James Sackl discusses what it takes to start a business, how to get started, and how to stay on track.
From your experience, what is the reality of starting a business to get rich quickly?
Starting up a business can certainly be an exciting journey, but it is not necessarily the fastest way to make money. You must be prepared for highs and lows along the way, but if you keep in mind that you will eventually generate more than what you put in, you will be better placed to succeed. In short, starting a business definitely requires resilience, but it should not be seen as a shortcut to wealth.
How long should it take for a business to become profitable?
Especially if you’re doing this on your own without venture capital backing, you’d want to be profitable or break even as soon as possible.
My COVID diagnostic pen was an overnight success for me. The product had been in development for a year, but when it was launched, it wasn’t well received. However, when COVID hit in early 2020, it took off. Customers complained as sales increased, leading to a drop in sales as a result of COVID.
We had to refine our customer service and the product too and product sales increased again. So, the bottom line is that you have to deal with the growing pains and the roller coaster ride. Online businesses, where the overheads are not very high, are easier to break even, at least very quickly. For instance, when working on infrastructure projects, this may not be the case.
Where can someone who wants to start a business get advice on developing a business plan?
It’s best to avoid spending too much time planning when you first launch. Your energy should be focused on finding product market fit as soon as possible. Once you have that product market fit, you can design a strategy based on it. A business plan doesn’t have to be followed, and you can modify it as you go if need be. Your assumptions when you first start can be quite different from what you end up with.
Keep your business afloat by focusing more on product market fit, what customers want and who they are.
I wondered if you had venture capital backing and a capital strategy. Is it necessary to have substantial capital in the bank when starting a business, like enough to cover a potential year’s operating costs, or is it okay to just throw caution to the wind and start a business without much capital?
The answer really depends on where you are in life. For example, if you are a single woman or man and you have rent to pay and don’t have too many other obligations, you might be able to jump right in. Assuming that you’ve got kids, a partner, and a mortgage, taking those risks becomes much harder for you. Before you go ahead, you’d need a decent amount in the bank and in the company’s accounts.
When you started your first business, what were your expectations? Were they realistic?
I started Young Media (an online advertising business) with low expectations. I didn’t think it was going to be successful. Facebook’s launch contributed to its success at that time. The experience felt surreal, and I wondered when it would all end. To answer your question, I did not expect much.
To start a successful business, do you need experienced advisors or mentors?
When you don’t have anyone you can consult in the sphere for advice, it makes it much harder. You might have clouded perceptions because there is so much going on. Having a third-party opinion, or a watchful eye, could allow you to make better decisions. So yeah, it’s good to have mentors. You can also find resources online if you don’t have mentors.
Business owners often do everything themselves when they’re just starting out, to keep costs down. What advice do you have for them, and what tools are available to help them manage marketing more efficiently?
There are many hats that business owners wear, but I think that one way to sort of put some metrics around that is to value your time, or how you can get something done at a much lower rate. You can outsource a lot of the graphic design work, as well as marketing and accounting work. On the internet, you can easily find help for a reasonable price.
In a start-up, what can an individual expect in terms of their work-life balance? It may differ from one person to another, but how many hours should you expect to work per week?
What you do to ensure the business is successful might be the best answer to that question. If only 7.5 hours a day is invested, five days a week, then it will take longer for the goals intended to be achieved in three years’ time. This delay equates to lost or foregone opportunities of revenue generation. To keep everything at bay you need to go above and beyond your usual working hours. Reaching a point where some tasks can be delegated is also important, as no one has the capacity or the capability to utilise all skills sets on their own, so outsourcing may be beneficial in the long run. Nevertheless, we can’t forget that too much of anything leads to exhaustion – there’s no superhuman and overworking won’t benefit anyone.
As a mom, what advice do you have for moms who want to start a business because, maybe, the corporate world no longer aligns with their life and needs?
I think it’s great that they want to venture into something new. One of the best things about doing this is that it gives them a sense of purpose, apart from being a mother, and a sense of personal satisfaction. Having a full-time job and working on a side hustle in the night is no different than being a parent.
Should branding be one of the first steps in establishing a business? Some small start-ups may think it will be okay to do it on their own?
If you’re launching with no brand, you’re spinning your wheels until you build a brand because you don’t have anything that differentiates you from a competitor that they can’t copy. It is important for you to have a brand and protect it when starting a business.
Before launching a product/service, what should people consider?
I may sound counter-intuitive, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to dwell too much or to get too into too much detail, since the product will probably work fine in its first iteration. So, I think that getting it to market as quickly as possible, and then getting feedback and improvising. That’s your best bet. Don’t overthink it because it leads to ‘paralysis’ when you overthink it, and you don’t learn what your customers want.
How can you minimise the errors you make when starting a business?
It is important to try new things and keep reinventing yourself and your product. You don’t want to stagnate in business.
As someone who has experienced success and failure, what advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
It’s all about resilience. No matter how successful you are, you’ll experience downturns and failures. You need to keep your head up and keep going. It’s all about resilience.