Building a startup isn't easy. Building one that's sustainable is more difficult still.
With the heady cocktail of adrenalin and passion pumping through the veins of an entrepreneur, the ability to ask – and answer – the larger questions of the overarching goals, motivations and principles of a company, can be sidelined in the rush to have visibility and growth. In short, there's a tendency to lose sight of why we're building the company, for the sake of building the company.
For most entrepreneurs, the need for full immersion in the process, complete with sleepless nights and stomach-wrenching stress, is an accepted part the job. Those who thrive in that atmosphere are fortunate in many ways.
When it comes to building a business that will be stand the test of time, however, passion and work ethic is most effective when tempered with a clear understanding of what drives the business and how the entrepreneur perceives – and goes after – success.
In this pursuit of success, some businesses will look squarely to competition, putting a product or service they've developed up against those already in the market. Others will look to creation.
While every startup has its own set of unique dynamics, I believe that splitting time 80/20 in favour of creation gives businesses the greatest chance to achieve a success that will last.
Know why you exist. Startups that position in an established market with a familiar product, looking to dominate and strip as much market share as possible from incumbents, are by definition competition-driven.
It's not unusual to see tag lines touting a new company as being "faster than X" or "more cost-effective than Y." In environments like this, competing companies commonly innovate only in an attempt to stay ahead of competitors, rather than to provide value to the marketplace and truly satisfy the pain point for a customer.
While they might see success for a period of time as their product grabs a slice of the pie, this won't last indefinitely. There is always another competitor nipping at their heels, just as hungry as they are.
Building a sustainable startup means understanding why your company exists, and figuring out what drives you as the founder. It isn't about making your first $1-million by year-end, but by genuinely serving customers and your marketplace. When businesses exist to serve their market, they act to make the marketplace stronger. Without this focus, startups simply exist to find a competitor and be better. It's the difference between taking a big piece of a small pie, or a small piece of a growing pie.
Growing the pie. With an eye on exponential growth, sustainable startups – which are more naturally motivated by creation – will look at a market and wonder how they can make it bigger.
Through a process of continuous customer outreach, interaction with the marketplace and initiating innovation based on gathered intelligence, sustainable startups will look to grow their overall understanding of a market, so as to innovate within it and build products that truly serve the evolving needs of their customers.
These types of fundamental principles that drive a founder, and therefore drive a company, play a significant role in shaping it's long term success. While hard work, passion and enthusiasm are invaluable, if the motivation of a startup is simply to scrap for a piece of the existing pie, although they might experience success, it will likely be short lived.
By building a business that has a primary focus on the creation of a wider, more inclusive market around it, the chances of it having long term sustainability are greatly increased.
Cameron Chell is the Co-founder and CEO of Business Instincts Group, a venture creation firm in Calgary that finances and builds high-tech startups.To learn more about his work with sustainable startups you can visitwww.CameronChell.com