Research, resilience, responsibility
Dr Kishore Dhungana—Director of the Graduate Program at Apex—has more than two decades of experience in the corporate sector. Over the last seven years, he has used that experience to mentor a host of startup founders, many of whom now helm successful businesses. But in the years he has coached Nepali entrepreneurs, he has also come across startup aspirants who would have fared better had they been better informed about the perils of doing business. The following are some of the issues he wishes young entrepreneurs would think through before investing their time and money in a startup.
Research, Research, Research
Risk is the major variable that every business must account for. And the main intervention for mitigating risk is conducting tons of research before you plunge in. To be sure, there’s no such thing as perfect market-information, but unless you thoroughly research the market, your product or service, your competitors and customers, the market regulations, etc, you are setting yourself up to crash. So before you roll out your amazing idea, first focus on research. That’s one of the non-negotiables you need to absolutely nail before you start out. An analogy might clarify what one means by fundamentals: if you are going on a trek it’s imperative that you put on the right kind of trekking boots. You can learn other things about the route along the way, but if you don’t start out with the right boots, you will end up cutting short your trip.
Market Demand as the Primary Determiner of Business Design
In most cases, listening to market demand, and evolving your company—or even pivoting, if need be—trumps sticking to your gut feeling about how your idea will finally have its day. Ultimately, the market will decide what it wants, and you can’t force your idea, no matter how brilliant it is, on a market that has no place for it.
The Importance of Marketing and Branding
Many startups do the requisite research, design a great product or service, put together a great team, and then end up coming up short. Oftentimes, that’s because they did not learn how to market or brand their offering or because they did not make marketing plans right at the outset. So invest time in learning how marketing and branding works and put that knowledge to proper use.
Innovating is Key to Sustained Success
So many companies start out well, build a successful brand, and then start faltering when the big, established brands show up on the scene. Many startups don’t remain relevant because they fail to innovate. But you can innovate on many fronts—with regard to your core offering itself, your management practices, your marketing methods, and a host of other variables. One of the more important characteristics an entrepreneur needs to possess is the willingness to innovate when the competition gets hot.
The Importance of Learning from Failure. Why Accountability Matters
Founders of failed startups are known to attribute their failure to lack of resources. But Dr Dhungana says money, in most instances, isn’t the real issue. When analysing why they failed, founders often do not take other factors into account: a flawed vision, management and marketing shortcomings, other personal weaknesses. Many failed founders will blame anything but themselves. By not pointing the finger at themselves, these entrepreneurs are wasting a great learning opportunity—that of retooling themselves at an early stage of their business journey. It’s common knowledge that a large percentage of startups fail (Dr Dhungana has met entrepreneurs who have failed seven or eight times in a row). But founders who honestly examine themselves, upskill themselves, and use their failures as learning opportunities, he believes, often find success later on.
The Importance of Good Mentors
The importance of getting coached by good mentors cannot be overstated. Having a mentor helps you chart your course, mitigate risk, and make wise choices. So what should a founder look for in a mentor? The mentor needs to be experienced, needs to understand the market exceedingly well, should readily help you refine your vision, and should truly enjoy imparting knowledge.