Quick fire mentoring tips for startups, with Kevin Smith
Startups Magazine has been lucky enough to interview Kevin Smith from Boom & Partners, a business that offers bespoke mentoring for startups to help them grow and thrive. Having teamed up with Kevin and Boom & Partners many times already, we thought it was time to get his expertise on some of the most pressing conundrums for startups
What do you think is the hardest part of the startup journey, and what is your advice for tackling it?
KS: In many ways I would say it’s the very first step. It’s very easy to be in a job and feel you might not be happy but nevertheless it’s safe. So, for many people, to actually take that leap and leave a safe job and jump into the unknown is one of those big things. And then once you’ve made that jump, your idea might be fantastic, but nobody is good at everything and so you’re constantly being bombarded with things that you don’t actually know anything about, and many startups are literally one founder and no help in the beginning.
So you’re trying to do everything, and it can be very lonely. But you need to get beyond that stage so that you’ve got someone who can help you and somebody that you can go to in need; either to ask specific things or as a shoulder to cry on. But once you start to gain that momentum and build up the number of people around you, it all gets much easier.
I tend to always go on two things, one is the importance of writing a business plan, because it’s the only structured way you can understand your market and your product, and how to go about it. And the other thing, is that you need a good advisory board. The reason you need a good advisory board comes back to the fact that you can’t be good at everything, you need to understand the bits you don’t know, and you need someone who understands those parts of the business. A cheap way of getting lots of talent onboard, is to have an advisory board that is there when you need it and can help you grow the business, but without having to hire them.
So know what you don’t understand, and get help to fill those holes.
Do you have a notable success story from Boom & Partners that you’d like to highlight?
KS: An obvious one is actually a company that is known to Startups Magazine, Bean. Bean is a business that is for premium sustainable fashion made from recycled product. They have done everything right so far in the sense that, they have a product that has timed very well into the market as everyone has moved towards sustainability, their supply chain is on the blockchain because that is a very sensible way to prove the provenance of the recycled product and it is the way the market is moving.
They were selling to eighteen countries within the space of six or so months over the internet, and then we worked to help them reach success on a crowdfunding platform which we ended early because it burst through all every goal the company had and made all the money that they needed for their next stage. It’s also worth noting that they closed the round partway through lockdown, because people were still investing.
What do you think is the minimum a startup needs to have in place before looking for funding?
KS: I’ve seen companies with an idea raise millions of pounds. But the further you go along the road from I’ve got quite a good idea, to working through the process, to proof of concept, to selling, to proving that you have buyers out there paying for your product or service, to reaching profitability; the easier is becomes to get funding because the risks are going down and the valuation of the business is going up. I personally like businesses that have some sort of traction so it isn’t just a good idea you had in the shower one day.
One of the things that is amazing is how many companies do pitches to me and claim to be unique in the market when I already know of someone doing the same thing – or something very similar. And it’s either because they’ve pretended that they’re not there because they think it will increase their chances, or they genuinely don’t know they’re there, but either way, they’re not about to be raising finance. It’s fine identifying problem and the competition because that helps you understand what you then need to do to find the solution, but pretending that the problem isn’t there or not finding it, will trip you up.
What are your top three mentoring tips for startups in the current crisis?
KB: The world has definitely changed, and one of the big benefits of a startup is the ability to adapt and pivot. No business should be so fixated on the product that it has or the service it provides that it stops keeping its eyes and ears on what is going on in the marketplace around it. So don’t be blinkered and ignore everything else that’s going on, the companies that are survive at the moment are the ones that have adapted. You need to fully understand your market and your marketplace and make sure that you’re adapting as much as you need to be.
Another one is researching your market and understanding who your competitors are and knowing exactly what you want to do. Why is yours the solution? What is better about your product? Sometimes founders come up with an idea and a solution but it isn’t properly costed or anything, so it isn’t a viable business. It can be a great idea but if it costs twice the price and offers nothing over something that’s already out there then it’s just not going to happen.
The third thing, and potentially the most important, is communication. Communicate with your clients and potential clients, and make sure that you’re constantly engaging them and making them feel valued, doing things for the right reasons, and if you are struggling in any way with finance then communicate, don’t hide and pretend that nothing is happening. You need that dialogue.
People will remember how you treat them, so if you do the right things for the right reasons and communicate with them, they will feel that you value them and their business and they will come back to you.