After having built a successful startup back in the early 2000s, our second one, Voodoo Robotics, was going to be an obvious success. After all, my husband and I were creating a product that would revolutionize the way warehouses and distribution centers pick, pack, and ship orders. At the time, only the largest companies could afford pick-to-light technology, so we set out to level the playing field so that small and medium-sized companies could run with the big dogs.
We created an affordable wireless Internet-of-Things (IoT) pick-to-light system. It was light-years ahead of the competition, whose technology hadn’t changed in nearly four decades. We were destined for success!
Not in reality though. Or at least not at first. Market traction was slow and we discovered what worked in a previous start-up was now outdated or irrelevant. But with the hard knocks came these invaluable entrepreneurial lessons.
1. Plan to pivot
In the early days, we would try a go-to-market strategy and when it failed, we had to pivot, find another direction and try something new. Each strategy needs time to play out, but once you know you are not going in the right direction, you have to change course – sometimes multiple times, before you find the right market fit and a sure way to attract customers.
2. Don’t assume past strategies will work again
Strategies for startup success have changed over time. When I did my first startup, back in the early 2000s, I easily ranked on the first page of Google with my target keywords. It seemed logical to assume that my experience and knowledge would help us rank well once again. I was wrong. That jump from the top of the second page to the first one still eludes us – for now – but we’ll get there.
3. Outbound marketing is the fastest way to scare off potential customers
Do you love getting cold calls and direct mail? Yeah, neither do your potential customers – they want to do their own research. You have to exist everywhere in digital space so they can find you and discover how your solution will help them solve their problem. Once we implemented inbound marketing, our phone blazed to life and orders started rolling it.
4. Read “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller
This NewYork Times bestseller turns the standard marketing message into a story, where your customer is the hero and your company is the guide, offering tools and advice to help your customer overcome a challenge and become the hero of their own story. These insights changed the core of our branding message and the way we communicate with potential customers.
5. Find your entrepreneurial tribe
Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be a lonely road. There are many startup incubators, accelerators, and groups where you can find fellow innovators and mentors. We spent the first years of our start-up in an isolated bubble, and only recently discovered the dynamic and thriving startup community in our area. As a result, we’ve been able to connect, brainstorm, and learn from other entrepreneurs and mentors.
Running a tech startup isn’t easy, but it can be easier. Leverage your local network, find a few mentors, keep learning (even if you’re already an expert), and be prepared to pivot as often as it takes until you find your market fit and start gaining traction.