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Startup life: Myths busted

When you hear the word “startup", what images are conjured in your mind? Let's break down a few myths and take a deeper look at the reality.

by Catie McHugh
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When you hear the word “startup", what images are conjured in your mind? Do you think of a bunch of genius nerds in t-shirts noodling away on the next breakthrough app?

What about some upstart, coming along and turning a decades-old business or entire industry on its head, seemingly overnight, with immediate riches to show for it?

Well, both can be right… kinda. But the reality of most startups is rather different to the modern folklore that seems to surround them.

You may have heard (or currently believe) a few of these myths; we'll take a deeper look at the reality:

The myth: All startups are tech-related.

The reality: Erm, well, no. By definition, a “startup” is any newly established business. Whether it’s a new app or a hotdog stand, both are startups. However, we tend to see “tech” synonymous with “startup”, as it is those types of breakthrough new companies that typically get media coverage, especially if they’re touted as a ‘game-changer’ of sorts.

Myth: A good startup is always an overnight success.

The reality: Well, it’d certainly be nice to have a business blast off super quick, but it’s rarely the outcome. In fact, it’s more in miracle territory than the norm.

An article from serial entrepreneur Wil Schroter estimates that it takes at least four years to establish a startup into a fully fledged business, and seven-to-ten years to reach the vision you had in mind when you first formed the idea and decided to charge off and make it happen.

Myth: You have to be in Silicon Valley to create a successful startup.

The reality: In short, nah. Silicon Valley is an exceptional, fertile ground for tech startups (hence the name, hurr hurr) but it's not the only place you can make your idea into a tangible product.

One of the reasons many flock to the San Francisco Bay Area to rub shoulders with Silicon Valley’s tech elite and up-and-comers, is that these same people can often be enthusiastic investors, willing to get in on the ground floor of new ventures and supply funding. Naturally, it also helps that they are savvy and understand a new concept very quickly.

For a new tech venture, this can be a double-edged sword, as it can mean the idea goes relatively untested on the general population who may not “get” it with quite so much gusto. And if you’re not a tech venture at all, then it’s definitely not a must!

That’s not to say location doesn’t matter, though. It does. No matter what you’re doing, choosing a location where you can access clients, your desired market and a ripe talent pool to build a team are important. You can do a lot with a laptop and internet connection, but as your business grows you need to choose somewhere that will make it easier for you, not harder.

Myth: You need a comprehensive business plan before you can begin.

The reality: Bzzt… wrong! Do you need a plan? Yes. Do you need to spend months agonizing over it? No, because that will actually hinder you, especially in the early stages of a startup.

There’s a reason that the agile work methodology works so well for startups (yes, tech and non-tech!), and that’s because it allows a business to move fast, adapt to changes and seize opportunities. If you’re stuck on a big, unchanging business plan, this can only hold you back.

Our research has shown that too much interest in details, structure and planning is directly correlated with business failure. Ouch.

Myth: You’ll get rich. Like, Oprah rich.

The reality: Well, you very well might, and that would be fantastic. However, before you start shrieking, “you get a car, and you get a car!” at your adoring fan base, the reality is that there’s a lot of work to do before anyone hits the big time.

If your main interest is simply getting rich, it’s unlikely your focus is truly on the things that will bring you the epic financial success you imagine. Work hard at finding and filling a gap you’ve seen in the market, solving a problem, or improving on what is already available, and you’ll have your chance.

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