Sam and Hal Stokes are brothers who founded the company, Happiour, a geo-location based app that offers consumers local food and drink offers. MyVoucherCodes, the well-known discount website, acquired Happiour this year, helping the Stokes brothers to expand the business to over 8m users across the UK. The Stokes brothers are musicians who moved to Los Angeles and toured America before becoming tech entrepreneurs. Here, Sam gives us an insight into their history with his top five tips for building a successful tech company.
Tip 1: Recognising an opportunity
Hal and I grew up near Oxford, got our band The Thieves going, and moved out to California in 2002. The Myspace phenomenon launched out of Los Angeles shortly after we arrived. We, and many other bands, were quick to recognise the opportunity for connecting directly with fans. Unless you’re signed to a major label, as a musician, you’re unlikely to have any marketing budget. The saying, necessity is the mother of invention, couldn’t be more applicable for bands and some of the best grassroots marketers are musicians.
As early adopters of social media, we were well ahead of the curve and understood the value we could offer to mainstream marketers and brands. We worked really hard to adapt and learn how to take what we knew to the mainstream, but ultimately it came down to recognising a genuine need-state and the opportunity that it presented to us.
Tip 2: Timing
Most successful entrepreneurs will agree that luck plays a part in success. Unfortunately, ‘luck’ is an intangible element and I prefer to think of it as being in the right place, at the right time. Bill Gross, founder and investor of multiple successful startups, attributes the single biggest factor for startups succeeding to timing. You can watch Bill’s Ted talk here.
Although you may have an absolutely brilliant idea, a great team and funding, you need to consider whether the world is ready for what you have to offer. A good example is Uber, who, if they had launched before mass smartphone adoption, would never have got off the ground.
There are many factors to consider, but some useful questions to ask yourself are:
- Are there similar ideas and competitors already in the market and what barriers might this present to your business?
- Can you bring your idea to market quickly enough to establish yourself and capture market share?
- Does the infrastructure or technology needed for your idea exist? Or, can you create the necessary infrastructure or technology needed to take your idea to market?
- Are consumers, customers and investors ready for what you have to offer them?
Tip 3: Vision
Taking an idea from inception to success requires many people buying into your vision. You will need to persuade employees, investors, consumers, customers and many others to believe in your vision, time and time again. Having absolute conviction is a given, otherwise you cannot expect others to believe in your idea, or you. Once you are confident in your vision, you need to find a way to engage your audience. The most effective way to engage your audience is through storytelling. Humans have told stories for millennia to communicate new ideas, pass on knowledge and shape the way we see the world. What is your story, how did it lead to your idea and why should your audience be excited about joining you?
Tip 4: Be lean
If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably already read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. If you haven’t and are thinking of starting a business, you should order yourself a copy now. The premise of the book is centred around validated learning, whereby hypotheses are tested and the lessons learnt inform your decision-making process. Unfortunately, I hadn’t read the book before we started building Happiour. As a result, we began with far too many features in our first release. Not only did it take more time and budget to build and launch, it also made it much harder to make sense of which features were valuable and which were unnecessary. With our 2.0 release, we improved the product much more rapidly. We started by stripping the product back, then tested and validated each feature as we progressed. Start with the bare essentials, then, step by step, build and learn what adds value.
Tip 5: Priorities
Getting a business off the ground is massively time consuming and founders are particularly time-poor. Establishing the vital priorities for your business can be the difference between success and failure. It sounds simple but knowing the right questions to ask can often be the hardest part. Ask yourself what challenges your business faces and work your way back to see what is creating those challenges. By looking at the fundamentals, you will often find the challenges stem from fundamental themes and trends that exist at the core of your business. Getting to the heart of what matters most to your business is the key to creating value.
Bonus Tip: Be brutally honest with yourself. Getting a business off the ground requires blood, sweat and tears. Inevitably, you will be incredibly emotionally invested and want something back from your hard work. However, hard work does not guarantee success and you need to be able distinguish between what you want and what actually works. Surround yourself with good people that you trust to tell you how it is and listen with an open mind.