By Allan Maurer
One of the major mistakes many first-time entrepreneurs make, says Aaron Houghton, who is now on his 15th startup, is investing everything you have in your first company.
“Lots of times,” Houghton says, “entrepreneurs put everything they have in their first company. If that fails, it is financially devastating and can ruin personal relationships.”
Instead, he says, “The right way to start is so that you can recover if it is not an immediate or longterm success. You have to be comfortable with failure and understand how to embrace it and recover.”
Houghton, currently founder and CEO of Boostsuite, was previously with Preation and email marketing firm iContact, which he co-founded with Ryan Allis while both were students at the University of North Carolina in 2003. It sold to Vocus for $169 million.
“I never put all my net worth into any of my companies so I could always recover, although I’ve definitely taken a good amount of risk along the way. Until iContact, I never had a big exit.”
Houghton gets high marks from other Research Triangle area entrepreneurs we talk to for his latest startup, Boostsuite, which is a web marketing optimization product for small business owners and entrepreneurs. It takes about a minute to set up and use.
Houghton joins 120 other digital marketing experts, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and executives from top digital brands at the Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC, Tuesday through Thursday this week (Nov. 6-8). He’ll be discussing “The Art of the Startup” at the new event this year, the Startup Summit on Tuesday.
Startup survival tips
Making sure you can recover from a failed startup is number one on Houghton’s top three pieces of advice to other entrepreneurs.
Next, he says, is that “It’s all about the people. There are not that many people in the entrepreneurial space with the talent you need, so treat your people well.”
Startups entail risks for staff, not just founders and CEOs. They often pay less than regular positions with major firms, and job security is not one of their job benefits. “Not that many people are willing to work in the startup space,” says Houghton.
Those software engineers and marketing pros who do like that startup juice tend to be in a limited talent pool.
So, says Houghton, “Don’t treat them as a short term resource. You’ll need them again in your next startup.”
Test, test, test
Finally, he says, “Get as much feedback about your product as you can as early as possible. I’m a strong believer in the lean startup model. You build a set of assumptions then test each as soon as possible. Eight of ten may be wrong.”
He adds, “It has gotten so easy to test with users now. You can throw a site up on social media and tell people you’re doing pre-enrollment for a beta test. You can get feedback via email or tools in the product.”
You can also use online tools such as usertesting.com. It will let you watch a video of a real user trying your product features.
Joe Procopio, another serial entrepreneur, founder of Triangle-based Exitevent.com, will also participate in the Startup Summit. He offers some advice for riding the startup roller coaster.
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