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So you’re dreaming big. Congratulations, because even that requires guts. The fact that you are reading this article is proof enough of how serious you are about your dream (or whichever stage of planning your startup you are at). Thankfully, due to the business-friendly policies of this country, setting up a business is not difficult.

The real challenge for startups though begins after their business has come into existence. All of us, after all, have heard of the horror stories about more than 90% of businesses failing in their first year!

The aim of this post is to acquaint you with what happens once a startup has materialised. The host of challenges that come in its wake — hiring people, chasing new customers, keeping the old ones, spending on marketing, buying the office space, building teams, breaking even, basically the never-ending roller coaster ride.

Good planning and research, along with passion are key to success in business. You will have to eat, sleep, and breathe your business for it to turn into a successful venture. And while we are sure you know this much, there is always a danger that an element of idealisation may set in at some point.

Let’s look at the nuts and bolts of what it means to actually run a startup. For example, how does it feel from one day to the next, and what are the typical problems and challenges a startup owner faces in the first year of operation.

Wearing Many Hats

You will be the CEO, the founder, the employee, the admin, the HR, the office-hunter, the marketer, the salesperson, the secretary, the receptionist, the interviewer, the coffeemaker – basically a one-man army in the first year of your business. (Really helps to have co-founders!)

Mentally prepare yourself for a level of multitasking like no other. Expect to run around all the time.

Stress? That is going to be your bedtime partner. So start reading up on books and blogs about how to minimise stress and up the ante on your productivity.

Tweaking Your Product/Services

Any product or service that has not been paid good attention to, or that which is simply not improving, will not last long.

So take your time with developing a sturdy and reliable concept, and then translate it into a product or service you can effectively sell. As you test your product or start finding new customers you will realise its limitations. Take the criticism (early setbacks) in a positive spirit and come up with an improved product. Be prepared to be a very fast learner or you risk going out of business, as indeed many startups do in Singapore.

Finding New Customers

Finding New Customers

Building business is all about finding new customers and delivering top notch services. Sounds very simple in essence but can get tricky in execution.

Expect your phone to go off anytime and be ready for a professional conversation even in the middle of the night. As advised by GE at the Lean Startup Conference last month, businesses should treat their first customer as their CEO. Now that’s a thought for you. In any case, the takeaway is clear — treat your customers with a high degree of regard and deliver on your promise each and every time. Can you do it?

Building a Good Workforce

When we envision our startup success in the future, one of the first images to come to mind is that of a swanky office in an upscale locality, full of smartly dressed employees.

In many ways this image does contain certitude of success if it does indeed materialise.

However, in all the talk of finding new clients, making contacts and winning new business for your startup, the very important consideration of choosing the right kind of employees for your company sometimes gets relegated to the backburner.

Make no mistake about it. Finding and retaining good employees is as difficult and as important as finding and retaining clients. In fact, we’d say it’s even more difficult than finding new clients because employees are expected to stay with you for at least a few years and will determine the quality of your business. On the other hand, clients come and go, and you would still make good money off them.

The very high level of competition in Singapore means that you will have to fight to attract and retain a talented workforce. Being a startup, you may be disadvantaged against bigger companies when it comes to paying out good salaries. Unless you get lucky with the kind of people you attract, this could turn out to be a big challenge for you.

Ping Ponging between Panic and Complacency

Ping Ponging between Panic and Complacency

Running a startup is a full-blown emotional rollercoaster ride and entails an unbalanced work-life existence. This is the least you can expect in your first year as a startup owner in Singapore. Not just here, in fact, anywhere, because that is the nature of the beast.

There will be days when you will be heady with a sense of accomplishment. Even though your journey has just begun, feeling mighty good about yourself is only natural, especially when you see your friends still struggling with jobs and borrowing money from their parents. The future looks great with Singapore going from strength to strength.

And then there will be days when you will be trying hard not to panic. You failed to fulfill an important order. A trusted client turned their back on you. The loan you were counting on didn’t come through.

You may lose your sleep; certainly your appetite. Having a loving and solid family helps. But if you don’t have one, you will have to make it through yourself. So expect some rough times and be ready for any eventuality.

In conclusion:

It’s important to keep in mind that these emotional extremes and round-the-clock demands on your time will continue for the first few years, with the very first year being the hardest. Being so busy is also a huge indication that your ideas are actually working.

There is a reason so many startups fail, and they are mostly related to a lack of thorough preparation and/or inadequate adaptation to a fast-changing scenario. If you anticipate tough challenges ahead and are ready with a number of contingency plans, you can emerge victorious. So expect things to get very hectic and stay on top of the challenges. Your journey may well include a string of successes!

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