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9 ways the high-growth startup scene is like Snakes and Ladders

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1. Risk and uncertainty inevitable with a start-up

Risk and uncertainty can represent both snakes and ladders for a high-growth start-up. By implication, as an innovator, you’re likely to be a risk-taker. Taking calculated and considered risks can pay off nicely if you have all your business ducks in a row. The downside of risk is that sometimes you’ll get it wrong, or things will happen that are out of your control, forcing you down a snake. Keeping your eyes open and your business wits about you will help you objectively assess risk and move ahead with confidence.

2. The need to multi-task

The nature of startups is such that you’re likely to have to wear every business hat. While this may suit some innovators or entrepreneurs, it might be enough to tip others over the edge. Being decision-maker, manager, sales person, marketing man (or woman) as well as bookkeeper and general dog’s body can be the thing that forces you down a very long snake after a 16-hour day working on your innovation. Being prepared for this and doing what you can to outsource or seek assistance will help.

3. Significant milestones that will push you forward

A significant ladder is likely to be your first customer, or the day you secure desperately needed funding, or when you realise you’re starting to get the right team together. No matter what the milestone, make sure you take time to celebrate and to use it as the launch-pad for your next achievement.

4. External threats that you have no control over

No matter how certain you are of your innovation, no matter how considered and concise your preparation; there are things that can shoot you down a slippery snake unexpectedly. PESTLE analysis, which involves analysing potential impact on your business from the following factors: Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental, will help you build resistance to such risks.

5. Sniffing out investment

Moving up the business ladder more often than not relies on having the right investment at the right time. Making sure that your business blocks are in place to attract the right investor means that you will be able to move ahead swiftly and efficiently when the time is right. Not underestimating the time it’ll take to secure investment and being aware this part of your journey can be stop-start-stop-start should encourage you to plan well ahead.

6. Choosing the right route to market

It’s common for new products to have a range of applications in a host of different market sectors. Making the right decision about which market to target first is tough, but essential. Accurately predicting outcomes is nigh-on impossible, but you need to do your analysis and make an informed decision before going to market.

7. Focusing too closely on one customer or one niche

While one big customer in a single market sector might seem like an easy ride up a nice, smooth business ladder to get you quickly to the top of the game, this can be a highly risky strategy. Having a wide and diverse mix of customers, so you never have all your eggs in one customer basket, is definitely preferable.

8. Engaging in a varied marketing mix

In this day and age, there are a whole host of ways to market your product, from social media and networking to good old trade press promotion. However, it’s essential that you have your product (or service), price, promotion, place, people, packaging, process and position in place before you even think about going to market.

9. Getting the sales cycle spot-on

Making sales often gets dumped at the end of the marketing cycle as if it’s a given that if you have a good product packaged and priced right, and promoted well, then the sale will come. That way of thinking is naïve and to be avoided at all costs. Developing a robust and intelligent sales strategy will give you the best possible chance of converting more buyers. Another thing to remember here is that the lead time to make a sale is more often than not much longer than you anticipate, so allow for that in your emotions as well as your finances.

Peter Andrew is head of Innovation at Alba Innovation Centre.

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