So, you’ve decided to start your own business—congrats! You’re probably nervous about taking the leap, but if you want to find a better job, sometimes you have to break out on your own. We turned to local business experts and the founder of cool NYC companies to find out what makes a successful start-up.
Find a void and fill it.
The best business ideas present a specific, innovative solution to a missing service. While serving as her wedding-publicist sister’s maid of honor, Kellee Khalil started thinking about how useful it’d be to have a search engine dedicated to just weddings. She took it upon herself to create Loverly (lover.ly), a sort of Pinterest-Google hybrid that allows brides-to-be to comb through hundreds of thousands of nuptial-related images of dresses, accessories, food and more, sorted by category or color. “Even with all of [my sister’s] connections in the wedding world, I was still 30 pages deep on Google, while also looking at ten different brand sites for just the right necklace, dress, decor, shoes, etc.,” says Khalil. “It seemed totally surreal that in 2010, there wasn’t an all-in-one resource to plan the several events leading up to the wedding.” Since launching in 2010, Loverly’s grown to 13 employees, plus a slew of interns, and a rech of 2.6 million people across its networks.
Be creative with money.
Entrepreneurs may be accustomed to thinking outside the box, but many still feel beholden to traditional methods of fund-raising and spending. Noah Rosenberg, founder of local, longform-storytelling site Narratively (narrative.ly), used popular crowd-sourcing platform Kickstarter (kickstarter.com) to raise start-up capital and decided to forgo an office space to save dough. “We did a cost-benefit analysis, and working remotely just made the most sense,” he explains. Once you have the cash, knowing how to allocate those all-important funds is just as crucial to success. Get familiar with finance and development basics with a local or online workshop run by Score (score.org), a national nonprofit dedicated to helping new businesses get off the ground.
Use your personality to develop a fan base.
By developing a specific point of view and geeking out about your own brand, you can spark a shared enthusiasm in others who will, in return, become your biggest advocates. “Build something that people feel connected to,” says Christine Onorati, who co-owns and -operates Greenpoint’s WORD bookstore (wordbrooklyn.com) with her husband, Vincent. “Businesses can’t thrive if they don’t have a supportive community around them.” To cultivate that sense of camaraderie, the Onoratis go beyond the usual in-store events and bulletin boards with a matchmaking board (“Between the Covers”) and basketball league, which requires interested parties to pass a mini bibliophile quiz before joining. In fact, the owners have built such a robust following that they’re opening an outpost in Jersey City in September 2013.
Be open to feedback.
It’s easy to become so focused on the task at hand that you drown out all other voices. And while that can be beneficial at times, it can also stunt your progress. Digital entrepreneur Aaron Shapiro, who co-founded consulting firm Huge Inc. (hugeinc.com), learned this the hard way when he and a colleague became so attached to another start-up idea that they hesitated to adjust their concept, even after the corporations who’d be using the product gave them suggestions to make it more user-friendly. “Really listen,” he says. “You have the ability to be flexible.”
Keep emotions in check.
“Having a boss often means having someone tell you what to do, someone you can go to for help,” says Christina Wallace, director of the Startup Institute’s NYC arm (newyork.startupinstitute.com). Being your own boss means that any problem or failure rests on you. “There will be moments where you look at your staff and think, If this call doesn’t go well, I won’t make payroll,” she says. “That’s really hard, but you have to keep a stiff upper lip.”
Dig in for the long haul.
Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint—and there’s no set finish line. Starting a company takes time and commitment, and working at the expense of your health and relationships will only hurt your business (and you). Try to find time to relax and reboot, and use the time you spend networking wisely. Consider joining a meet-up group such as New York Entrepreneurs Business Network (meetup.com/NYEBN) to find people who understand exactly what you’re going through and can help you succeed personally as well as professionally.