Disclaimer: the headline on this article promises you 11 steps to launch a startup. It does not promise you 11 easy steps or 11 simple steps or 11 anyone-could-do-it-before-breakfast-without-breaking-a-sweat steps.
Launching a startup is difficult—there's no way around that.
In the best of markets, 75% of venture-backed firms fail to deliver returns on their investments, according to 2012 research from Harvard Senior Lecturer Shikhar Ghosh.
Today, VC firms are debating whether that grim statistic might be exacerbated by a forthcoming tech bubble. Nevertheless, many entrepreneurs decide to launch companies every year.
If you're determined to join their ranks, here's what you need to know about how to launch your business so it lasts.
1. Make sure the service, product, or business you're launching is something you're passionate about and you're in it to win, no matter what. Don't start a business that you don't know much about and for which you aren't willing to learn more. It will never grow.
2. Partner up. Launching a company is a long journey (if things go well) that takes multiple skill sets. Few people can claim expertise in product development, operations, marketing, sales, and every other function you'll need in the early days of your business. That's why so many successful startups are founded by partners or teams. Just make sure you have defined roles and mutual respect from the beginning.
3. Articulate the vision and test-drive messages. Even if you plan to stay in stealth mode for a while, to boost your profile and set the stage for your eventual coming-out party you'll need to craft some messages and positions on industry trends. As you near launch, you'll also need to test-drive your value proposition and overall messaging with beta customers and industry analysts. If those messages aren't resonating with those audiences, you're not ready.
4. Build a strong team. Recruit the A players who can help you grow and ultimately launch. Identify speaking opportunities at local events or at conferences with high awareness, where you can talk about industry trends and catch the attention of attendees. Alternatively, get involved with a recruiter who knows your space and the prime candidates in it.
5. Set clear goals. Is the initial goal of your company launch to hire great talent to build your product? Is it to build up a customer base? Or are you most interested in getting venture capital? Figure it out, because the answer or answers will determine what you should do next.
6. Get all Goldilocks about your market timing. Too late is no good. Too early can be just as bad. If you enter the market before your prospects are ready, your company will flame out, and your future competitors will build their successes on the foundation of your failures. Make sure your market timing is just right, and keep an eye on where the competition is in its development.
7. Get your website ready for close scrutiny. It should be optimized for analytics, easy to navigate, and responsive to multiple devices. If your initial goal for the site is to build awareness rather than drive leads, you can feature minimal calls to action and keep things simple at the start.
8. Build up your content and marketing library. As you add content to your website, include basic information—such as product specs, sales contacts, and calls to action—as well as deep content to support lead conversion when that becomes a priority, including case studies (as soon as they're available), e-books, SlideShares, a healthy blog, and other assets.
9. Be sociable. Pick the three most relevant social media channels for your market, and craft a strategy for building your following on each. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other outlets can help you engage with influencers and prospects, amplify your content, and establish yourself as a reliable source of industry knowledge.
10. Craft a pitch. The value-driven message that explains why your company exists should be clear enough that your kids can understand it, and compelling enough that your VC contacts will want to hear more. Make sure you can explain your customers' greatest need and how you're going to solve it. Be ready to identify your competitors and explain why you'll have an edge over them. Finally, practice your pitch and perfect your presentation skills.
11. Build media, analyst, and customer relationships for third-party validation. Blasting out the news of your launch won't get you very far. Concentrate your resources on building relationships with early customers (who can vouch for you), analysts (who can explain how you'll fit into the market), and journalists (who can convey your story and viewpoints to target audiences.)
Launch day is the end of a long road and the beginning of another. To make sure your startup can thrive during the journey, you'll need to walk through those 11 steps first, and find the right resources to help you navigate the difficult terrain.
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