build your business, not your network (Wired UK)


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Being a key player on the startup “scene” in
Europe seems to have become more important than actually building a
business. This needs to change

The European startup scene is thriving, full of bright young
things trying to turn innovative ideas into real businesses.

But, increasingly I’m starting to feel that things are getting
out of kilter: the startup scene seems to have become more
important than the actual building of successful businesses.
There’s a fascination in being immersed in the startup culture –
people want to see and be seen — and this is getting in the way of
actual work.

Don’t get me wrong: getting in front of the people who can help
you along the journey is vital. But you see the same businesses at
all the events and I can’t help thinking they’d be far better
spending their time in developing what’s really important — the
product. Startups don’t sell to each other; with a couple of
notable exceptions, the events can be a little like hairdressers
meeting up to cut each other’s hair.

Having an ecosystem can be valuable; there’s no doubt about
that. As we’ve seen in several hubs across Europe, birds of a
feather flock together; there are some really good things happening
in London’s Tech City but
there’s too much focus on the geographical location.

There seems to be a growing number of competitions too — I
could name at least a dozen in London alone. But no great company
was ever built because it won an award.

Building a business is tough, really tough. There’s simply no
substitute for hard work. It may not be obvious how to best spend
your time. So, based on my own experience of creating successful
businesses from scratch, here’s where I think entrepreneurs
starting out should focus their efforts.

Firstly, invest blood, sweat and tears in developing a truly
compelling product. This is absolutely crucial. If the product’s
not right, the best network in the world won’t make it work. When
we first created the Tradeshift
platform
, it took ten (incredibly intense) months. We had a
team of talented, driven and hardworking developers committed to
the project relying on about two hours of sleep a night — and that
was just the start. The reason the number of businesses on the
Tradeshift platform has grown so quickly is largely down to the
time investment we made in the product from the start.

Secondly, get out there and sell the product. Don’t show it off
to your peers at events: hit the phones and knock on doors from
morning to night to sell it to the people who matter — potential
customers. If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a
business!

Thirdly, do it yourself. We’ve reached a point where
entrepreneurs with a great idea almost automatically think ‘Which
incubator should I go to?’ Instead, get the experience yourself. Go
to a startup which has already made it and work there to see how
it’s done. Incubators play a really important role in nurturing
young companies, offering insight and a ready-made infrastructure
in their early stages. But they also inoculate against failure
which, though often unpleasant and always challenging, is really
important. You shouldn’t fear it.

The innovation coming out of Europe is truly, truly amazing. But
in order to convert that innovation into more thriving global
businesses, I think we need to refocus a little. Being in a
startup’s not like being in the movies, so let’s not try to be
movie stars. Let’s get to work — the rest will follow.

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Christian Lanng is CEO and founder of Tradeshift, the
business-to-business network

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17 June 2014 | 1:29 pm – Source: wired.co.uk
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