by Chris Thornham, co-founder of FLO Cycling
You have a brilliant idea for a new business. You love it, and you think other people will, too. So you take the plunge headfirst, right? Not so fast.
My brother Jon and I started our first company with a similar mind-set, and it failed in a matter of months. We created Painting With Purpose, a charitable organization that sold digital copies of paintings created by children with special needs. Unfortunately, not many people came to our site or bought our prints, and our business fell flat.
I gleaned a few valuable lessons from the experience, and we used those to grow our next business, FLO Cycling, into a success. Here’s the advice I’d give any starry-eyed entrepreneur:
1. Find Where Your Passion and Consumer Demand Intersect.
Jon and I were extremely passionate about Painting with Purpose, but that didn’t mean our audience felt the same enthusiasm. We should have settled on a product or service that aligned with our passions and appealed to consumers.
If you’re passionate about your work, it won’t feel like work. FLO Cycling has allowed me to use my passions and outlook on life in my career, and I’m happier for it.
2. Gather as Much Feedback as Possible.
Because Painting with Purpose was a completely new product and market, potential customers had no idea what we were selling. Trying to teach every prospect about a new market was extremely challenging, and many people didn’t take the time to figure it out. We didn’t gauge market demand from the start, and that set us up for failure.
Before launching your product, you need to involve your audience. When Jon and I started FLO Cycling, we let potential customers play a part in the product development process to build demand and loyalty from the beginning.
You should also talk about your product or service. Join a few online forums, and seek out opinions from potential users. Do everything possible to feel out customer interest before investing your life savings in a venture.
3. Do Every Job Before You Hire.
Many entrepreneurs hire too early. As a business owner, you need to fully understand the ins and outs of each position before bringing on new team members. You’ll learn about challenges, work to improve efficiency, and gain a better understanding of how your business operates. And that knowledge is priceless.
Obviously, you’ll need to hire experts when necessary. Invest in attorneys for legal advice and other crucial technical roles. But always read up on the position or industry to ensure you understand the role and hire the right person for the job.
4. Invest Time and Money In Marketing.
Jon and I thought our first business idea was so ingenious that it would spread like wildfire. But anything worthwhile doesn’t come easy.
Before we started FLO Cycling, we spent countless hours researching marketing because, as engineers, we really know nothing about it. We’ve dedicated most of our time to marketing, and though it’s been difficult, the effort has paid off tremendously.
No matter how revolutionary your idea, potential customers won’t know about your company unless you tell them. Make marketing a priority so you can gain traction and start forging relationships.
5. Stay Humble and Motivated.
Just because you own the business doesn’t mean you need a $5,000 cherry desk and a luxury car. Reinvest money into your business in the early years to spur grow.
Jon and I hit so many unexpected roadblocks in the beginning. Building desks out of two-by-fours and having a little extra cash in the bank has saved us more than once. The money won’t expire. If you’re still successful in a few years, you can spend it or, better yet, invest it.
Many of my friends started businesses and thought they could work four hours a week from a beach because they delegated or outsourced most tasks. But every business needs a highly driven, passionate person at the helm, especially in the beginning. You might be able to step back from the day-to-day operations eventually, but you need to first invest in building the business right.
There’s no perfect startup formula; every business has its hiccups. But by aligning your passion with consumer demand, communicating with your audience from the get-go, building out an extensive marketing strategy, and working relentlessly to manage and lead your business, you’ll stand a fighting chance to achieve entrepreneurial bliss.
Chris Thornham is a co-founder of FLO Cycling, which engineers aerodynamic cycling wheels. The company uses computational fluid dynamics software to develop its wheels and verifies its results in a wind tunnel. Less than three years after launching, the company has sold 10,000 wheels to customers in 51 countries.