Spry Digital is FIVE YEARS OLD! I am incredulous just typing that. It seems both longer and shorter than five years since we formed Spry. We are certainly a different company than what we first imagined Spry to be, which is to say that we grew in ways we could not have predicted and planned for. It’s been an exciting ride, and I’m very proud of what we have accomplished.
I recently spoke at the last Women 2.0 St. Louis meetup. The organizers asked if I could provide some advice on entrepreneurship. An anniversary like ours offers opportunity for reflection, so I harnessed my introspection and found some nuggets of wisdom to share with those just starting down the startup road. These are the tips I shared:
Don’t go it alone
I recommend bringing on at least one co-founder or co-partner. Ideally, look for those who balance you and bring skills and experience that you don’t possess.
Each partner at Spry has a different, and complementary set of strengths and skills. We joke that we form the Voltron of web development. For instance, Sheila Burkett has extensive experience in technology and management from her experience as a partner at Edward Jones. In addition, she had already started a few small businesses. She knows the ins and outs of actually running a company. Ken Moire has extensive experience in branding and marketing, as well as user experience design. He keeps our focus, and our client’s focus, on the end user. I bring my technical experience to the table, as well as my resourcefulness to find new solutions to existing problems.
Along with the rest of our team, we possess the strengths and experience to provide great solutions for our clients. We wouldn’t be able to offer the depth and breadth of services that we do without each other.
If you can’t or don’t want to bring on a co-founder, find a mentor or advisor to help you with the parts of running a business you aren’t familiar with. There are some great resources in St. Louis for startups — so many more than when we started! Accelerate St. Louis, ITEN, the T-REX incubator downtown, the StartLouis meetup, the Venture Cafe every Thursday at the CIC, Women Entrepreneurs of St. Louis (WEST), are all great local resources, not to mention the startup accelerator programs like Capital Innovators, Arch Grants, Prosper, among many others.
Embrace your weaknesses
Recently, I read an article on having the confidence to be comfortable with your weaknesses. This article was a nice reminder that it’s important to acknowledge our limitations, and allow others to do so as well. This lesson is also important to learn when starting a business.
No one, and no business, is good at everything. Pretending to be otherwise expresses a lack of confidence and trustworthiness.
When starting a company, it can be scary to admit your limitations. You don’t want to scare potential customers away, and when you’re struggling to bring in business, its really hard to turn down potential income.
But having limitations is good! It helps you focus your business and your role in the business. If you have a million great ideas, and you don’t know where to start, then let your weaknesses help narrow your focus.
Understanding where your weaknesses lie will encourage you to reach out to others with different talents, and different points of view. This helps foster collaboration and diversity of opinion.
For instance, I started a local DevOps meetup because I needed to learn more about DevOps practices for Spry and for OpenDonorCRM, and this type of meetup didn’t yet exist in St. Louis. Because of this, I’ve met some really talented people, I’ve learned an awful lot, and it’s opened new doors for Spry.
I’m not saying to avoid areas where you are weak. Don’t let it stop you — just know what they are, acknowledge them, and don’t be afraid of them. The rewards will be worth the effort.
Every assumption you make in the planning stage of your company will be challenged, if not totally overturned. Your business model will change, your product will evolve, the people you work with will come and go. Technology is changing daily. This is natural.
This is something you should plan for.
For instance, have an operating agreement from the beginning if you have co-partners or co-founders. Focus on business and technical processes. If you’re creating a product, be sure you have a really easy way for your customers to provide feedback so you can evolve your product and make it more compelling to your users.
Most importantly, change is where ideas come from, and will continue to come from. Innovation only comes from changing the status quo. Instead of bracing for it, embrace it and figure out how to make it work for you.