5 Lessons I Learned from Launching Startups Online and Offline

By Zaheer Dodhia
Here’s a number for you: there are some 472 million self-identified entrepreneurs worldwide (without even counting those who dream of founding a startup but who haven’t taken steps yet).

More than 300 million startups are founded each and every year.

And here’s the big shocker: research suggests that the failure rate for startups, over the first ten years, sits high at about 90 percent.

I’m not noting these statistics to warn anyone off from founding their own startup. If anything, the sheer number of new startups each year should tell you that launching a new company isn’t anything unusual or frightening.

But it does require forethought, planning, investment — and a few other things, too.

From launching an online company to dabbling in in-person and brick and mortar businesses— and beyond — here’s what I’ve learned.

Be Adaptable
The first rule of survival in both online and offline startups, as far as I’m concerned, is a simple one: be ready to adapt.

The importance of adaptability is well illustrated by the changes that we as a species have gone through over the last year and a half. When the pandemic started back in March of 2020, businesses shuttered for weeks and even months at a time, some of them never to open again. There was a sudden scramble to provide online services. From the first to second quarter of 2020, ecommerce sales jumped a whopping 30 percent. By the end of the year, it was over 44 percent — as opposed to the less than 20 percent growth that was seen in 2019.

Those who adapted to the change in circumstances were the ones who survived.

Creating solid plans for all contingencies might seem like overkill, but if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we can never be too well prepared.

Be Ready To Invest
Entrepreneurs cite funding as vital to a successful startup, and I certainly don’t want to take away from that. The more funding, the easier it will be to make it past the first few years of operation — and cover for lean times that emergencies and disasters provoke.

But the investment I want to emphasize on is-your personal investment. Your time, effort, energy, attention, and even your emotions.

Most people launch startups because they’re already emotionally involved in what they want to do or feel strongly about.

But sometimes we launch startups purely because we think it’s going to be an easy way to make money without having to work nine-to-five. And, at least in my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sure, there may be that one in a million chance that you create a product that sells itself, then just sit back and reap the benefits. You may have even seen ads to that effect.

But the truth is, startups require investment. You need to go into it without a self-sparing attitude. Be ready for sleepless nights and long hours grappling with problems that seem to keep renewing themselves. Don’t look for the easy way out — the only easy way out of a startup is to not start it up at all.

Be The Competition
Sometimes, as an entrepreneur I will think of a great product or service idea, do a quick search, discover that someone else is already providing it, shrug, and forget about it.

I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

Well, stop it.

Experience doesn’t say that we should be afraid to be the competition. Experience says be the competition.

The very first company to manufacture a handheld mobile phone, back in 1973, was Motorola. Imagine what the modern cell phone industry would look like if every other company had said, “Oh well, looks like they’ve got it covered.”

Instead of deciding to ignore your idea, change your reaction to one of inquisitiveness. What are the differences between your idea and the product that’s already in place? What would you change, add, offer? What would you do better, if it was yours?

And then make it yours. The fact that your idea is out there already means that there’s a market for it.

Startup opportunities lurk everywhere, from dropshipping to delivery services to selling used laptops for cash and reselling hosting services — just because someone else has had the same idea doesn’t mean it’s any less of a worthwhile prospect.

Be Focused
If you have the entrepreneurial spirit, it’s easy to get distracted by whatever the next big idea crosses your mind. And having new ideas isn’t bad — in fact, it’s a skill that not everyone possesses.

At the same time, though, you can’t let your new ideas run roughshod over your older ones, especially if they’re still in the delicate startup stage.

It’s important to know when to act on an idea, and when to shelve it for a later time so you can continue to focus on your current startup.

Be Patient
A final vital lesson I learned from running startups was the absolute need for patience.

Startups are a lot like children. I remember when my nephew brought his baby girl home, holding her carefully, and said, “I can’t wait until she’s old enough to be fun.”

We all, as startup creators, are all anxious parents, looking forward to the point where our creation starts to walk and talk on its own. We don’t want to worry about forgetting to nurture it often enough, or neglecting it somehow, or dropping it on its head.

But we have to take the patient approach with our startups. Don’t expect too much too soon. Don’t push too far; set goals, but set boundaries, too.

For a startup to be successful, it requires investment, backing, careful handling — and a clear view to the future. Be patient with your company, let it grow organically, and pretty soon you’ll see it taking those first careful steps — and then learning to run.

Zaheer Dodhia is a New Jersey-based serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience in managing startups in the graphic design and technology sphere. He’s founder and CEO of Logo Design, a SaaS brand-design company in Yardley, Pa.


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