Five Lessons In Launching A Startup

By Chris Stegner, CEO and Co-Founder at Very Big Things, a leading digital product agency focused on digital transformation and disruption.

I became an entrepreneur for one simple reason — I wanted to achieve greatness. From a very young age, I knew I wouldn’t be happy with mediocrity. Making a dent in the world truly drove me, and once I figured out that being my own boss would afford me the opportunity to do great things, I never looked back.

From founding my first startup at 13 to becoming the CEO of an award-winning digital product agency, I have learned a ton a long way. Here are some of the top five lessons I’ve gained and why each one is so critical to building a successful company.

1. Establish your core values.

It’s hard to know what the identity and direction of your company are without having your core values established. Core values are the ultimate nonchanging priorities. 

It comes down to identity. For example, at my company, our core values are happy team, happy clients and exceptional products. Simple. We never deviate from that, and we’re religious about making sure everything we do, say and put forth is aligned with our values. I believe narrowing down your core values to three is the right way to go about it. Ultimately, your values will help you make every single decision needed. 

When a difficult situation presents itself, the first thing you need to ask yourself is whether or not that particular situation or opportunity is aligned with your values. If that particular situation or opportunity does not align with your core values, don’t entertain it. Keep your focus on what’s important and figuring out how to scale. 

2. Create a winning environment.

A key element many entrepreneurs overlook is creating an environment where all team members are motivated and hungry to innovate and disrupt. The latter is quite the endeavor. 

Assembling a team is one of the most exciting parts of starting a company, but there are some key components to keep in mind to do it right. It’s crucial for everyone you hire to understand what their role is and for them to embrace being a superstar in that role. This can be accomplished by giving everyone a clear path and direction toward what your company is trying to accomplish. You should look to only hire people who want to win and are willing to put their ego aside for the betterment of the team.

I always like to use sports as an example. When you think of some of the best teams to ever have been assembled, what do they have in common? Clear direction, the desire to win and everyone understanding their role. When your team’s values are defined, it’s much easier for them to know what they’re working toward.  

3. Deliver a meaningful experience.

This is crucial. The formula for creating value is being able to deliver an amazing product and a meaningful experience at the same time. But not everyone can deliver a high-quality product right off the bat. As a leader of a company, there may be times where your product is not up to par, but as long as you know the value you are trying to provide, this is something you can power through.

Believe it or not, no matter what kind of product/service you provide, if you provide a painful experience, it isn’t worth it. I’ve learned that people would rather have great support and a mediocre product than a great product and mediocre support. At the end of the day, the “yes” you get from a client derives from their being able to trust you and trust that you are going to give them the holy grail — a great product and a great experience.

4. Establish clear priorities.

Being able to master this was one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in my career. Identifying what to pay attention to and what can wait will help you make significant strides in getting your business where it needs to be. If your mission is to deliver the best product or service in this world, then your priority should be just that. From an operational and business perspective, your priority needs to be delivering that quality product or service you’re aiming to be the best at — everything else comes second. Your initial hires should be strategic in helping you fulfill that mission. In our case, we needed to perfect building digital products if we wanted to scale. I threw marketing and sales out the window and just focused on how we were going to create amazing products. 

Once you perfect your mission, you can then focus on other priorities. For example, after we solidified our initial team that was essential to building exceptional products, we began investing in sales and marketing so that we could share our story and let people know why we are amazing at what we do. 

5. Put in your 10,000 hours.

The great Warren Buffet once said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” If you want to be an expert in your space, you need to plant seeds of knowledge and let them grow into trees. I’m a true believer in putting in your 10,000 hours and failing early and often to get to where you need to be. 

Once you zero in on your goal, you need to create an agile process to help you accomplish it. Think of yourself as a product that’s being iterated over and over until it’s perfected. Dive headfirst into everything that has to do with what you want to excel in and eliminate the fear of failure. Try to think of failure as if it’s your friend. It’s what’s going to help you get one step closer to your end goal of perfection. Be ambitious. Be resilient. That’s the only way to survive in the world of business.

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Forbes – Entrepreneurs

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