Updated: Jun 13, 2022
I listen to a lot of podcasts about startup journeys. From the outside looking in, it just seems that these household name companies (e.g Google, FB, IG, Airbnb, Uber, DoorDash, etc.) appear overnight. I quickly learned these companies are years in the making and that they are often backed by venture capital (VC).
When we were in the very beginning phase of building BCC, I envisioned BCC following the same path as these big tech companies. Wishfully thinking some VC firm would discover us and come knocking on our door dangling a big check (I admit, my 2020 moon shot was getting VC funding). It has been 4 years, and no big check from the VCs. (Haha). As we grew, I realized that we are not on the same journey as these big tech companies. There are similar challenges on our journey but many differences. Obtaining capital is a challenge we face often. Many VCs are not interested in retail type of start-ups where the main product requires moving “atoms” (e.g. physical items) from one destination into the customers hands versus just transferring “bits” (e.g. software).
As a minority start-up we have unique challenges that are hardly discussed. A main challenge is lack of time. I say time because many times, owners of minority startups also have a 9 to 5. That is 40 hours a week we are not able to give to our start-up. Building a company requires a lot of dedicated hours to be successful. There is also the notion to treat your 9 to 5 as your business partner. Use it to fund your start-up. That is a great way to view your 9 to 5 in a different lens. Time is a luxury, especially the ability to control and use it to build your company. Enough on the challenges, I can probably rant for hours on that topic.
I really wanted to highlight what I’ve learned from listening to so many stories about tech start-ups and how to scale your company.
For any startup, the number one thing you have to do is get customers. You build a product or service for a customer/market. We all love great ideas, but it is a whole other ball game to actually build a product/service and get a customer to buy that product/service. To get a customer to actually purchase your product often entails understanding your customer's pain point.
The second observation from these stories is to stay lean. Do not hire until you absolutely have to. Be strategic with your hiring. Every hire should bring value to your company. With the coffee shop up and running for a year now, I can tell you first hand that that payroll is by far our biggest expense. If you are a young start-up, sadly, there is no cheat code for this, you will have to be the CEO, CFO, COO, etc. as you build your company. :)
Lastly, I learned that these companies do things that do not scale. Often people fall in love with a solution (I'm guilty of it) before truly understanding the problem. Or become so in love with a solution idea that you start looking for a problem that your great idea would be the perfect solution for. Doing things that do not scale goes hand in hand with getting customers. Instead of worrying about how your idea can be the solution for millions of customers, focus on solving a problem that a single customer will pay for. During the early stage of Airbnb, the founders traveled to their customer homes to take better quality pictures of their homes so the listing looked better. The founder of DoorDash did all of the deliveries himself before building a software that allows independent drivers to do the food delivery. By doing things that did not scale, the founders were able to better understand all of the nuances to the problem to help them build a solution that customers are willing to pay for.
Whether you're building a tech company or starting a retail company, getting customers, staying lean, and doing things that do not scale are great mantras to keep on the forefront of your mind.