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Why Your Product’s Quality Doesn’t Always Predict Its Success

Clothing on display for sale, Harajuku, Tokyo, JapanClothing on display for sale, Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan

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 Tina Hay, CEO of Napkin Finance.

Whether you are working on your first or fifth startup, there is no single path to success as an entrepreneur. Each company has its own timeline and challenges. That is why it is critical for founders to maintain focus and not get distracted by the misconceptions of startup life. These include:

Success starts with a great idea

Many of our favorite companies originally started with a different focus or product. Twitter started as Odeo, a podcasting platform; Facebook started as Facemash, a “hot or not” game for Harvard students; and Uber started as an app to request only premium black cars.

The lesson is that ideas are great, but they evolve. The magic happens only when they solve a real-life problem. In many cases, you don’t know what that problem or need is until your customers show you what they are most excited about.

Napkin Finance started off as a resource for my previous company to help young adults understand complex financial topics. It eventually became our core business and has surpassed our expectations in terms of impact and market demand. We discovered that the need for a new way to use and understand money was much more significant than anything else we were doing.

The quality of your product solely determines its success

In his TED Talk, Bill Gross, the founder of Idealab, determined five factors that account most for companies’ success or failure: idea, team, funding, business model, and timing. After studying his portfolio companies and a hundred others, he found that the most critical factor was timing.

Most founders get stuck on building their product and investing all of their resources on development. They miss how important it is to take advantage of market forces or get lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. This can only happen if you quickly iterate and test new concepts with customers. There is no amount of money or technology that can replace getting to launch and finding the right product-market fit.

 

You need a lot of money early on

Money is critical for every business. It buys great talent and can open doors for new opportunities.

However, raising a lot of money early on brings with it a lot of other problems. This includes giving away a big chunk of equity, having to answer to investors, and making decisions based on pressure from outside forces. Plus, there is no guarantee that you can raise money again when you need it.

At Napkin Finance, we were very careful to be lean when we started in order to build our platform. We found that in addition to funding, there are other ways to secure valuable resources. Our partnership early on with Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room initiative was a great opportunity for both the distribution and visibility of our brand. This was much more valuable than any funding round or investment.

Startup founders are all millennial guys in hoodies

In the startup world, and especially in fintech, I find myself surrounded by more and more women launching innovative and disruptive companies. Some examples of these pioneering women-led companies are Policy Genius, an online insurance comparison site; Tala, a microfinance site; and Digital Asset Holdings, a company bringing blockchain technology to Wall Street.

It is very exciting to see women shaking up traditionally male-dominated industries, including bitcoin, blockchain, lending, and insurance. These women are puncturing the stereotype that startups are only founded by young, white men in hoodies, and forcing us to rethink what a startup founder looks like.