Entrepreneurship is on the rise, and for good reason. There’s more funding available than ever before, educational courses and content on how to start your own business are easily accessible, and community-driven coworking and innovation hubs are popping up all over the country. It’s a good time to be involved in the startup scene — an industry that’s not going anywhere or slowing down anytime soon.
Despite the rising popularity of entrepreneurship, startup culture brings its own unique set of challenges and problems that its leaders must commit to addressing. Listed below are several challenges that real entrepreneurs are facing today, and advice on how they should be tackled. By working together to overcome these obstacles, we’ll collectively foster a startup culture that’s inclusive, efficient, and valuable for everyone.
Startup culture aims to be inclusive but it remains mostly the domain of white males. This challenge needs to be addressed on a systemic level. It starts with kids — getting kids of all backgrounds to see entrepreneurship as a viable career path. They need to have hands on experience, learning through failure and success. I believe every kid should start a business in high school, if not sooner.
We’re approaching a time when every business is a tech business and every adult will have periods of self-employment during their career. The startup culture should see this as an opportunity: Being truly inclusive will not only output social good, but widen the tent to bring in more talent, ideas, and capital.
2. Product Validation
I’ve seen many startups rush into development of an idea before truly understanding the requirements for a successful product and before validating the financial viability of the opportunity. Whenever someone approaches me for tips or advice on how to start a new company, I always ask them three things:
- How well do they know the problem or industry?
- Why would anyone trust them to deliver a solution for the problem?
- How will they monetize, and if there’s a valid monetization plan, will it be enough to cover the expense of developing and operating the solution?
3. Thriving on Limited Resources
Because of limited resources, I think it’s critical to make sure you have a culture of focused, deliberate work. With so many potential things you could be doing, and with everyone wearing multiple hats, it’s easy for everyone to be reactive and bounce between competing priorities. When that happens, you might find yourselves going weeks or months without really moving your business forward in a material way.
4. Focus Is The Ticket (But It’s Not Easy)
In the early days, you can be opportunistic with new-client acquisition, as that approach will help you learn what works and what doesn’t. But there comes a time in every company’s journey when you have to start saying “no” to clients you simply can’t serve.
Define your ideal client profiles, and target them relentlessly. If a prospect comes your way that does not fit in your ideal profile, help your sales team understand what questions to ask to disqualify the prospect. If the prospect will not allow themselves to be disqualified, you can let them come aboard, but not before setting clear expectations to which they explicitly agree.
5. Lack of Structure
Established companies typically have well-defined cultures, clear goals, measurable performance expectations, and refined training processes that maximize employee skills and optimize performance. Unless the company is lucky enough to have experienced leadership, startups often begin their journey without a definitive culture, which often leads to internal challenges, conflicts, disappointments, and employee turnover.
A lack of historical marketing and sales data makes it difficult to determine and define reasonable goals and expectations. And a shortage of manpower, combined with the need for “all hands on deck,” often means training happens on-the-job and on the fly. A great product, service or business can easily fail without a strong culture, clear business goals, and a proven method for teaching employees how to do the best job possible.
6. Collaborating With The Competition
Startup culture is competitive, but it’s highly important to collaborate. We have to build a strong support network to learn from each other and share lessons learned for positive growth. Another challenge in the startup community is how to address failure in a competitive environment. Failure is a journey to growth. There is a greater chance for innovation if failure is discussed in an open environment.
7. Constant Change
Everything can change in an instant for a startup, especially one in the tech industry, and conflicting directions can make it hard to know if your company is on the right path. A relative once told me: you do well by doing right. Dig deep to determine your values and the principles you want to ingrain in your company and then refuse to compromise on them. As long as you and those within the business hold true to these beliefs, you’ll maintain the right course.
8. Lean Startups Aren’t Glamorous
The fact that there is even a term, “startup culture,” means that it’s been glamorized! People forget that there is a ton of hard work, sacrifice, patience, and emotional stress that comes with the territory of building a new company. Also, with the accessibility of investment money, the lean and scrappy mindset is hard to hold onto, but being focused on where every dollar is spent will only allow a startup to achieve success faster.
9. Managing Disparate Visions of the Future
There are general challenges that affect all startups centering around time management and proper allocation of resources. These daily challenges can be addressed with better organization, effective communication, process evaluation, and hiring experienced advisors.
Although, while these challenges are ubiquitous, what degree they affect a startup is unique to that organization. In my experience, I think the biggest challenge of any startup organization is to manage the individual visions and expectations of those who contribute to the company as the venture grows. Entrepreneurial energy must be directed and controlled, but entrepreneurs don’t like being told what to do. The stronger the alignment of the vision among the contributors, the further it goes before outside help is required.
10. Open Communication
Communication is frequently overlooked as a key component of successful startups. Often in the Startup Culture, everyone is working at breakneck speed, absorbing more work for fewer team members. However, this heads-down, knocking out code and generating sales daily grind can lead to silos within your small startup.
On the other end of the spectrum, in an established organization, there can be a sense of forced or too much corporate communication, from top-down only. There’s a balance out there for the savvy startups: share critical info up and down and sideways — good or bad — to ensure your team members are informed and on the right track.
Land a big account or solve a major coding roadblock? Make sure your team knows! Stumble and fail in a big investor pitch? Share that, too. As you grow your organization, open communication will help build your trust in each other, and speak volumes as your startup scales.
11. Don’t Be Afraid to Do Something Different
Developing a new culture is even harder when the startup is forging a new niche industry or has no direct competitors. It takes confident guidance from leadership to convey the message that the strategies and philosophies that might have worked in previous careers and companies, likely don’t apply in this particular niche. This approach will take employees out of their comfort zone and require extra support. Providing guidance and feedback in terms of priority organization, task load, and level of effort are all helpful ways to support team members during times of transition.
12. Not Taking Your People Into Account
Several startup cultures obsess whatthe culture should be like. That’s the wrong focus. Startup culture comes organically from the people you hire: the who. If you get the right people on the team, then the culture will go in the right direction and ensure success.
As entrepreneurs, we’ll always face challenges — it’s simply the nature of the work. Hopefully, these insights from successful startup founders will you help you begin to overcome some obstacles of your own.