Is It Time to Launch Your Startup?

By Kathleen Doheny June 1, 2021
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Is It Time to Launch Your Startup?

"People thought my wife and I were crazy," recalled David Niu, founder and CEO of TINYpulse, a Seattle startup that helps companies build their workplace cultures.

That was the reaction back in 2011, when friends heard that Niu and his wife Alice sold everything and bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand. Niu was itching to launch a business but wasn't sure what kind.

Eventually, his vision gelled and TINYpulse was born. It now has 75 employees.

Many managers dream of launching a startup. Here, Niu and two other successful entrepreneurs share what they did right.

David Niu: "The highs and lows are dramatic at times."

Some would say Niu is a natural entrepreneur. Straight out of college, he was a management consultant. Then he went to business school and with a classmate started Net Conversions, providing website usability technology and optimization solutions. He launched Buddy TV, an entertainment-based site. When he began to feel burned out, he took a six-month hiatus, traveling through six countries as he tried to figure out what to do next. His thoughts led to why "culture" can give a company a competitive advantage. He made cold calls to CEOs to float his idea.

"I interviewed 30 or 40 CEOs," he recalled. And then, his idea came together. The mission of TINYpulse, he decided, would be to help companies build a great culture so they could have happier employees.

"I think the idea of passion is important," Niu said. "You have to want that startup. You have to also do your research." Before launching a business, Niu said, "create a survey online, telling about the idea. See if people will click through." Post a "coming soon" teaser on social media and see if you get inquiries.

And before launching that startup, he advised, answer these questions:

  • Is your family supportive?
  • Are you willing and able to fund the business?
  • Are you in good physical health? The hours can be bearish, and the ups and downs inevitable.
  • Should you have a co-founder?
  • Can you take criticism and skepticism?

Elaina Herber: "At the end of the day, hospitality is about people."                                                                                                                                       

Elaina Herber had a 15-year tech career but "got super burned out," she said. So she started a kids' indoor playground, sold it, and in June of 2018, became founder and CEO of Ascend Hospitality Group, an independent restaurant management and development company in Bellevue, Wash. "Today, we have 12 physical locations," offering casual, fast-casual and fine dining, she said.

"The No. 1 thing you have got to do right is find the market niche," Herber said. "Why do people care about what you are bringing to market? Is it different enough that you are progressive and relevant?"

Her other tips:

  • Be prepared to fund the startup, but "also figure out how quickly you can make some serious cash to pay yourself back."
  • Fill a market gap. She aims to put the "hospitable" back into the hospitality industry, she said. "That's what I feel I have done right."
  • Be honest with yourself. "If you like the comfort and safety of going to work and doing your piece of the puzzle," she said, then launching a startup is not for you. "But if you are the type to say, 'I want to call the shots,' and you think you know how to do something better and quicker, and you have that never-satisfied feeling; if you are scrappy and find money under a rock, and people believe in your ideas," that's how you know your startup could succeed, she said.

Ken Colwell: "Would you do it for free?"

"You should not start a business just for the money," said Ken Colwell, Ph.D., dean of the School of Business Administration at the University of Houston—Victoria in Victoria, Texas, and author of Starting a Business Quick Start Guide (Clyde Bank Media, 2019). Besides working at the university and writing business books, Colwell launched Creative Endeavors LLC (dba Innovative Growth Advisors) to offer consulting for entrepreneurial firms.

"Regardless of what you decide to go into now, it is worth thinking about having multiple streams of income," he said. Launching a startup can be done gradually, he tells people.

Other advice:

  • "You have to prepare to market, market, market. No one will know it exists if you don't. I think a startup has to spend 75 percent of its time on marketing."
  • Set a price floor and ceiling. "Floor is your cost. And your price is a sign to your customers, a sign of quality." He cautions people not to price too low.
  • Adjust expectations. "You read about these unicorns [privately held startups valued at over $1 billion]. I tell clients it is not going to happen to you."

Kathleen Doheny is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

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