you can afford being flexible. You’ll hardly have the same plan throughout all the years of entrepreneurship. Just make sure that you preserve the main idea and stick to your values.
Not knowing what team you need
At the dawn of our business, we realized that the very idea of teams should be at the core of our company. We don’t have any physical products, after all, but we have people, who constitute an abstract product in themselves. Reasonably, the success of our entire operation depended on finding dedicated, enthusiastic team members, who would share our values, ideas and passions.
That task sounded complicated. And it was. Building a team is an art in itself—you don’t know who you need and where to find them, you just have an inkling, a vague visualization of a unicorn, that you hope is out there.
There is no single blueprint on how to build a team. Sometimes you’ll hire someone because of their outstanding experience, sometimes, just because of what your gut says. What we’ve learned in our way is that your team should burn with the same fire as yourselves. Otherwise, despite their solid experience, they’ll possibly not understand your vision in hand. Without this, you most likely won’t be able to build trustful or mutually beneficial relationships.You’ll most probably make some mistakes along the way, they are unavoidable. But keep looking for your ideal candidate and you’ll find many who come close.
Lack of focus
One of our previous articles described the magical power of saying “no”. This superpower is quite relevant in terms of efficiency for your start-up. A stubborn inability to say “no”, or to stay focused, has been the end of nearly half the start-ups we’ve encountered to date. We almost became one of them.
An inability to stay focused has been the end of nearly half-start-ups we knew.
Although we were aware of the potential consequences of “messing around”, we couldn’t resist the urge to say “yes” to the tons of offers and inquiries that came our way. As a result, we had no time, or resources, to put into our main business. Side projects also suffered, unattended and underdeveloped. We were on the verge of failure and from that moment on, decided never to lose focus of our core business.
Even today, with growing side programs, like Beetroot Academy, we try to make them independent organisms, fully functionally on their own. If there’s a business case for something, and if you have the capacity to say yes, then it’s worth doing well.
The path of the start-up is riddled with pitfalls and risk. As entrepreneurs, we probably wouldn’t be here if it were any other way.