Getting a start-up off the ground can be tricky, but former Drapers 30 under 30 Kieran O’Neill has done it three times.
drapers front cover april 8 2016 thread kieran o neill terry betts
First with Youtube forerunner HolyLemon.com in 2003 aged 15, followed by gaming social network Playfire in 2007, and most recently online men’s styling service Thread, which he founded with Ben Philips and Ben Kucsan in 2012. He gives Drapers his top tips.
Choose the right business partner Try to make sure you have all the core skills you need in your founding team. If you are launching a new brand and you need design and production skills, try and make sure you have a designer and someone with experience in production, for example. Otherwise you will have to pay someone else to do it, they won’t be as motivated and it will cost more money.
Have real clarity around what it is you are doing that is different A lot of times I have seen people get really excited about an idea that is kind of fuzzy and, it is not crystal clear what the crux is that will make it work and be new. Ask yourself why it is different and make that the core of the business, rather than making the concept too complex and doing too much at once.
Grow your network This needs to be balanced. I think a lot of people retreat into a cave and try to do it all by themselves, which will never work. Conversely some people go to every networking event and waste a lot of time. Focus on making the right connections, and ask them if they can introduce you to two key contacts and then ask the same of them. That way you grow your network quickly in the right way.
Get the scale right One of the big mistakes is people try and go from having an idea to having a really big business by first creating a small version of a bigger vision. That isn’t the right way to do it. Rather than building everything immediately, focus on making a small group of customers as happy as possible. Once they like what you are doing you can expand horizontally more quickly than producing something that a lot of people kind of like but that nobody loves.
Get started It’s easy to over-think it and why it won’t work. There is a really interesting concept in the tech world called “minimum viable product”, which is where you figure out the essence of what you are doing and create the quickest possible version to get going. That is what we did with Thread when it first launched. It would have taken lots of work to develop the algorithm, so we actually had a stylist behind the scenes doing it manually. It meant we could test the concept, make some learnings quickly, and correct those in days rather than months. It helps to fake the parts that are really hard to scale at first.
Get the timing right A common mistake is trying to raise funding before you have anything to show. There are so many people trying to start businesses nowadays. Investors want opportunities where you have traction already. If you are starting a fashion label, it could be that you have produced some samples and you have some pre-orders from buyers, for example. Really the hardest thing with entrepreneurship is getting to a place where you have proven the business enough to raise funding without having any money or funding to do it. It is a catch-22. However, I think it is a healthy thing because it weeds out the people who aren’t really serious because it is a high hurdle and by starting in that way it makes you focus on what matters.