Written by Charles Javelona, CEO & Co-Founder of UnivJobs | www.univjobs.ca
While building my own startup I learned that there are certain traits that are essential to success. When I was reflecting on these traits I found several examples of people I admire who used these skills to their advantage. I realized that success isn’t about what you’re born with, it’s about the skills you use to approach different situations. These traits can be developed and strengthened over time. Before I share my tips on how to launch a startup, here are the traits that I have identified as the starting points to success:
I use to think that you had to be a genius like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos in order to be successful. Turns out you don’t have to be super smart to create a successful company, and what these men have in common with other successful business men has more to do with personality than IQ. Most of these people were determined on achieving their goals from day one. When you’re building a company, you are constantly putting out fires. You cannot survive if you get deflated at the first sign of crisis.
A great example of this is Kathryn Minshew, the founder of Muse. Her career resource job site based out of New York got rejected by 148 investors before ultimately raising $30 million. Imagine getting rejected over and over again, for an indefinite amount of time. It’s demoralizing. Most people wouldn’t be able to get through it, but for Minshew, her determination allowed her to get past the pain and achieve, well, success is an understatement.
2. Relentlessly resourceful
Words like determination are often followed up by cliches like “pursue your passion”, and “Don’t give on your dreams”. The world is an unpredictable place with unpredictable variables. One must be able to adjust their dreams on the go. When faced with obstacles, the smart thing to do isn’t to just push through and try to smash the wall. You go around it, under it, build a door, and figure out different ways to solve the problem.
Let’s take a look at Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann. He had to recruit users manually in the beginning. He would go into Starbucks and ask women what they think of his mockups. He would come back next week to iterate on the designs. When Silbermann didn’t have the money to pay for good software engineers, he decided to network by hosting barbeques at his house. He convinced people who worked at top notch companies like Google to take lower pay to join his startup. That’s one way to source employees!
This may be one of the most underrated skills in any industry. In a startup this type of intelligence is highly valuable. New startups tend to face problems that they have never encountered before. It’s important for them to quickly find creative solutions, and be able to use trial and error. Generally, most ideas in the startup world tend to sound unorthodox. There is a good reason for that. At this stage there is no template or blueprint to follow. If the solutions were known, everybody would already be doing it. So you need someone on the team that has the right balance between imagination and craziness.
An individual who exemplifies this is Apoorva Mehta, a graduate of U Waterloo. Prior to Instacart he had 20 failed startups. When he created Instacart he built the first version and delivered the first few groceries himself. To scale his operations he needed to get investors money. He applied to a startup seed accelerator called YCombinator 2 months after the deadline. He caught the attention of one of the accelerator partners by using Instacart to deliver a 6 pack of beer to their home. After a few hours, he got a call and was asked to meet them the next day. Instacart is now valued at 7.6 billion, and it’s all due to that inventive spirit.
4. Cleverly defiant
Most founders aim to solve a problem. They tend to have a non-conformist attitude to which all they care about is figuring out how to answer big questions and come up with solutions. They tend to be independent thinkers that take great pleasure in breaking rules and beating the system.
Elizabeth Swaney, a Harvard graduate, may not be an entrepreneur but here is an example of how she excelled by beating the system. First of all, at the age of 19 she campaigned for Governor of California, which demonstrates uniqueness and thinking outside of the box. But perhaps her greatest achievement was competing at the 2018 Olympics despite being an average athlete. She found a loophole in the qualifying system and managed to meet the criteria by attending several World Cup qualifiers that had a small number of participants, with the strategy of finishing without falling. By doing this, she became part of Hungary’s Olympic team.
5. Team Player
Most startups tend to be more successful with more than one founder, and the most success stories have 2 or 3 founders. Their relationships are strong: they respect and like each other, and they work well together. It’s a gruelling journey building a company, and relationships can easily fall apart. Shared interests and a common vision usually help founders thrive in the darkest times. Co-founder breakups are one of the biggest reasons why startups fail.
The best partnership that comes to mind is Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Originally, Sergey was Larry’s guide during his visit to Stanford and for the next few days the two opposing personalities clashed. When Larry decided to enroll for Stanford and make his thesis around the World Wide Web, Sergey found Larrys idea fascinating and decided to join. They conceived of the first version of Google despite their opposing personalities, and were able to make it work due to their shared goal and willingness to make it work.
Now that I told you about the traits that I think are crucial to startup success, below is the list of insights I’ve learned while building UnivJobs as a student.
My advice to students on how to launch a startup
Building a startup is hard. I didn’t know how hard it was until I started to build UnivJobs. I actually don’t suggest people starting a company while at school. This is a good time to learn about yourself and make meaningful connections with others. However, if you’re very driven to make one, here is what I suggest:
- Live frugally, think frugally when building your startup. Most startups require startup capital, and if you can, try to figure out a way to start without initial funding.
- Build it to delight a particular group of people. Businesses are made to solve a problem for a particular group. The earlier you understand this the better you become.
- Be open with teachers and let them know that you are working on a startup to get some extra time. I did this a few times, because I was stressed out a lot.
- Find a group of people that you can lean on. Building a startup is hard, you will struggle and your mental health may get affected. You can also use the school counsellors. It’s free for students.
- This is the best time to recruit co-founders, team members and to learn first hand how to deal with people. Test everyone out by collaborating on the projects together.
- Reach out to entrepreneurial hubs. They have a place for you to work and the resources to help you market your company.
- Seek and cold email mentors within your field. Make sure to tell them that you’re a student, you will be surprised how people respond to you when you’re asking for advice.
Universities are now helping students launch and build startups
For those of you who don’t know, most schools in Canada are now pressured to create resources to help students launch startups. When I started my journey, it took University of Toronto to contact me first to join their innovation lab before my school at Sheridan decided to build their own business hub. If your educational institution offers an entrepreneurial hub, take advantage of it as much as you can.
Looking to launch a startup? Follow Charles Javelona on twitter to get more tips.
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