Lessons I’ve learned as a Founder (so far).

Things I wish I’d known before I started.

Written by Liam Jones (Founder)

I ‘founded’ Foursquare Group in December 2018. So, we’re one of those awkward people who have birthdays in December while everybody else is panic buying late Christmas gifts.

I would consider myself to be a fairly experienced businessperson. All I’ve ever done in my career is manage people, projects and organisations, but Foursquare is the first time I’ve ever started a brand-new business. Apparently nine out of every ten start-ups fail, most within the first 12 months. Despite the odds being stacked against me, building a new business from the ground up has always been an ambition of mine. 

One year on, here are the things I wish I had known before I started, translated into tips for anybody else crazy enough to start a business.  

 

  1. Be clear about what you want.

This might be the most important one. You should have clear goals for yourself and separate ones for the business – they are not the same. Always have in mind why you started the business and what drivers you had personally to do so. Over the last year, I’ve met many other founders whose businesses are doing incredibly well but they’re not happy because they have lost touch with why they set out in the first place.

 

  1. Remember cash is king. 

Always have one eye on cash flow. It’s easy to get carried away with your amazing ideas, but most ideas cost money and money doesn’t come until much later. You should prioritise your spending in order to invest in the things you really need to get your product off the ground. The additional added-value improvements can wait. 

 

  1. Ask yourself (many times) whether funding is right for you. 

With that in mind, question hard what type of funding you really need or whether you need funding at all. Different types of funding bring different types of baggage along with them. If you go for personal funding, then you’ll likely have a debt marked against your own name. If you go for investment funding, then you are highly likely to relinquish some control of your business. (see number 1, did you start this business to be free from outside control?)

 

  1. Don’t plan too far ahead.

 Some may disagree but for the vast majority of start-ups, a five-year business plan is a waste of time. Things change so quickly in start-ups you’ll spend more time planning than doing. My advice would be to have a clear one-year business plan, followed by a further 2 years of potential strategies – three-year thinking will be enough for most.

 

  1. Allow your plan to change.

 Continuing on from the last point, your business will change many times during your first year – this isn’t a bad thing. You need to allow your business the space to grow and try out new ideas. A lot of what you do in the first year will be trial and improvement. If you have a new idea which you think could work, try it out now, new ideas will be much harder and time-consuming to try later.

 

  1. You’ll face new challenges every day so find a way to enjoy them.

 Every day will test you and challenge you in a new way, if you resist this then you’re in trouble. Lessons are where the magic happens, where your business will make most of its improvements. Without them your business will stay still – and so will you.

 

  1. Focus on the product above all else.

 No matter what’s going on inside the business, the customer is king, and the customer only cares about your product. You should allocate most of your time to working on the product in order to get your business off the ground, everything else can come later. 

 

  1. Build a team that cares about your business.

 Your team is the most important thing you have. Put a lot of energy into finding the right people and put even more energy into sharing your passion and vision with them. As a start-up you have the opportunity to build a company culture from scratch, what type of culture will you build?

 

  1. Your health is the company’s wealth.

 Take care of yourself. Don’t let the work take over your life because it will run you down. If you’re ill, tired or stressed you’re no longer an asset to the company. Be healthy, eat well, exercise, work sensible hours and remember the business needs you, not the other way around.

 

  1. Just do it.

 If you have the ambition to start a new business, find a way to do it. Start small if you have to but make sure you act on it, or risk regrets later down the line.

 

Time to wrap this up before a letter from Nike’s solicitors arrives. But their motto of ‘just do it’ is exactly how I want to finish this. Reading the points above back to myself, I wonder whether it would have put me off getting started, but it shouldn’t.

The last year has been the most challenging of my professional life, but also the most rewarding. I’ve genuinely enjoyed every day and I would urge anybody who has the desire to build, create and share their ideas to just do it.

Liam

 

 

 

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