In 2010, I started a company called Socratic News. It is still in a relatively early stage of development, but I have already learned things that could be relevant to other entrepreneurs. Here are seven pieces of advice based on the biggest mistakes I have made up to this point.
Start a company you are interested in. Everyone tells you to start a business you are “passionate” about. While that advice is on the right track, it could stand to be clarified. Socratic News was originally an unbiased news site. I was frustrated with the bias seen in the news, especially on television. In a sense, you could say I was “passionate” about making the news less biased – I believed it would be a good thing to do. But was I “interested” in unbiased news? Not in the least. I didn’t even read unbiased news myself a lot of the time. It was only when I asked myself, “What would I do for a job if I could do anything?” that I changed the company’s direction. I was interested in political theory, especially libertarianism. I wanted to be able to read and write. So, I gave the site more of a libertarian focus. It has done much better since.
Many business companies are struggling to lunch their business from an early stage, and if you don’t set up the rules and strategies at the beginning, you may lose everything you have invested so far. On the other hand, if you plan to build a company from scratches, then you need to be prepared for additional expenses. In this case, you can always hire a company which will provide you useful advice and strategies which will boost your business from the start.
On the other hand, you can always research the web and talk to many experts who are in this branch because they will be able to provide you useful recommendations.
Get a job in the beginning. I started Socratic News directly after graduating from business school, but I took over a year until the traffic on the website began to increase. None of the stuff you do in the early stages of a company is urgent. They can easily be done after work or on weekends. In the beginning, you are trying to find a formula that works and begin to build a following. It can take a lot of time. If you have a job, you can save money. If you choose the right job, you can also learn more about your industry.
Don’t do it by yourself. I started Socratic News by myself. I thought I didn’t really need the help. That was a mistake. Not only is it boring to sit in front of a computer by yourself all day, it is helpful to get constant feedback and motivation from other people. During the first three months, I was in a business incubator with 12 other companies. Even though the other people in the incubator weren’t working on my company, just having people around to constantly bounce ideas off was a huge help. I found my productivity dropped after the incubator ended. Also, if you choose the right partners, they should be able to fill skills you lack and more than make up for the equity you are losing. In my case, I don’t know how to write code, and so I had to contract out to developers whenever I wanted to make a change. This would sometimes take a lot of time, and it was very costly. It would have been much smarter to partner with an IT guy from the beginning.
Content is more important than style. I paid way too much attention (and money) trying to make the website look as good as possible. However, all of the improvements to the design of the website had no noticeable effect on traffic. Only after I started paying more attention to the content, did I start to see an increase in traffic. The same mistake is probably made by people in other industries. If you are starting a restaurant, for example, it is probably better to pay more attention to the quality of the food than the layout of the restaurant.
Don’t waste time on the company description. I spent a lot of time rewriting the “About” page on the website. I rewrote it more times than I can count, and I was never happy with it. I think the problem is that in the beginning, you really don’t know exactly what your company is. Making a detailed description is likely to only limit what your company can eventually become. I finally decided to make the description of the website as short and vague as I possibly could. I will likely make it longer and more detailed as the company continues to evolve.
Don’t think too much. In the beginning, I spent too much time trying to figure out what the “right” course of action was in different situations. Don’t waste your time. Just go ahead and try your best option. If that doesn’t work, try the other. If that doesn’t work, figure out something else. This will allow your company to evolve and grow as quickly as possible. It’s better to be like a baby learning how to walk: Just start walking. You’ll fall over a lot, but eventually you’ll figure it out.
Don’t give up. This is the one that I haven’t made (at least, not yet). Starting a company is a lot harder than you probably think. I remember people saying how hard it was, and I was like, “Yeah, maybe for you.” But it hasn’t been easy for me, either. There will be plenty of setbacks, but as long as you keep working at it, you will eventually get the excitement of seeing your company begin to grow.