Arpan Jhaveri of Siphs speaks on some of the lessons he has learned since launch.
Our service, SiphsMail, is a fully customizable widget that, to use colloquial terms, lets people people post web pages to the social media sites and forward them to their friends, family, and colleagues via email. You might be thinking, “now that sounds awfully similar to AddThis or ShareThis,” and while that is true, there are some key differentiators that enable our annual subscription based business model. Our enhancements ultimately all boil down to customization & lead generation, features that small businesses are demonstrably willing to pay for. You can learn more from our homepage.
The Classroom Blackboard
First, some of the lessons here may be things you have read elsewhere. Before starting SIPHS, I flipped through a good number of tips & lessons myself. Reading these helpful hints and actually living them however, are like night and day.
Lesson 1: Don’t wait for a business idea - just start
That’s sounds counterintuitive, but it’s important. Take the combined professional and personal experiences of your founding team members and start something that lets your leverage those experiences. You are very likely to get things wrong when you start, so just read up on major trends, talk to people, figure out where you think you can add value, and just start! You can’t really comprehend the challenges of building a new business until you are confronted with them yourself.
Lesson 2: Pick the right people
As a corollary to lesson 1, pick the right people or person. At the very least, you should start your business with one other person. There will an extraordinary number of travails on your path to success, and more than likely, your first, or even first few ideas will fail. Those failures will test the character and dedication of your founding them. If you like the people you are working with (i.e you work well together and can get things done!), enjoy the work you are doing, and believe and are excited by the opportunities unfolding around you, the death of one idea is NOT the death of your business. The failure of one idea should never, under any circumstance be constructed as a failure of the business. Each idea you work on will build skills and spawn 10 others. In the case of siphs.com, Tom and I started out with a yahoo answers type platform for biotech researchers. It was obscure, it failed for a number of reasons (perhaps that’s another post!), but we learned from those experiences, and remade siphs.com into the version you see today. Seems to be working out okay so far. but you never know. If it doesn’t work, I guarantee you will see Tom and I skill building our way through full-time jobs to the our next (ad)venture. That’s dedication. That’s the type of founding team you need.
Lesson 3: Burn rate
This one is short and sweet. As a corollary to lesson 1, keep your burn rate low. If you can’t predict a-priori what is going to work, you should spend as little cash as you possibly can. The more cash you have, the longer you are in the game. The longer you are in the game, the more ideas you can try until you find one that sticks.
Lesson 4: Know how to talk the talk
During the course of business experimentations (personally I like the term experiment over venture), you will crack the veritable revenue or traction nut. Once you do, focus your efforts on that niche and make sure you speak their language. Do everything you can to understand the customers in that niche and figure out how to communicate with them. Cultural (not necessarily ethnicity based) differences will often surprise you. With respect to our first biotech idea, we simply didn’t know how to talk the biotech talk. Academic researchers and industry researchers for example, are just different. There are work-related cultural attitudes that shaped the ease at which our tool, and similar tools were adopted. With respect to the current version of siphs.com we started off to generally focused. We thought, “Everyone could use our service!” Everyone does not a market make. You can’t create actionable marketing tasks if you are going after everyone. So once you find a niche that’s working for you, just focus relentlessly on it and learn how to talk their talk. You have to speak the same language if you wan to convince them to use your product or service. If the niche is too small, don’t worry, you can grow out of it.
Lesson 5: Innovate incessantly
Do not, under any circumstance, let your product or service stagnate. Things change so quickly these days that if you don’t keep up, you could easily get washed out. Always read up on industry trends, and obsess about the next generation of your offering - what events could make what you are doing right now obsolete for example? If you are thinking about those events, you can prepare and respond to them when (NOT IF), when they come. Another key benefit of innovation goes back to lesson 4, it will help you grow out of the niche you started with. And… that’s a wrap!