Do you have a startup idea? What is stopping you then?

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Do you have a startup idea? What is stopping you then?

 

(Source: youqueen.com)

 Two startups — Airbnb and Dropbox — have radically changed the way people travelled and managed information respectively in just ten years. Founded in 2008, Airbnb is helping people “belong anywhere” in the world while Dropbox, which is only nine years young, is on its way to build the biggest assembly of human memories that can ever be created. 

 

Their stories can sweep you off your feet. As first timers, they faced similar resistance more or less faced by all startups anywhere in the ecosystem. While most of us can imagine the hardships and challenges that can emanate from starting our own new ventures, most of us couldn’t take that leap of faith to become an entrepreneur over the similar circumstances. But what we can take is enormous learnings from these two startups that transformed into multi-billion businesses because they created their way through the demanding circumstances by not letting adversities stand as an obstruction in their paths.

 

Your idea isn’t big and fancy? Doesn’t matter.

 

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A business of $20 billion, present over 190 countries and with over 1.5 million listings achieved in eight years, Airbnb is often said to be the “worst idea that has ever worked”. Brian Chesky (the co-founder and the CEO of Airbnb) moved to San Francisco to start a startup with a $1000 bank balance and to his dismay, he had to pay $1200 for rent. To meet this financial requirement, he came up with a renting service called Air Bed and Breakfast (Airbnb). Initially, he hosted three people, provided air mattresses and breakfasts and thought it was a cool and funny way to make money for his rent until he came up with a ‘big idea’ for a startup. However, it took him some time to realise that Airbnb would turn out to be the ‘big idea’ he was searching for. “Many ideas come from solving your own problem, which aren't life changing, but can later prove to be,” he says, “All ideas sound stupid in the beginning.” 

Lesson: Who knows the idea in your head or the nagging problem around you might be the next billion dollar business? 

 

Influence and expectations

People around us often advise us to mitigate risks and uncertainties and live a stable life. While sometimes it can also be our choice to stay within our comfort zone, “Life is the enemy of startup,” says Paul Graham, co-founder of Y-combinator seed capital firm. When Brian Chesky told his parents about joining Art School, given its perceived limited scope in the market, they assumed that he will not be able to live by himself. They even suggested Brian to take a job that ensures health insurance to secure at least a part of his life in some way. When he decided to quit his job and move to San Francisco to start a startup, people really thought he required intervention. Today, Brian is a 34 year old CEO with a net worth of $3.3 billion and was named one of Time's "100 Most Influential People of 2015”. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Life can be made easy to live comfortably, but putting one’s foot outside the comfort zone can make life worthwhile. Moreover, according to Drew Huston (ecorner.stanford.edu/videos/2983/Finding-Your-Way-as-an-Entrepreneur-Entire-Talk), Founder and CEO of Dropbox, “You are an average of your five closest friends. So, it can really help to be in a place where your closest friends are also interested in startups and you push each other forward.” 

Lesson: It would certainly add to the benefits if you are surrounded by people who are driven by the similar forces to take risks, challenge the status quo and make a difference. 

 

Problems you think of solving are already solved

Before Dropbox came into the market in 2007, investors didn't find cloud storage to be a very profitable business and they even thought storage problem was not something important to further look into. Even Steve Jobs, who foresaw Dropbox to be an asset for Apple, said it was rather a ‘feature’ than a ‘product’ and that Apple was going after their market. Drew Houston was an obstinate person with his motives. “People make basic assumptions based on what they have now. But you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this really what people are going to be doing in five years?”, Houston says. 

 

 

 (Source: encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com

 

From early days in the startup, Drew Houston concentrated on constantly learning what really mattered to his customers and what kind of products they would love to try. They learnt that file synchronisation (a process of ensuring files are updated at two or more different locations) was a big problem which people themselves didn't know they had and was also not identified by other hundred businesses working on cloud storage. To capitalize on the untapped area, Dropbox offered cloud storage, file synchronisation, personal cloud and client software, which worked seamlessly, and gave them a competitive edge in the market. They created a billion dollar business by identifying the nascent need there was in the market that others didn’t pay attention to. Houston strongly believed that if the idea worked, customer would flock into it. And they did.

Lesson: Even though the ecosystem might be a crowded with businesses, there might still be a vacant prospect of doing things right.

 

You don’t have enough knowledge 

Often, we feel that startup is not our thing because we lack a pool of knowledge about business, finance, marketing, operations, and hundred other things to make strategies and rational decisions in our business. Malcolm Gladwell mentions in his stunning book ‘Outliers’ that it takes 10,000 hours before you can truly become an expert at anything. Do you think there would be anything called business at all if all people thought on these terms? It would take half of our lives in acquiring the so-called necessary skills. And assuming how aggressively changes are taking place, whatever one has learnt will have become obsolete by the end of the period you took to acquire the skills. 

 

During his early years in startup, Drew Houston spent the entire weekend reading about skills he needed to progress as an entrepreneur. He would get three of the highest rated books of any subject of his interest from Amazon and read them through. According to him, this practice didn’t make him an expert, but it gave him a perspective into matters concerning his startup. So, it’s not really about acquiring knowledge over some time and applying them; they should move together. Josh Kauffman (source: https://youtu.be/5MgBikgcWnY) in his book, The First 20 hours, explains how 20 hours of focused and deliberate practice can help one learn considerable something from nothing. Certainly this approach should come handier for an entrepreneur than the ‘10,000 hour’ approach.

Lesson: Knowledge and application of knowledge have complementary effects. You’ll only learn if you apply your knowledge and you can only apply if you have knowledge. It’s all about making the best out of our learning curves. 

 

These multi-billionaires created their stories not in the absence of obstacles, but rather facing them head on. Only you can write your story. And that is, can you take that leap-of-faith? Or not. 

 

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