Startup Smart: 10 Things You Need To Keep in Mind When Starting a Business

Let’s get one thing clear: having your own business is pretty dope.

You get to run your own show. Set your own hours. Build something of your own and bring an idea to life. Grow your brand and define the journey you want to take in your career.

There’s no denying that there are A LOT of upsides to starting a business, and it seems more Americans agree. Around the country, people are going out on their own in droves, with 33.2 million startups in the US in 2022 (up 700,000 from the previous year).

Whether you’re launching a product, becoming a content creator, or building your own app, it’s a great time to do your own thing. 

But in the early days? 

Those days are rough.

The unpredictability. The intense hustle. The less-than-ideal salary. Pitching your idea over and over again. Dealing with rejection. Having to call all the shots and pray it all pans out. 

For the uninitiated, these challenges can be incredibly daunting, particularly if you’ve had a job this whole time.

Here’s the good news.

Most of these challenges aren’t actually INSANELY tough. It just feels tough because you’ve been plunged into a brand-new environment and don’t know what to expect. 

When you’re prepared, it’s easier to plan ahead and anticipate how you will handle all the trials and tribulations along the way.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of startups over my career. While each business is unique in its own right, there are clear trends that I’ve witnessed that founders experience time and time again. So if you’re planning to go out on your own in the near future (or you’re even entertaining the thought), here are 10 things you need to know before launching a business.


1. You’re going to feel uncertain about everything

Remember that feeling you get in the first few months of a new job or the first time you set foot on campus? You know the one—when you don’t know what to expect, and you’re not sure what your experience will be?

Get comfortable with that because you’re going to be feeling it for a while.

See, here’s the thing about going out and starting your own business:

  • You don’t have a manager to lean on
  • You have no structures or processes in place
  • You’re doing everything for the first time

That means that everything you do, you have to do based on your own intuition, the research you do, and how you’ve seen it done before.

You need to be ready to question everything you do, then question it some more. You’ll feel certain about everything at some points and completely lost at others. Every decision you make will come with a question mark, and it’s likely you’ll rarely (or never) feel like you have the right answer.

Even as your business grows, the uncertainty will continue because you’re entering new territory—whether that’s expanding into a new market or hiring and managing employees.

It’s not easy. But think of it this way: you get to create everything the way you want, and you never know where the road will take you.


2. Imposter syndrome is very, very real

Everyone gets imposter syndrome, but it’s even more prevalent among entrepreneurs. A whopping 84% of tech entrepreneurs admit to feeling like a fraud, even if they wind up becoming highly successful.


First, it’s hard to shift from having someone else as your boss to being the boss. You’ll probably start questioning what you did to earn that role or why you’re qualified to run your own business.

On top of that, you’ll likely feel that uncertainty (see above) which leads to a higher level of doubt and insecurity—two of the biggest precursors to imposter syndrome.

If you already experience imposter syndrome or suspect you’ll you’re going to struggle with it at some point, there are plenty of ways to cope with it and move beyond a place of doubt. 

Plus, don’t forget: all other entrepreneurs probably feel the same way (including the highly successful ones). What matters most is not letting that feeling control you or dictate how you move forward with your business.


3. You need to plan more than you think

Whatever level of planning you think you need, triple it.

That’s not an exact guideline, but it’s an indicator of the level of planning that’s truly involved in starting a successful business.

Your investors will want to see your go-to-market plan and how you’re planning to generate profit. Your employees will want to know the direction that the company is going and how they’ll grow as the company grows. And when you’re juggling a million different priorities, your plans will keep you on track and help you focus on the things that matter.

Trust me—the more you plan, the better.


4. You have to be a jack of all trades

In big companies, you have multiple people on a team. Each person has a specific job, and often they’re a specialist in that area. When you’re running a startup, that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Startups run on lean teams, especially in the beginning. This means you’ll likely be caught doing a little bit of everything, from marketing and sales to ordering products or responding to customers.

Be prepared to roll up your sleeves, be hands-on, and constantly learn new things. If you’re open to opportunities to grow and gain skills, this will hands down be one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences of your career.


5. You may need to say goodbye to financial security (at first)

One of the biggest perks of being employed is knowing when your next paycheck is coming. When you have your own business, this isn’t always the case. You might eventually bring in the big bucks, but it’s likely you won’t get there without having to sacrifice some UberEats orders or bar crawls along the way.

It’s tough to find financial security, particularly in the first two to five years of running your business. You’ll likely be earning less than you did when you started AND working more. Unfortunately, it’s the cost of being your own boss and building something from scratch.

However, knowing this means you can plan ahead. If you want to put yourself in a better financial situation when launching your business, there are a few options to weigh up before quitting your day job:

a) Bank enough savings to help tide you over

b) Have a clear plan to make your business profitable

c) Figure out a side hustle to bring in additional income

d) Or…


6. …have a plan to raise capital

Some entrepreneurs bankroll their own businesses, but the majority find capital through other avenues: VCs, angel investors, family and friends, bootstrapping, accelerator and incubator programs, or government grants.

But this money doesn’t just appear. Investors have hundreds of entrepreneurs knocking on their doors every single day, so if you want to get a slice of their pie, you need to have a strong game plan. This includes things like your hiring strategy, business goals, long-term vision, financial and cap table, and more.

Thankfully, there are plenty of resources to help you on this front, including this handy template from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Of all the things you need to have when launching a business, this is one of the most mission-critical if you want to get investment at some point or another.


7. Understand your total addressable market size

We’ve all heard the story of an entrepreneur who invests everything into an idea only to realize at the very end that the market just wasn’t big enough.

Before you pour years of your life into a business, you need to know that there will be enough people to actually buy your product or service or download your app.

In other words…

How many people can you sell to in total?

To figure this out, you need to calculate your Total Addressable Market Size (TAM).

What is your TAM? A total addressable market (TAM) is a way to calculate the overall opportunity in the market for your product or service. This shows how much revenue you could potentially generate if you sold your product or service to all the customers in that market. 

In other words, your TAM measures how big your company could be and its potential for growth.

If you’re just starting out with no previous data on customers or sales, the best way to calculate your TAM is to identify who you’re selling to (i.e. your target audience) and use industry reports to find out how many people there are that fit the bill. 

Let’s say you have an app for new college students. The data shows that roughly 14-20 million students enroll in college every year in the US—so this is the TAM for your market in the US.

Once you get up and running, there are more sophisticated ways to calculate TAM based on your actual sales. But at the very least, this number will help give you an idea of whether there’s enough demand for what you’re selling.

A final word: this figure isn’t just for your own peace of mind. Investors and co-founders will also ask for this, so it serves you well to double-check that your numbers are spot-on.


8. Get good with people

We all hear about the founder that made the business work: Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, Bill Gates. However, the reality is that it takes a massive team to bring any idea to fruition, and you’ll need to work with people along your entrepreneurial journey.

Sure, you can be the exception who never works on their people skills and makes it, like these guys:

But for most of us, starting and growing a business means building up our EQ and learning to work well with others.

Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help people develop emotional intelligence or learn to collaborate with others

Start putting your learnings into practice, then reflect on your interactions and ask for feedback. I promise you that doing this for just a few weeks will radically change how you interact with others.


9. Plan to succeed, as well as to fail

We hear A LOT about how the majority of businesses fail. Because of this, most entrepreneurs think about what happens if they don’t make it: they have a backup career or someone they can turn to if everything goes south.

It’s great to have a plan for failure (it is, after all, one of the most valuable learning experiences we can have). But it’s equally important to plan for success as well. 

How are you going to manage your newfound wealth? What will happen to your relationships when you get busier or need to travel for work? Where are you going to invest your money if you suddenly make millions? Are you going to stay on in the company as a CEO—and do you even want to?

When you’re planning your business, make sure to think about what you’ll do if you succeed as well as if you fail. This way, you’re not caught off-guard if your hustle pays off, and you end up making bank.


10. It’s a marathon, not a sprint

It always feels like, basically overnight, we hear about entrepreneurs who have made it. The truth is, building a successful business takes years or even decades. When you get started, it’s important to remember that starting your own business isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes time and patience, and you need to play the long game. But for many, the journey is absolutely worth it.