5 Tips for Building a Successful Startup

By Sandro Olivieri, AT&T Aspire Accelerator Entrepreneur-in-Residence
Dec 6, 2017 11:50 AM ET

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I come from a family of educators, but I am not one myself.

When I started as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the AT&T Aspire Accelerator focused on ed-tech, I had a small case of imposter syndrome. Sure, I’d worked in technology for my entire career, but what about the “ed” part of ed-tech? What did I know about education? How could I be taken seriously?

Then it dawned on me. Both of my parents were educators, half of my grandparents were as well, my wife is vice president of a national ed-tech non-profit, and my brother has worked in the field for the past 15 years. Education (and education technology) has always been in my bones. I just never realized it.

I bring up this story not to try and overcome any underlying effects of the imposter syndrome. I bring it up because despite the second-guessing, I’ve learned a few things about building successful start-ups in ed-tech.

While these lessons were learned through an ed-tech lens, they are easily applied to any start-up effort.

1. Build ego in your product.

You’ve dedicated your life to your product. You saw something that made you pause everything else and pursue your business full time. That’s worth touting. This doesn’t mean you should ignore your users, stop iterating, or abandon the  search for product/market fit. All it means is that you saw something valuable in the product, and you need to show that to others.

2. Don’t price low to “enter” the market.

It’s hard to boost your price on existing customers. So price yourself based on the value you provide your customers. Benchmark against other products in your space. Understand how your product is different – and price according to the additional value.

3. Investors are truth seekers.

Investors want to give you money. You just need to tell the right story. Don't hide your numbers and don’t sugarcoat them. Give a straight answer about your progress and make sure you have a strategy to improve upon it. Investors are looking for truth and hoping the truth is that you’ll stop at nothing to succeed.

4. Revenue will set you free.

The best way to de-risk your fundraising is to build up your own cash flow through revenue. This is particularly true in ed-tech. It’s never too early to start building your revenue base, especially with the long sales pipelines. Without a revenue base, you risk your company’s position if you falter in fundraising. Hedge your company’s success – build revenue early.

5. Don’t focus on your competition.

This is the hardest lesson to learn, but likely the most important. Your main competition is non-consumption. In other words, what makes someone use a product in your category at all? You need to know what your competition is doing in your space. At the same time, don’t let someone else dictate your strategy. No market is too small for more than one product.

Sandro is the entrepreneur-in-residence for the AT&T Aspire Accelerator. To learn more, go to att.com/aspireaccelerator.