Consider this scenario …
You’ve got an amazing business idea, and you know it will be a total hit! Now you just need to put it into place and put some cash and time behind it, right?
Not so fast! I want to share my thoughts and personal lessons learned about startup motivation — what it really takes to make it through the early startup stage.
For me, it all began with a passion for travel, leading to research, teamwork and a recently launched venture (which led to a lot of lessons along the way).
I founded Mocinno International, a consultancy within the hospitality industry, in 2006. I started my company with an understanding and depth of experience related to the economic difficulties within the travel industry as a result of terrorism, flawed corporate governance and more.
Hotels were suffering so hotelier’s resulted to filling vacancies by dropping room rates, signing large accounts at low rates and signing up aircrews to cover the basic costs of running hotels. This prompted a clear and radical change in operations; cutting down on staffing costs mainly, and streamlining guest’s offerings.
Fast forward to 2015 and the hotel industry is fighting to hire the skill, knowledge and experience back to adequate levels. Some are succeeding while others focus on shareholder value and financial performance (i.e., EBITDA delivery, which remains a high priority concern). Lessons to be learned, best practices, and all kinds of contingency plans were put into place. A huge learning curve (painful for many, within the industry) followed, but it was certainly useful.
My experiences running Mocinno, and involvement with the recent launch of The Best of Hotels (an online travel magazine) have solidified three essential startup lessons that you, too, may find useful.
1. Know (and relate to) your customer.
Knowing your customer is at the core of every successful venture and directly influences the future value of your company. Data, readily available from the Internet, is a great resource to help you decide whether your product or service has market potential.
A great example of actionable data is competitive. Competitors often (unknowingly) give away valuable data, so sign up for their newsletters and subscribe to their feeds. Learn to look beyond the data for clues.
These clues could lead you to a new way of selling or branding; or even creating an entirely new market. Can that be done still? Absolutely! It happens every day, and a good marketer will know how to address this kind of opportunity. Objectively, why would a customer buy your product or service? What can you learn about consumer behavior (in your industry) on the Internet?
The other part, is creating loyalty. Ensure customers feel comfortable with the way you communicate with them. This can often compel them to make another purchase based on an emotional connection, alone. The good old 4 p’s of marketing (i.e., Price, Product, Promotion and Place) are not enough. It’s time to move forward to content marketing, creating stories and communicating a compelling lifestyle.
As a travel blogger for The Best of Hotels, connecting with cultures, design and people worldwide becomes easier through these new modes of marketing; primarily storytelling. Sharing stories with customers allows them to learn (and consume your products and services) in an engaging way. Travel and product recommendations then become personal, relatable and believable; instead of being selected by a group of office interns with no direct experience in the field.
2. Learn what makes a ‘dream team’.
Leadership expert Robin Sharma has said, “The bigger the dream the more important the team.” This is true. Startup success is not just up to you. The selection of your “dream team” depends on many factors (e.g., location, availability, skills, experience, etc.) However, not only should you aim to make the best hires, but you should also hire entrepreneurial employees.
A team member with entrepreneurial hunger can make a big difference. They are generally eager to learn and adapt quickly.
Also, don’t hire based on skills alone. You’ll need to build a team where each member has a solid skill set that contributes to the overall vision in shaping your company. Often you’ll see a bunch of friends starting a business together. That could work well, or it can turn very sour. While you may respect someone for social reasons, working with close friends is not always be the best choice.
Performance is another important factor when building a startup team. As I mentioned before, only work with people who are driven to perform. There are plenty of skilled people, most of whom prefer a typical employment scenario with steady packages, working hours and a cubicle where they can hang the family photos. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it won’t help you along the roller coaster ride you’ll face as a startup.
Finally, respect and trust your team. This can be accomplished with communication and incentives.
At The Best of Hotels we’ve taken this approach. The team is well-versed in a varied approach to marketing, smart content and delivering online expertise. Coupled with a great sales team, namely worldwide travel bloggers, we’ve developed a team that can accomplish the dream.
3. Motivate and stay in tune with yourself.
While you’re focused on knowing customers and developing a team, perhaps it’s time to take a very close look at yourself.
Don’t be afraid to take a break, not too long though. I have a personal rule to never to skip looking at my goals or making progress on a project for more than two days. This helps me to avoid losing track and disrupting workflow.
I find that self-motivation has become harder than it was, say 10 to 15 years ago. This is often a result of information overload and the current events of society and the world around us. It’s hard to not be constantly reminded of horrendous life events: from wars, to natural events like floods, crashes and so forth.
I limit my news consumption to 3 news channels a day: BBC, Le Monde and NOS News (the Dutch in me, wants to stay connected to Holland, even though I have not resided there for a very long time). They are rather neutral and give me a good overview of what’s going on in the world.
Recently, I decided to turn off smartphone notifiers; there is just too much negativity. When we are on information overload, bombarded by hard news, we forget that there is so much beauty in the world too.
Just before the Summer of 2015, I decided to take an objective look at how I spent my days in order to decide what I could improve on. It was refreshing, as my mental library was pretty full leading to quick email reads, short conversations, and rushed decisions. I seemed perfectly fine, however time was limited and I was pushed.
The reality is this: a startup requires a lot of energy from you. Start with your personal goals. These are probably pretty clear to you. Your mind and behavior are key to daily motivation and gaining the drive you need to reach goals.
When it comes to startup goals, sort and compartmentalize your energy. Not everything can be completed in a very short time. Startups are extremely exciting, so it’s easy to expend all of your energy in the beginning. Hold on to some of that energy, you will need it down the road too.
Three years ago I started rowing. Similarly to embarking on a startup, I was so excited and just wanted to get going. My teacher (probably a retired marine) gave me such a hard time. I soon had blisters on my hands and could not walk for days because of the muscle pain.
Then one day he said, “Pick a boat, and go solo.” I spent two hours trying not to fall into the water. I forgot to focus on technique (the fundamentals I learned early on) and ended up looking like an elephant trying to dance. In contrast, today I am comfortable, focused and I take my time (and yes, I still fall in the water from time to time). But at least I control the boat, and not the other way around.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Jeroen Gulickx is originally from Holland, where he obtained two business degrees. Later in life he also certified as black belt in Six Sigma. He is the Managing Director of Mocinno International, a hospitality consulting company that started in 2006, focused on delivering incremental revenues for hotels, spa’s and hotel suppliers. Jeroen is well travelled and has extensive experience in the luxury travel segment. The main capabilities vary from streamlining cost and operational models, strategy, yielding, business development, and marketing. Connect with @MocinnoIntl on Twitter.