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Eligibility: In order to be eligible for the Startup Weekend Fellowship for the upcoming semester, you must complete your application and admissions test by Sunday, December 11th, 2016, using this link.


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The Art of the Hustle: Unconventional Methods for Building a Startup

Posted by Joe Garza on 2017-02-16

“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” - Joseph Chilton Pearce

Creativity is the heart of entrepreneurship. The best companies were founded by people who saw a problem to be fixed, a gap to be filled, a demand to be met. But a creative solution is only as successful as its execution. The best, most lasting, and most impactful companies not only came from an ingenious idea, but from people who looked at the process of building a company and asked themselves, “How can I do this differently?”

Launching a startup is inherently risky, so if you plan on venturing into the world of entrepreneurship, why not take the opportunity to risk it all on trying something different? In this blog post, we’ve gathered some of the most unusual, unorthodox, and unexpected methods of launching a startup from some of the top experts in the field.

Recruit Your Team

No one can run a company by themselves, so picking your cofounders and first employees should not be taken lightly, because the people you bring on board to help you will have a lasting impact on the future of your company. Fortunately, there are a few creative methods you can utilize to help you find the right people for your startup team.

Co-founders

In the Inc article, “50 Ways to Find Co-founders”, Bill Murphy Jr. lists out a plethora of ways, both conventional and unconventional, that entrepreneurs can connect with potential co-founders. Here are just a few of the more unexpected approaches:

Network with people over drinks/coffee

This is an easy choice, especially for those who are extroverted, and it happens more often than you think. In fact, Dean Wright of Voytech Products, which makes Snack Spout, claims he became acquainted with his eventual co-founders when he overheard them talking in his local Starbucks about his area of expertise: consumer products.

Connect with people you went to school with

Take the time to meet up with your old school chums, whether you met in college, high school, or even elementary school. And don’t even think about skipping school reunions! Some people get started early. Again, cofounders who started as classmates is not uncommon. For example, Zach Schau and his co-founders at Pure Fix Cycles met when they were just little kids.

Team up with siblings, former co-workers, and spouses

Potential cofounders may be closer than you think. MUCH closer. For example, twin brothers Sam and Andy Prochazka started Novosbed, a memory foam mattress company, before they recruited their sister, Helenka.

Volunteering

Besides getting the satisfaction of giving back to your community, volunteering is also a great way to meet likeminded tech geeks. Just ask co-founders Michael Marshall and Paola Moya, who met when Marshal volunteered tobe an advisor for their shared alma mater's architecture program, which led to them forming Marshall Moya Design in Washington.

What's worse than starting a business without a co-founder? Try starting it with the wrong co-founder. - Bill Murphy Jr.

Employees

Our previous blog posts, “The Ultimate Guide to Hiring Your First Employees”, features some expert advice from Dan Arkind, Founder and CEO of JobScore, on how to attract and recruit your company’s first employees.

Add excitement to your job listing

When posting a job description for a startup, too many founders rely on a typical formula, a formula that, unfortunately, does little to attract top talent. Take the time to inject passion, hope, and excitement into your job description, and structure it in the form of a story.

             

Ask for advice

While it may appear that you are only asking for help with your startup, what you are really doing is recruiting. Meetwith your colleagues in the startup and tech industry to keep an eye out for potential team members. Also, a word to the wise: there are countless talented people working for major tech companies that are looking to breakinto world of startups.

Build Your Product

While conventional startup wisdom dictates that you should build a functioning product before mass producing and making sales, there are a few, more obscure tactics that you can utilize when creating working version of your offering.

Ditch the “Coming Soon” page

Amir Khella’s blog post, “How I launched a profitable product in 3 hours”, covers considerable ground when explaining the process of building a successful offering, and is most surprising when it recommends bucking the traditional “Coming Soon” page so prevalent in conventional startup business models. However, that blog post does have a point, as “Coming Soon” pages are getting more and more gimmicky. Instead, replace it with a page that talks about your company's story, updates, and mission. This is a great way to get potential customers interested in your company as opposed to scaring them off by telling them that your product is “coming soon”, whenever that is.

Instead of a coming soon page, start a conversation: talk about your story, share your process and findings, and provide value even before the product is ready. There is no reason to wait for a product to be ready in order to have customers. - Amir Khella

And now that you’ve got your audience’s attention, give away a valuable freebie or anything else they might find enticing. Don’t forget to also create an email list to stay in touch with your potential customers.

Concierge MVP

Vladimir Blagojevic’s Scale My Business article, “The Ultimate Guide to Minimum Viable Products”, describes the advantages of several MVP processes, including the “concierge” approach. Before you build your product, start your company by first offering a manual service that consists of the same exact steps people would go through with your final product. For example, Food on the Table, an online meal planning and grocery list, validated their basic product with customers by actually doing groceries for people, before adding stores, first in their region, and eventually growing into a nationwide business.

In the hatchery.io article, “How To Do MVPs Right!”, Alex Kholti goes over variety of strategies for creating minimum viable products cheaply, quickly, and of course, unconventionally. Below are a couple of standouts from his article:

The “Wizard of Oz” MVP

If your MVP is still under construction, there’s no reason that all of your potential customers should think that you are falling behind on getting your product out there. Create a version of your offering that looks functional, but is actually operated by you behind the scenes, giving the appearance of automation. Even if you aren’t quite ready to launch, at least this will serve as a proof of concept to your target audience and will buy you time while create the finished version.

The “Piecemeal” MVP

Instead of a massive amount of time, money, and effort into building your final offering, create a “piecemeal” version of your product that is based on current technology. Slap together a functioning model that utilizes existing tools and services to emulate the experience and process your customers will go through.

Download the infographic here! 

Get Your First Customers

Once you’ve launched your company and are ready to unleash your amazing product on an unsuspecting audience, now you must worry about getting your first customers. While traditional routes to building buzz, including spamming everyone you know on social media, can work, let’s take a look at a few ways to drive traffic to your website that take a different, less traveled path.

A Viral Sign-Up Form

Alex Turnbull outlines several methods he employed for his company, Groove, in the blog post, “5 Early Wins That Got Our SaaS Startup 1,000 Beta Users”, one of which is the viral sign-up form, a technique follows from the preceding example. Employ a viral signup flow that leverages one user or subscriber to maximize the return.

For example, Groove required users to invite three friends in order to get access to their beta. Even though the number of initial subscribers (non-invitees) dropped when they did this, Groove attracted nearly 30% more subscribers per day after invitees responded to their friends’ posts on social media. Basically, instead of thinking about how to get one user at a time, think about getting multiple with minimal effort.

Below is a good example of a viral sign-up form, provided by KickoffLabs:

The Grasshopper blog post, “6 Creative Ways to Acquire New Customers, Straight From Real Businesses”, by Kaleigh Moore, takes a look at several ways founders can increase their brand recognition and hook new customers. Check out the following methods from that article below:

Stickers

Creating custom stickers is an incredibly easy, affordable, and effective way to boost brand recognition for a startup. Craft a compelling logo and name for your company and turn them into stickers that you pass out at events. In this day an age, when more and more young people demand information in a simplified manner, a sticker with that encapsulates what your company does is your best bet.

Unique business cards

For many people, business cards are considered outdated, boring, and excessively corporate. But if your business card is unique, others are more likely to hold onto it and refer back to your company. Experiment with different shapes, colors, designs, textures, fonts, and anything else on a business card that can use a little ingenuity to make yourself stand out from the junk crammed into most people’s wallets and purses.

Equity lottery

The Fortune article “Why a buzzy startup is giving equity to customers”, by Erin Griffith details an adventurous tactic for acquiring users: equity lottery. This may be a daring move, especially for a company that’s still in its early stages, but then again, “Fortune favours the bold”, as they say. This strategy entails launching a referral contest in which customers who refer the most sign-ups are given startup equity, with runners-up receiving a free trial or membership of your offering. Plus, an audacious move like this is a great way to generate some virality for your company.

For more exclusive insights on attracting an audience for you startup, listen to Gagan Biyani, founder of Udemy and Sprig, talk about how he used creative means for getting customers from our webinar, "How to Get the First Customers For Your Startup":

Finance Your Startup

Capital is an important part of building a sustaining business, but can be difficult to acquire, especially if you’re a first time entrepreneur. However, we’ve gathered some of the more outre means of raising money for a startup from the Business News Daily article, “14 Creative Financing Methods for Startups”, by Nicole Fallon Taylor.

Online Lending

In recent years, more and more entrepreneurs have relied on online lending services, including OnDeck and Kabbage, as opposed to more conventional business loans. The reason for this is simple: while standard business loan applications can take weeks or months to process, whereas online lenders online require up to an hour to complete and a few days to finalize and transfer funds.

Product Presales

Another overlooked yet incredibly effective means of raising money for a startup is selling your products before you’ve officially launched. For example, entrepreneur Priska Diaz was able to raise $50,000 for her compan, Bittylab, with the presale of her Bare air-free baby bottles, which was able to help her cover the cost of inventory. She also used this as an opportunity to learn more about her website’s customers while opening doors in the retail industry.

Side Business

It may seem silly to start a business in order to, well, start another business. However, the idea isn’t as ridiculous as you may think. One way to do this is start a small business at first, one that you can easily manage in your spare time to raise some money specifically to help you launch your dream company. For example, Alex Genadinik used the money he made from tours he organized on ComeHike.com to launch Problemio.com, which builds mobile apps for planning and starting a business.

Win a contest or hackathon

Sometimes, businesses can benefit from a bit of luck. That was the case for Roberto Torres and Luis Montanez, who funded a portion of their startup costs for their apparel company, Black & Denim, with winnings from a business-plan competition. Find startup-, business-, or tech-related contests to participate in. Or, if you have any other talents or hobbies that aren’t related to your company, find other outside contests to test your skills AND make some money for your startup.

While the plethora of lending options may make it easier than ever to get started, responsible business owners should ask themselves how much financial assistance they really need." - Nicole Fallon Taylor

However, if none of these more "outside" means of financing your company appeal to you, check out our resources below for the conventional methods of startup funding:

Final Thoughts

As you venture out into the world of entrepreneurship, keep in mind that the road will be filled with obstacles and detours. You will encounter challenges that will force you to rethink, redo, or completely toss out your original plan. And it is in these circumstances that you must exercise your creativity and think outside of the box to conjure up a solution, regardless of how whimsical or outrageous it may be. You never know - your whacky answer to a problem may pave a path for others to follow, so don’t ever be afraid to put your artistic side to the forefront when things get dark.

"Creativity is intelligence having fun.” -  Albert Einstein

 

 

(Businesswoman standing with back drawing business ideas on wall image by Shutterstock)

The Art of the Hustle: Unconventional Methods for Building a Startup

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