HQ has a community of over 280 different companies, so we get it, no two companies are the same! And there is not one right way to get started. In fact, if you ask most of our companies, they’ll tell you the same thing… it is easier to recognize what you did NOT do right. This month, we asked our members what they WISH they knew or did when they first got started. All month long, we will be sharing those answers (and sometimes fun fail stories), but for this newsletter we wanted to highlight what we are calling the Seven Deadly Start-Up Sins.
1. Trademark & IP Patent
Right now you are giving me a short sarcastic “HA!” because you have seen that episode of Silicon Valley, and while you don’t want to get beat up by a rural farmer, you also think “yeah, I’d be so lucky if someone wanted my company name!” So I understand, you don’t want to spend time or money getting a trademark or patent until your company is successful. But this issue hits closer to home for many in our community. In fact, even HQ was originally named HUB Raleigh, and because of trademark issues, had to change our name. (Our early team even made a rap video to make light of the issue and source the community for name ideas, and HQ was born!) Luckily, this was early enough in the HQ days that we could shift our brand and survive, but for many companies who are farther along, that kind of change is difficult to make and can lead to legal issues or worse. Especially in the case of getting patents, not having the right protections in place could lead to losing the rights to your name, product, or idea. In the HQ world we have a few business attorneys and community members who have expertise in this area and host regular office hours.
2. LLC or Corp Status
This one is a bit tougher. It’s not that getting a legal status is overly difficult, but when you’re first starting out, it’s easy to just be a sole proprietor in the US. But we have heard one too many stories about sole proprietors getting sued and having no legal separation between themselves, their family/household, and their business. If you want to learn more, one of our partners, Hutch Law, wrote a founders handbook that is available to all HQ members and can be found on the resources page of the HQ Community App!
3. Basic Branding Rules
I know, I know you want to have a service or product to build your brand around first. But it really is the chicken and the egg rule here, in that you have to have both. And if you’re thinking, “I don’t want to invest in a brand identity until we know our product or service identity,” I would encourage you that it’s okay to evolve your brand over time, but it’s not okay to not have any brand for years. If you just need some quick help, Magdalyn Duffie, Pan-II Creative, and Paradigm both do some logo and brand design. If you want to take a deeper dive or re-brand, New Kind, located in our Capital Club location, is known for humanizing tech brands and are amazing at what they do. They are the real McCoy. (By the way, I heard the story of where that saying came from the other day, check it out. It’s good trivia!)
4. Headshot and Bio
Getting a good headshot and bio seems like the easiest thing to check off this list. But if you’ve ever tried to find a good headshot and bio of people you look up online, you’ll find it often takes some digging. I think because it’s easy to do, it’s often far down people’s task lists and seems insignificant to business operations. Your professional image, however, is synonymous with your company. That goes for everyone in your company, by the way. And it’s not like if you don’t put up a picture and bio people looking for it will find nothing. Instead, they will find a terrible, old, washed out picture of you from your step sister’s wedding in the 90s. (Now, find a seat because I am about to tell you that the 90’s was nearly 30 years ago! Cue our shared shock.) So for the love of all things good, just get a nice headshot and updated bio to throw up online. We have so many photographers that work out of our space. In fact, during the next happy hour on Friday, we will have headshots for charity! So basically you’re a bad person if you don’t!
5. Company Culture
Oof, this is a big one. I cannot say enough about the importance of culture. As members of sports teams, families, and communities, you already get why culture is important, but for some reason, this does not always translate to work. But by choosing to not have any culture, you are just choosing to have a bad culture. It might sound too light and fluffy for you at first, but at the end of the day your company is just comprised of human beings who have an innate desire to connect and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. For some big thinking about this topic, Brene Brown is a great thought leader and I highly recommend reading Dare to Lead. For some local thought leadership, we have a few resources like Julie Roseland, Erin Gallimore, and Rachael Boone, who have regular HQ office hours. You can find them on the HQ app.
6. Accounting & Finances
Accounting is another one of those ones where we all understand why this would be important but for individual companies, it’s easy to start your accounting practices with a mix of Google docs, spreadsheets, and good old-fashioned handwritten notes and calculations, and then put everything into a system once that becomes too much. But the issue is, by that point you basically have to work backwards in time to create categories for things you never categorized. And often times, the cost of an accountant or accounting software is easily offset by the amount you can save being organized at tax time. HPG offers accounting packages that serve early stage entrepreneurs as well as growing companies. Wells Fargo also offers banking services for every stage and has free office hours at HQ each month. (Check out our app to learn more.) If you are also looking for help on the personal side of accounting and financial planning, we are hosting a free Financial Planning for Young Professionals Workshop on May 10th.
7. Market Research
Last, but certainly not least, of our seven deadly sins is not doing market research. Market research is one of those words that has been used to death in the start-up world, but for a good reason. Whether you face it head on or not, the market is the only thing that will determine the success of your service or product. Not doing market research is like not opening that mystery brown bag on your doorstep. Sure, it could
be dog poo. But it could also be thousands of dollars! Best you find out now either way before it starts to stink, (or before someone else takes those funds.) Hands down, the best indicator of whether or not your service or product will be successful is if someone is already paying for it. It’s dangerous to enter into a market where a similar product or service is not selling without knowing why. If there are other players in the space – look at the services they are offering, prices they are charging, and ‘niches’ they’re servicing. Is there a way for you to position your company to stand out from the crowd and meet your customers’ needs in a unique way? There are tons of people in the HQ community who could help you think through this one. Greg Hopper and Ben Blankenship are two strategists who have been successful in their own rights and would be able to offer some advice. Ben even hosts office hours each month, check out the HQ Community App to learn more.
And so much more..
We only chose 7 of the biggest pain points to highlight this month, but there are so many other areas to think about and get help with. If you are looking for a resource, visit the HQ Community App under the “Resources” tab. And through the HQ Connect feature you can now ask ANY question via email to [email protected] or within the app and your question will be directed to the appropriate resource provider – try it out!