Startup Diaries: The Secret is Not the Key to Success

So, you have an awesome idea for a business…  now what?

You mainly have two choices: one, you keep the idea to yourself and hide it from everyone else, because someone might copy it; or you just start doing something about it and start asking people if your idea is something they would use or buy.

One of my biggest mistakes was to choose option one for a very long time. I had this idea in 2009 of creating an online personal styling service, that I religiously kept to myself. I was, basically, afraid that someone else would copy my idea. So, I spent many hours thinking how I could make this idea happen but never had the guts to follow it through, to take it to the next level.

In Portugal, we have a common saying that goes like this: “O segredo é a alma do negócio” which means, in English, that “the secret is the key to business success” (actually “alma” is soul in English, but I adapted a bit). I grew up listening to this, just like any other portuguese, and somehow I thought that the saying was somehow true.

So, I basically did what society taught me to do, I hid my idea from everyone else. Now that I look back, it kind of reminds me of Gollum from Lord of the Rings, when he says “my precious!!”.

So, ok, I made the wrong choice a few years back. When did I learn that I was wrong?

Early this year I had a great opportunity to go into an accelerator startup programme. I already had my idea, but at the time I thought: “I’ll grab this chance, and work on someone else’s idea… meanwhile I’ll learn a lot”. Well, that last part was definitely true, I did learn a lot on that accelerator program and it was truly an eye-opener.

After just the first week of the program, I finally realized that I had been wrong all along. I learned that, for a startup, it’s really important to test and share your idea before you do anything. And I mean anything! If you start a business, in the blind, the chances are that you’ll most likely fail right from the start.

That week totally changed my perspective! I learned that all startups, especially if you’re bootstrapping or in a tight budget (like most of them), need to start from a market perspective.

The first thing you need to know is: “Do people want your product?” “Is anyone willing to pay for your service?”. If you don’t know this, it’s hard to go through… or you just can go on and, after spending months building a product and wasting money on it, you may realize that people are not interested and don’t want to pay for it.

You can find all the answers you need just by asking potential customers. Make surveys, (use google docs or other) interviews, talk to your friends, family, go find your potential customers and ask them yourselves. If, right now, you’re wondering how to reach your potential customers, it’s easy! What are you selling? Computers? Ok, then, you need to for example go to the front door of a computer retailer store, to a local computer fair, or even an Internet café… you have to go to the places where you can find your customers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m just writing about one of the most important things I’ve learned so far, in my short, yet very intensive road to entrepreneurship.

Though I started this year, with Styling Up, I somehow feel that the learning curve is pretty fast and tight. And I don’t mean this in a negative way because I’m loving it and, right now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

Meanwhile, if you’re starting your own business, I strongly recommend that you read these two books: “Business Model Generation”, from Osterwalder; and “The Lean Startup”, from Eric Ries. They’re awesome readings that will open your eyes… well, I can assure you that they opened mine.

I’ll try to post here every once in a while, with new tips and my very own personal experiences. Hope you can learn from these posts and can find them useful. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them.

Startup Diaries is a new section of our website where founders can post their startup stories in blog form, describing their entrepreneurial journey; the challenges and highlights, eureka moments, lessons learned and laughs had along the way. The idea is to build a collection of first person anecdotes from women building businesses, as a resource for other female founders. Our favourite Startup Diary blogs will be posted on our home page. If you would like to write a Startup Diary, email our Editor for details.

Irina Quintela is one of the founders of Styling Up, an online free personal styling service; a freelance multimedia designer and fine art photography artist.

After a completing a degree in Mass Media, Irina worked as a reporter/photojournalist for 5 years, before deciding to try something new. She completed a second degree, in Audiovisual and Multimedia. After gradulation she began working as a Multimedia Designer. After several  months working as a Designer in Rio de Janeiro and her native Lisbon, she decided it was time to launch her own startup.

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