Marketing guru, entrepreneur, and investor Stewart Owen has worked with Fortune 100 giants and startups alike. He shared insights from his vast experience working across industries as well as with sustainable, local, and mission-driven food brands with the founders of FoodFutureCo’s cohort companies, and now we want to share his wisdom with you. Here are Stewart’s ten time-tested ways to give your new business the best shot at success:
1. Be Ruthlessly Honest with Yourself
Make sure your actions align with what your goals are. People sometimes say they want to change the world but then make decisions solely based on what their circle of peers think is a good idea and ultimately have a very limited effect.
Compare the legacies of Vladimir Lenin and the Occupy Movement. Lenin sought to change the world, and his actions—for better or worse—matched this. Occupy, on the other hand, emerged at a moment in American history where it could have mobilized America’s working class. However, it only appealed to a niche group and did not manage to effect significant change.
The first important step for an entrepreneur is to define their goals and then to be brutally honest with themselves about what actions will be necessary to achieve those goals.
2. Attribute, Benefit, & Value: The Best Selling Ideas Work on All Three Levels
A great product offers something that sets it apart; it has a set of attributes that differentiate it. Ask yourself, “What is genuinely different about this product?”
Next, determine what the benefit is. How does it make someone’s life different and better? This could be your end consumer. It could be your distributor. Lots of different people should benefit from what you offer.
Finally, the most successful products function at the values level. People look at your product and think, “Hey that’s me. This product is for people like me. This was created by people who share my values.” Companies often overlook this, but the strongest, most powerful consumer bonds are at the values level.
Take a hard look at your product and write out how you’re different, what benefit you offer, and how people will identify with your business.
3. Know Your Enemy
Ask yourself, “Who is doing it wrong? Who is not doing the right thing by its customers?” It helps to have an enemy. The last business that I built and sold was an advertising agency called McGarryBowen, which my co-founders and I grew to about $250 million. From the day we started, we had a clear enemy: the big giant agencies that bait and switch. We wanted to do something different. Identifying the enemy brings more clarity to what your company’s attributes, benefit, and values are.
4. Ideas Matter; Teams Matter More
Obviously your ideas are important. Nevertheless, as much as ideas matter, teams, people, and execution matter more.
It’s rare for one person to have an idea that no one else has. Take Facebook as an example: lots and lots of people were playing around the idea of connecting folks online, but Zuckerberg and his team out-executed everyone.
Building a great team—a team where people feel comfortable disagreeing with you, where people are really good at their jobs, and where people live and breathe the business—is more crucial.
5. Hire for Potential
You can teach skills, but you can’t teach passion or brains. Hire people who you think have the ability to become more than they are now. And then keep looking at them and asking yourself how much further they could go.
Often people get typecast at their company, and this is a real liability for a startup. If you have an entrepreneurial business that is growing, your people are going to have to grow with you. If you typecast your team, when you have a new need, you automatically look to the outside to fill it, and people start to feel that they can’t move up. Very often people change jobs because they sense they can’t get to the next level where they are.
Hire smart people—ideally, hire people who are smarter than you. Hire people for what they can become and give them opportunities to fulfill their potential.
6. Take the Money You Need and Not a Penny More
Be cheap. Not only will this enable you to keep more control and ownership, but too often companies treat investor money like it’s not their money. They spend money they wouldn’t spend if it was theirs. Be aggressive but be cheap.
7. Make Mistakes (and Learn from Them Quickly)
Successful companies don’t necessarily make fewer mistakes than unsuccessful companies. In fact, sometimes successful companies make more mistakes because they act.
Companies are often unsuccessful because they freeze if they don’t have all the information or because they don’t admit their mistakes until it’s too late. Winners act decisively, they own their errors quickly, and they the fix them.
The single biggest gift you can give yourself as an entrepreneur is to see the situation for what it really is. You are going to mess up many times, and that’s perfectly okay. Just acknowledge your missteps and correct them quickly.
8. Fall in Love with Your Customers
You have to love your customers. You will not do a good job, you will not treat them right, and you will not make a great product or provide good service unless you love them. Figure out what you respect about them and why you want to serve them. If you have people on your team who don’t care about your customers, be extremely wary of those individuals. If they are disrespectful of your customers, it will seep into their work.
9. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren't after you.”
Paranoia is usually warranted. If you have a good idea, others probably have also had that idea. If you’re doing well, someone else will likely try to take your idea and outperform you. They simply will. It’s important to wake up every day and ask, “Am I doing anything wrong by my customers? What could I do better?” Be paranoid about others and also about your own performance. No matter how successful you are, you’re always vulnerable.
10. Remember to Be Lucky
You can make a lot of mistakes and succeed. You can do everything right and still fail. There is always some element of luck. Remember to be lucky.