8 Red Hot Chili startup lessons

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Red Hot Chilli Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) may be one of the most celebrated rock groups of the ’90s and early 21st century, but their journey to success shares a Parallel Universe with that of a typical startup company. Initial enthusiasm was followed by a lack of traction as they struggled through the late ‘80s confronting tragedy, personnel changes and false starts. But through experimentation they fostered creativity and progress because they don’t fear failure. This energy lead to a uniquely recognizable brand of funk, pop and rock that turned into commercial success.

Some valuable startup lessons are woven into the RHCP song-titles:

1. Give It Away — “Give before you get” culture

At the core of a successful startup community is a culture of ‘Give before you get’. By giving first, you are able to build a network of meaningful relationships to draw on later. In his book: Startup Communities, Brad Feld notes that by investing time and energy up front without a specifically defined outcome, he found that, over time, the rewards that come back exceed his wildest expectations.

2. Get on Top — Persistence to never give up

It’s all about the execution and not necessarily the idea… While a startup begins with a great idea, this has to be implemented well in order to gain initial traction and continued forward momentum. Successful entrepreneurs do not believe that something cannot be done. They are problem-solvers focused on the end-goal. You therefore have to persevere at executing your vision against all odds until success is engineered.

3. Scar Tissue — Fail fast, Fail often, Fail cheap

Startups with a tolerance for failure allow themselves to learn their way to success through experimentation. Have a logical incremental growth strategy where you iterate by trying lots of things, doing more of what works and cutting out what doesn’t. Success is the result of a never-ending process of adapting and improving all the elements in a business. Acceptable failure allows a startup to innovate quickly, but should not cost too much by putting the entire company at risk.

4. Otherside — Focus on your customer, not your product

At the core of any successful business are two things: a good product or service and a large market for that product. While the product needs to be exceptional, you need to have a customer-focused growth strategy to be able to understand the market opportunity. Segment the market properly and engage with customers in your chosen niche. This will enable you to craft a product/ service to suit that market and deliver extraordinary value. There is nothing like the validation of a paying customer.

5. Road Trippin’ — Get out there and sell

To gain revenue traction a startup needs to get out there and sell aggressively. Most investors want to know what you plan to sell, not necessarily what it will be made out of. Business development is built on passion. You should therefore do the selling yourself in the early stages of the business life-cycle to be able to internalise customer feedback for product refinement and pricing benchmarks.

6. Californication — Learn from Silicon Valley

The Silicon Valley story is inspirational. Its ability to launch globally competitive, world-changing internet startups is unsurpassed. The fusion of people, money and technology is clearly conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship. While the force of this ecosystem is not necessarily as strong with other startup communities, elements of the model should be adopted and adapted to local conditions to facilitate collaboration and strengthen comparative advantages.

7. Around the World — Network and build relationships

Don’t underestimate the power of business, personal and informal networks. Information disseminates easier and faster through networks than through hierarchies, which facilitates responsiveness. To build a successful business you don’t necessarily need to have all the skills to do it, but you need to have access to all the relevant skills. You should continuously network and build relationships to use as foundation for creating value, generating new business or to solve problems.

8. Under the Bridge — Move on

What’s done is done. Something in the past cannot always be fixed, so put it behind you and look to the future. As a startup, there are many things in the early stages of the business that you might regret later on. Bad investor pitches, key client misses, startup name, logo, pricing strategies, partnerships etc. What you initially thought to be your revenue model and target market might turn out to be something entirely different. You could have been 6 months ahead “if only”… But hindsight is an exact science. Don’t beat yourself up about it as these experiments are the school fees that got you here today. Move on – there is plenty of time to make some more mistakes!

By The Way – the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in Cape Town last week was awesome!

Image: Ellen von Unwerth

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