The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question, “What are some of the biggest misconceptions about startup life?” is written by Eric Rea, CEO of Podium.
Since starting Podium, I’ve heard two misconceptions about startups from opposite ends of the spectrum. One is that running startup is so grueling that you can say goodbye to any type of life outside of it. The second is that once you gain initial traction, it’s smooth sailing to startup glory and freedom. I’ve found neither of these to be entirely true, and have repeatedly come across other misconceptions about the startup world:
If you build it, they will come
I think there’s often a perception by those in the technology world that if you build an app and put it on Product Hunt (a curation site for web-based products), all of the sudden you will have a massive business. In reality, this works for very few companies—there’s no magic formula. Most startup success comes from building something people truly want and need, and then putting blood, sweat, and tears into selling it day in and day out.
At Podium, we’ve lived, and still live, by those two ideas: Build something that people want and never say die. We’ve grown incredibly fast over the last two and a half years, and it’s because we’re focused on getting tangible results for ourselves and our customers—not just relying on luck.
You just need a great idea
If you think you have a novel concept, there are probably thousands of others working on something similar. In the startup world today, there are very few completely new, unique ideas. How you differentiate comes through your execution. When my co-founder and I started Podium, we knew that there were likely many others working to help businesses collect online reviews, because few customers think to leave them. That was, and still is, a big problem for businesses, because positive reviews are one of the most profitable forms of marketing.
While we believed our product’s approach to solving the problem was better than any other tool on the market, that wouldn’t be our key differentiator—execution would be. We used Paul Graham’s essays as a framework for building our startup. One of the crucial lessons was that you only need to focus on two things: First, build something people want. And second, get customers. At the end of the day, those are the only two things that matter. We didn’t do anything unless it helped us acquire new customers or improve our product. That execution methodology has made all the difference.
Everyone cares as much as you do
It’s rare to find people who care as much about what you’re building as you do. A lot of times your employees are coming to work for the paycheck and not because they totally buy into your product.
During the interview process, we do our best to identify the people who won’t be invested. We often get applicants who want to work for a startup because it’s “cool.” Those individuals are typically in the field for the wrong reasons, and will quickly leave once they find out that working at a startup is more demanding than your average job.
The employees who aren’t there to help drive the mission forward and grow individually are usually the ones who create a culture of complacency—something that’s nearly impossible to undo. If you can weed out those who don’t care early on, and rally those who do, everyone will benefit in the long run.
Networking events are the key to success
Many startups get obsessed with networking events, startup festivals, and meetups. But these end up being huge distractions from getting anything done—rather than building a product or marketing strategy, many people who go to these events are more interested in talking about building something.
While we did acquire some helpful information from networking events, our company benefited more from building the product and talking to current or potential customers. At the end of the day, truly understanding your customers is usually much more important than meeting someone in your industry.