Startup success depends on so many variables. It’s seldom easy to predict what will be a hit and what will flop. Jamie Shulman has some thoughts on what it takes to get it right. Shulman is co-founder and co-CEO of Toronto-based Hubdoc Inc., a 2.5-year-old business that automates bookkeeping for small businesses. “We automate the data-entry element of bookkeeping,” explains Shulman.
Shulman—who is the guest on this week’s BusinessCast podcast—has a lot of experience in the startup world. Before launching Hubdoc, he was a Silicon Valley-based lawyer specializing in technology. After that, he started and sold marketing software firm Sparkroom with Jamie McDonald, his partner at Hubdoc.
Throughout Shulman’s career, he’s seen a lot of startups with great potential fail spectacularly. It’s made him determined to avoid that fate with Hubdoc. In his view, there are four things a Canadian startup must get right in order to succeed:
1. The business plan
Too many startups either underestimate or misunderstand either the scope of the market they want to serve or the demand for the product or service they plan to offer. (In some cases, they misread both.) Shulman took extra pains to understand what he was getting into with Hubdoc: “With subscription software businesses like ours, it was important to know there was a big enough market and that we had an efficient way to acquire customers,” he said. “It involved a lot of asking, ‘Is it a big enough idea? Is there a business there?’
2. The flexibility to pivot
Hubdoc started as free consumer software, with a plan to get enterprise clients, such as banks and telcos, to pay for the software as a means to encourage clients to go paperless. But it soon became clear that the most enthusiastic users of the platform were small business-owners and independent contractors. So Shulman and McDonald decided to change the focus of the business. “We quickly realized small business was the real opportunity for us,” Shulman says.
3. The timing
Far too many businesses fail because they go to market too early or too late, Shulman says. “Sometimes great ideas and great businesses are just too early,” he reasons.
4. The ambition
“Some businesses just focus on Canada,” says Shulman. “There’s a lack of desire, or maybe a lack of capability, to really go for it, to go big.” This aversion to risk stymies businesses that could otherwise experience tremendous success internationally, he adds: “Especially if you’re in the technology sector, you can’t just be focused on Canada.”
For more of Shulman’s thoughts, check out this week’s BusinessCast, which you can listen to by clicking the button above or download by clicking on the iTunes logo below:
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