5 things start-up virgins need to learn, and learn fast

Dan Bladen launched Chargifi three years ago. Now with $3.4m funding and offices in London and NY, he reflects on his first years as a start-up founder

I’m Dan Bladen, a 27 year-old father of two and co-founder of Chargifi; a wireless charging solution which gives customers visiting venues such as coffee shops, bars and workspaces the ability to charge upDan Bladen Chargifi their devices for free. Venues are then able to gain invaluable insight into their customer’s behaviour.

A few weeks ago, ahead of a Chargifi management team meeting, our COO shared the following statement with me:

A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by actions makes your dream come true.

To go the distance, a first time entrepreneur has to learn lots of skills – and fast. Each stage of a business’ lifecycle comes with its own unique set of opportunities that need to be grasped.

So with that being said, here are a few of my thoughts on what any first time entrepreneur needs to learn, and learn fast…

Be an inspiration

Everyone needs partners. Whether it’s attracting new hires, customers, building a network of mentors or courting investors – every new company is judged by one thing; the quality of its founders.

This is especially true with early stage investors who, more than anything, look at quality of the founders to determine whether they will invest. Your ability to burn with enthusiasm and passion for your business will play a crucial factor in attracting the right mix of people around you to help you build the company.

Manage yourself

In a small team you’re going to be needed for sales, operations, finance, product development which means every useful part of your very being should be, and will be used, in an attempt to add momentum to your company.

I use tools like Calend.ly to speed up my meeting schedule, I use Boomerang to make sure I never miss out on following up with people and ToDoist to manage my actions too.

If you manage yourself, your team will too. Be smart and automate and create processes wherever you can to add bandwidth to your day.

Broaden your market knowledge

I love checking out new apps and products from other companies to see how we might learn from them and apply new ways of product development for Chargifi. In technology, you have to stay on the front foot with what is going on in your market, and in the broader market, on an almost minute-by-minute basis.

To make sure we do this we have an #IndustryNews channel on our team’s Slack account which automatically populates news about wireless charging as it breaks.

If there’s a new market that Chargifi is looking to enter I will make sure that I find the top newsletters and influencers in those fields and subscribe or follow their updates. By taking this approach, my knowledge in the market deepens as I’m drip fed the latest trends and activities and, as a result, I’m able to speak intelligently and act intuitively on my business’ approach to that market.

Fundraise

If you need to raise capital for your business then you are going to need to hit the pavement and meet potential investors, and in most cases, lots of them.

In the early rounds of investment, investors are paying close attention to the quality of your company’s story (why you started the business and why you think it will work), the size of opportunity and the quality of the founders. You are selling the vision of what this could be.

Make sure you have your pitch honed and your investment materials perfected. If investors say ‘no’, ask for feedback so you can improve for subsequent meetings.

It helps to become familiar with the lexicon of the investment world and to make sure that you and your investors are fully aware of how tax-relief schemes such as SEIS and EIS can benefit both parties.

Hire the “right” people

Businesses succeed because of the quality and uniqueness of their people. There is great satisfaction in adding a great new hire to the team and there is great frustration when the exact opposite happens. To attract great talent to your business in the early stages you, once again, will need to lead with your vision for the company and the size of the opportunity.

You will need to be working to foster a company culture where people want to work and where they can, day after day, point to the goal in which they are giving the majority of their waking hours to achieve. Surround yourself with people smarter than you, with different gifts and expertise to your own.

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