As you might imagine, I often get asked by young entrepreneurs for advice on how to start a business. What many seem to want is some sort of trick, some magic set of tools that will allow them to launch a thriving startup from scratch. Well, there’s no magic involved, but the keys to success are quite simple: Value your customers, hire well, find a market that isn’t being served, and realize that someday I will utterly crush you.
That’s really all there is to it. Execute the basics correctly and you’ll be in great shape when I come along and rip away your dreams with one emotionless pen stroke.
In the early days of your startup, you may have to do a little bit of everything: design, accounting, marketing, legal, even cleaning up the office. That takes hard work, perseverance, and—I can’t emphasize this enough—the understanding that once you’ve succeeded, I will begin systematically choking off your revenue streams. It’s all part of the process, as integral as drafting your business plan, scaling up your company, and coming to terms with the fact that I will ultimately force you to take out a second mortgage just to make payroll.
Beyond that, you need to be willing to pivot. Too many times I’ve seen startups get mired in ideas that were clearly unfeasible from the get-go. And even if your core business is sound, you may need to reboot your product several times before you create something so truly innovative that I move into the market myself and proceed to undercut you at every turn, putting such enormous strain on you and your partners that your organization descends into bitter infighting.
Now, suppose your startup really catches on and you build up an impressive customer base. That’s great—but there are still many trials ahead. Be prepared, among other things, for my company to duplicate your product or service and sell it at prices you can never compete with, all the while turning your board members against you one by one and, eventually, buying your company for less than it’s worth just so we can shut it down. Nonetheless, congratulations! You’ve made it further than most.
Once you’ve laid the groundwork at your company, you may wonder where to direct your focus next. You might find it helpful to jot down—and I mean literally, with an old-fashioned pen and paper—some thoughts about what you want to be doing five years from now, after I’ve used my near-limitless resources to make competing with me both pointless and humiliating. How will you adapt to an environment in which your life’s work is in tatters and you loathe yourself for putting so many people through such a horrific ordeal for something as ultimately meaningless as an innovation in e-commerce?
As you grow, you’ll also need to ramp up hiring, so be sure to set up booths at local job fairs and take advantage of any available tax credits.
One of the best things a young entrepreneur can do is cultivate good mentors. Back when I started Amazon in my garage in Seattle, those were few and far between. Keep in mind that when I leave you hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and wondering how you’ll ever put your kids through school—how you’ll start over completely, in fact, once I’ve ruined you—there are countless investors and incubators who can provide you with valuable guidance.
Remember, this is your dream. You’ve poured your whole self into this one project. You’ve staked everything on it. So never lose sight of the vision that brought you to this point, and never forget that I can and will use the insurmountable powers that I wield to snuff out your dream like a candle, condemning you to a bitter darkness of misery.