Build something you care about.
There will be good times, but there will also be challenging times, and some very hard times too. If what you’re building is more than just a business opportunity to you, it will help motivate you to keep going through those difficult times. You’ll want to see it launch. You’ll want to see it get to 100 customers, then 1,000, then 100K before you’re satisfied.
When you really care about what you’re building, it shows. It influences your success in persuading a co-founder to join you, in recruiting your early team. When you have 1,000 people in your team it will motivate 999 of them to contribute everything they can to make this a success (and expose the one staff member who needs more of your time, or who needs to be working somewhere else).
When you really care about what you’re building you’ll find it impossible not to read everything you can find on your market and your competitors, to dig deep into customer interviews to find the real gems of truth among the polite answers, to get meaningful feedback from your team. And because you care you’ll retain more of it than anybody who cares less than you.
When you really care about what you’re building, your energy and passion for what you’re doing will infect your accelerator program application and interviews, your pitch on demo day, and your meetings with potential investors. They’ll believe they can trust you to commit, and to stick to it until it’s a viable business. So you’ll be more likely to be accepted, to blow away your pitch audiences, raise investment, sign partnerships and succeed.
Concrete example: all the founders in the current SheStarts program at BlueChilli, such as Lauren and Madi from Otlet, Claire from VetChat, and Anna from BanjoMaps — you couldn’t part these women from their mission with a crowbar.
Build something that makes peoples lives better.
The world doesn’t need another addictive thing. There are plenty of things and experiences we can buy that leave us emptier, more hungry and more lost than we were before. We don’t need more ways to spend our money on things or experiences that don’t make our lives better. So please, don’t make any more.
Things that make people’s lives better require less marketing and sales than things that don’t, because when they work, we make someone’s life better, and they are grateful. Gratitude is a powerful motivator. Gratitude engenders loyalty in customers. Companies with grateful customers can still fail, but they will have loyal customers reaching out to offer their support and ideas to keep you going.
When the hard times come, it will be the gratitude of your customers which will make you and your team stick to the mission and give it everything you’ve got because you don’t want to let them down.
Is it enough to build something which makes organisations better? I’d say it depends — if by making a company better you make the lives of the key people inside it better, then yes. But startups which sell products or services to an organisation without addressing the lives of the people working within it are leaving themselves open to competition from others who will.
Concrete example: SafetyCompass helps keep workers safe on industrial work sites, and Adam Poole, SafetyCompass’s founder, is able to rely on customer referrals to help him grow his business because he’s saving lives on work sites, not just giving them something to distract them on their commute.
Build something that will motivate you against all odds.
If you’re doing it right, the odds are against you. Opportunities to build something you care about, which make people’s lives better, aren’t easy to execute on, or someone already would have done. Do most days look slightly impossible when you review the day’s tasks and appointments? You’re not alone. But building something you care about, which makes people’s lives better, will motivate you to accept those odds and go do it anyway. And you’ll have a highly motivated team, advisors, investors and customers to support you.
Concrete example: Ben and Angela at Grassrootz.