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‘Dear start-up, this is what I wished I had known when I started’ – expert entrepreneurs share their know-how

By / / In Insight /
Will your start-up business be a success? Heed the voices of experience . . . here’s some top-level advice from a handful of expert entrepreneurs on how to avoid the pitfalls, cut through the criticisms, hurdle the competition and propel your new business to profitable heights.
expert entrepreneurs

We’ve been speaking to expert entrepreneurs, successful across a wide range of fields, to give their inside advice on how to find start-up success. From CEOs, marketing experts, business professors and highly sought-after consultants comes essential advice that could turn a new start-up into a major success of the future, with some invaluable lessons for marketers thrown in.

Words of wisdom from expert entrepreneurs

start-up success, expert entrepreneurs share know-howJohn Mullins, the business professor and entrepreneur:

“Long before I was a business school professor, I was a two-time entrepreneur. There are two key things I wish I’d known then that I know now:

Markets and industries are different things.

It’s great that the market you plan to serve – the group of customers you hope will buy what you plan to offer – is large and growing fast. But there’s another question you also must ask: Is the industry in which you will compete – the set of others who provide similar solutions to yours, i.e, your competitors – sufficiently attractive to make it worth your while to do so? Getting blindsided by an attractive market and ignoring a brutally competitive industry is one reason so many start-ups fail.

You must examine markets and industries at both macro and micro levels.

OK, your market is large and growing fast, a macro level issue. But there’s something that’s even more important, market-wise: Will the customer actually buy your solution? This question needs answering at the micro level, one customer at a time. Industry-wise, perhaps your overall industry is structurally attractive, but even more important is this micro level issue: Do you possess something unique and difficult to imitate that will provide you with sustainable competitive advantage for at least some period of time?

Rigorously assessing your opportunity in all of its seven domains – before you get started – can save your venture from impending disaster. Don’t hit ‘Start’ without doing so!”

John Mullins is an associate professor of management practice at London Business School and author of The New Business Road Test: What Entrepreneurs and Investors Should Do Before Launching a Lean Start-Up (fifth edition 2017).


Vicki Ashman, the international lawyer turned CEO:

“Retiring from the world of international corporate laws in our 40s to start our own luxury knicker brand, Scrumpies of Mayfair, has taken us on an amazing journey. A start-up presents some big challenges though. Here’s what I’ve learnt:

Be on your guard
You’ll be bombarded with advice from veterans of the industry who’ll want to educate you how things are done. All kinds of service providers will try to take advantage of your relative inexperience in the industry to sell to you. Even the most plausible pitch should be researched thoroughly before you commit.

Be true to your vision
Remember that new businesses flourish when they can be differentiated from the pack. If this means sacking advisors who can’t see beyond the well-trodden path, don’t be afraid to do it. You are too new to the game to owe anyone loyalty at this stage.

Be flexible
Your infrastructure will be very limited, so almost everything becomes your issue to deal with. Expect to have to learn on your feet and accept a slower rate of progression. Try to enjoy the new challenges and remember you don’t have to do everything all at once.

Be thick-skinned
If you have the good fortune, like us, to actually make a success of it, don’t expect many of your friends to congratulate you. Even the most generous of souls find repeated accomplishment aggravating.”

Vicki Ashman is a former international lawyer and now CEO of luxury knicker brand Scrumpies of Mayfair.


start-up successShed Simove, the ideas man:

Testing on humans
“The people you work with have an enormous impact on your long-term success. Before you start to work with someone full time, if you can, hire them for a small, measurable task first. How they perform on that project will deliver hugely helpful indicators about what sort of person they are, their work ethic, their attention to detail and whether they’ll be a good fit with you/your team. This strategy also means that if the fit isn’t great, you’ve maximised your time and resources, there’s no huge awkwardness and you can keep searching until you find someone who possesses the qualities to complement your (and your team’s) skills and talents.

Create exciting ‘forks’
Focus is utterly vital for success. And yet, it’s always good to have options for your life and business, because some factors are always outside your immediate control. By having at least two projects on the go at any time (or at least one main goal and one side ‘experiment’), if one goal doesn’t quite work as you wish, you’ll have another strong avenue for success, ready to go. Plus, the lessons you learn on one of your projects will also help you conquer the other one. Win-win!”

Shed Simove is an ideas man, motivational speaker and an expert in unlocking creativity for marketing and sales. He is one of the speakers in the Thought Expansion Network – a group of the world’s top experts, pulled from various ­fields to deliver inspiration and insights to a diverse range of audiences.


your sales force social media articleRoyston Guest, the business growth expert:

“I learned early in my career that observing and emulating the habits, processes and attitudes of successful people was a reliable way to fast-track my own success. On reflection, this was one of my most important life lessons and it has stayed with me ever since.

If there is one idea that can fast-track your success – personally, professionally and in your business – it’s this: success modelling! You can either develop yourself and your business the hard way or the easy way.

The first pathway is the hard way: learning through your mistakes, trial and error and constantly re-inventing the wheel. This road can be long, winding and a painful experience! Sometimes, we become so locked in our own world, so inwardly focused on thinking we can do it all ourselves and we know best, that we simply miss the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences.

There is an easier, second pathway. Tap into the success formula of those who have already been there and done it. Learn from them and you might just accelerate your own journey and, in the process, avoid some of the common pitfalls which can easily derail and sabotage your success.”

Royston Guest is a global authority on growing businesses and unlocking people potential. He is CEO of Pti-Worldwide, author of #1 best-selling business growth book, Built to Grow, now available on audible and founder of Built to Grow Mastermind programme.


Vaughan Evans, the business strategy consultant:

“I have consulted for many years and written many books on business strategy and planning. My latest, Strategy Plain and Simple: 3 Steps for Building a Successful Strategy for Your Startup or Growing Business, boils strategy down to just three essential components: understand your market, gain a competitive advantage and manage business risk.

And yet, that perhaps glosses over the one major lesson I wish I had known when I started my business. No matter how excellent your product or service, you don’t have a business unless you can sell it.

And, if you are no good at marketing or selling, then find a partner who is.

You may have honed your offering so that it serves a distinctive gap in the market and you feel certain that there is a market to be had in the gap, but if you cannot alert your would-be customers of your existence in the first place, and then of the benefits of your offering as opposed to those of the competing alternatives, your business plan will become history in no time at all.

Selling is key to business success.”

Vaughan Evans is an independent consultant specialising in strategy and business planning. His latest book, Strategy Plain and Simple: 3 Steps to Building a Successful Strategy for Your Start-up or Growing Business (FT Publishing) is out now. Click here for more information. 

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Sally Hooton
Author: Sally Hooton
Editor at The GMA |

Trained as a journalist from the age of 18 and enjoying a long career in regional newspaper reporting and editing, Sally Hooton joined DMI (Direct Marketing International) magazine as editor in 2001. DMI then morphed into The GMA, taking her with it!

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