in Business

What I wish I knew when I started a bootstrapped business as a young person

I’ve been trying to make money from a very young age. My first time was in second grade. Eventually, that same drive made me start many businesses. This is a collection of things I wish I knew when I started my first real business. Currently, I’m the founder of Kapa99 – Unlimited Graphic Design Help, you can read the whole story here.

Understand what’s a business

If you’re thinking about starting a business because you want to make money, that’s alright. However, if you want your business to be successful, you need to understand what’s a business.

In simple words, a business is an entity that solves problems in exchange for money.

This framework will help you understand all businesses in the world. If you want to understand any business, ask yourself this question: what problem is that business solving for its customers?

Be aggressive

In my first business, I was always very careful. I had little capital, to begin with, and I was risk-averse because of it. In hindsight in almost every business that I’ve worked on, I could have invested more aggressively in marketing for faster growth, hired faster, and overall move quicker in all business fronts. The upside is that you’ll learn faster and grow faster. The downside? You could burn cash too quickly—when you’re young, you have time to recover if things don’t work out. This is the moment to take risks.

Take risks

When you’re young the worst thing you can do is take whatever safe path exists. There’s no fun in that but more importantly, the safe path will always be there. Face your fears, in the process, you’ll realize that every single roadblock is something that you can overcome, if you don’t have money, you will work with that constraint, if you don’t have any knowledge on how to build the business that you have in mind, there’s at least one book or resource on the internet that can help you get started. Go for it and have no regrets.

Be ready to learn and grow as a person

In the E-myth, a book that you should read, there’s a prophecy: your business is a reflection of you. No matter what career or life experience you have, at this point, there are many unknown unknowns. Be ready to embrace that and never stop learning. Knowing a little bit of everything will give you an edge, and the more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to grow your business.

Triple-down on what works

This should be obvious, but when you’re young it’s not because you’ll not know when something is working. The best way I know to make this distinction is to ask yourself this question: are you getting more demand than the effort you’re putting to generate that demand? If the answer is yes, then you have a great shot. It’s time to triple down.

Rent over buying, when possible

A lot of businesses will need space, tools, and services. When possible, rent over buying, you’ll save money and you’ll be able to test different options. Renting gives you optionality and you should always strive for optionality, as that gives you flexibility.

Systematize as soon as you can

Building systems is your best weapon to do things in a repeatable way, which is key for growth. If you’re anything like my younger self you’ll feel like a beast or worse, like a machine, as if you could work 18 hours a day every single day. Believe me, you’ll not be young forever, but more importantly, your business will suffer from being reliant on you. Whether you like it or not, you will get sick or need time off from time to time. Your customers don’t care about that. Systems make your business stronger and therefore, more valuable.

Delegate as soon as you can

Before you can delegate anything you need systems. You need to be able to track that the work is being done to the standards that you have set for your customers. If you have this, then it might be time to make your first hire.

How do I decide this?

If your business can grow faster if you were to invest that time in other activities, then it’s time. This, of course, assumes that your business can financially support that.

Hire young talent over experienced people

This is not always true but in the early stages, I’d value more hungriness for growth in a small business than experience. I’d encourage you to do the same.

Marketing

Marketing is often misunderstood, some people think marketing is giving discounts or doing promotional activities, in reality, marketing is the simple act of crafting a strategy that connects people that have problems with a solution, ideally the one that you want to sell.

There are channels to help you make that connection, the internet has many like social media or email marketing, the real world also has a lot of channels, in the past TV, radio or printed media were big.

What really matters is connecting and for that, half the equation is to have a solution that truly solves the problem that people have, a big pre-requisite for this is knowing that the problem actually exists. Sounds obvious, but this is the biggest mistake I see in young people starting businesses.

Use prototypes and validate your idea first, always

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Before you spend a lot of money on your product(s) or services, make sure that there’s demand for what you have. Be creative. Validate that the problem that you’re going for is actually there.

You’ll fall in love with your solution, don’t make this mistake.

If anything fall in love with the problem, if it really exists, eventually you’ll land with a great solution that people will want to pay money for.

Quit fast

If you were not able to validate that the problem that you want to go after exists, then quit. You didn’t fail. You learned that the problem doesn’t exist and you should not waste time. You’re young but time passes very fast. Find a new problem and start over.

Move on emotionally

Your first failures will break your heart. Starting businesses is hard. Failing is common. I have failed many times and to be successful, you have to be okay with failing, but not just be okay with it, be prepared to learn from it, and grow from your failures. Be ready to start over and over again.

Embrace the unknown

I could type a thousand more things I wish I would have known, in reality discovering these things are part of starting a business, and you’ll never be prepared for everything, you can be better equipped the more experienced you are but new situations and problems will always happen as you grow and try more things, be okay with that and better yet, embrace it.

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