Eight startup sins and how to avoid committing them [Net Prophet]

Starting a business baby, starting a business. It can be a wild ride. Sylvia Gruber co-Founder and CEO of Rubybox broke down her experiences with Rubybox into eight, bite-sized tips for burgeoning startups.

Gruber is big on keeping things basic and personal, simplicity is key — often the most difficult and the most important aspect to get right.

Rubybox is a monthly beauty box subscription service that provides its subscribers with beauty product samples. The service allows for business-to-business opportunities by being a conduit for beauty product companies, to push out product samples into the market, for research and promotion. It’s a big business, about 500 beauty products get launched in South Africa annually.

Rubybox recently extended their service to offer an ecommerce platform where beauty box subscribers can buy the sample products online.

Rubybox is a young startup, founded in September 2011, but has amassed subscribers numbering in the thousands. It’s based in Cape Town, self-funded and has seven team members.

Communication channels are great, the internet allows the word about a brand to get out in a viral fashion. It’s magical, but it can turn into a nightmare.

Drawing from a problem Gruber and her team ran into when choosing a courier service based on price, she listed eight “sins” to avoid committing.

SIN #1: Saving on the wrong things

A critical element of the Rubybox service is the courier that delivers the boxes to subscribers. When Rubybox elected to go with a cheaper courier to save on costs, it quickly ran into trouble when the courier was found to be unreliable.

Gruber advises not to scrimp on the core of your business.

SIN #2: Changing too many things at once

It’s important to change things gradually, even more so in the early stages of a startup’s life. Change is great, but it bears risk. Be prepared and have contingency plans ready.

SIN #3: Hiding

When the courier was found to be unreliable and delays started occurring, customers flocked to social media to vent. Rubybox tried to hide from the problem, which only made things worse.

Hiding from the problem or trying to cover it up also takes time and time is the most important commodity you have. Consumers will figure out there’s a problem anyway.

Competitors are intelligent, don’t underestimate them, no matter how hard you try to obscure aspects of your business, they will figure out a way to emulate it.

Operating under the radar can also cost you major opportunities for collaboration.

SIN #4: Panicking

Panicking doesn’t help, there will always be stress. Learn to to live with and manage it. Have contingency plans at the ready.

SIN #5: Undervaluing the power of brand or equity

Your brand is your equity, even more so if you are self funded startup. Try to inject personality into your service, polish is a secondary objective, but important.

When people identify with your brand, it leads to brand loyalty. It’s important to keep open communication wih your customers. Communicate calmly, don’t let them see you sweat.

When consumers identify with your brand, they will stand up for you when things go awry.

SIN #6: Not listening and conversing with your customers

Gruber says that the consumer is boss and that it does not really matter what you, the business owner likes or would buy.

She advises to listen, learn and have an ongoing conversation with your customers to learn about their needs and to use social media tools and polls such as Survey Monkey.

SIN #7: Getting side-tracked

If there are no competitors in your field, it’s probably a boring field to be in anyway. Embrace competition, it means you’re on the right track.

Don’t watch what competitors are doing too much, it will distract you, waste your time and potentially make you lose your direction.

Stay true to yourself, don’t conform, and focus.

SIN #8: Perfecting

Gruber says that perfection is a predominantly female characteristic and this leads to less females heading up startups. She advises to embrace the hacker culture, get a version out the door, worry about perfecting it later. Speed is of the essence. Get as close as possible to perfection, then move on.

Don’t ever think you’ve reached perfection.

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” — Woody Allen



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