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How to conquer your startup’s first 100 days

Your company is set up. You’re officially a CEO. It’s time to put the wheels in motion and make your idea a success. But what should the first 100 days look like? It’s a tough question to answer if you’re new to building a business.

With 1 in 5 startups falling by the wayside within the first year, these first few months are critical. This is the time to prove that the idea is viable. From setting goals and straightening out finances to testing the product and gathering feedback, here are six aspects of your business to conquer in the first 100 days.

1. Set goals
Knowing your goals is vital. Unfortunately, many startup founders fail, not because their idea lacks potential, but because they lack focus. They have no plan. The money runs out, then the resources too. They’re left endlessly trying to find funding before they ever gave the startup a chance.

How to set goals
In the first 100 days it’s unlikely you’ll have many metrics or experiences to guide your goals. Consider using the SMART acronym as a way for setting these early goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound goals. They will give you something to aim for and measure your performance against.

2. Get your finances straight
How far will the money stretch? If you’re in the pre-seed stage, you’re probably running the business off your own funds.

During the first 100 days, it’s unlikely you’ll find an investor. This takes time. In a survey of 100 MENA-based startup founders, 71% said that fundraising took at least nine months. Instead, concentrate on getting what finances you do have in order.

How to manage finances
If you can’t afford an accountant, you’ll need to manage the finances yourself. Start by opening a business bank account. Choose the best accountancy software you can afford. Set up a quick and easy way to manage your cash flow. Look into what tax credits, and research and development grants, you can access in the UAE. Consider how much product development is likely to cost over the next 100 days. You’ll then quickly start to understand how much the business is costing you and budget accordingly.

3. Get the paperwork in order
There are a few boring things you need to do to save yourself hassle and heartache further down the line. The legalities involved in running a business can become complex, especially in a country like the UAE which has laws that vary depending on where you choose to do business.

Getting paperwork right
If you have a company name in mind make sure this is registered immediately. Purchase the domain name too. If your product is truly innovative you’ll also want to register your intellectual property, such as trademark and copyright. In the UAE, this is done at the Ministry of Economy. You may wish to have this in place before discussing your idea with suppliers or customers. Also consider what the terms and conditions and privacy policy will be for your product or service.

If managing this and/or the finances are of particular concern to you, consider using one of the startup advisory firms in the UAE. Creative Zone offer a range of services to help entrepreneurs with their business launch and growth, for example.

4. Test and research
In the early days, it’s much better to have a product that people want than to get hung up on a smart logo, sleek branding and business cards. Spend too much time on trying to make your product or service look good, and not enough time making it the best it can be, could leave you with something no one wants to buy. The first 100 days is therefore time to test.

It’s also the time to research the market. Analytics firm Autopsy looked at the MENA region and asked why 60 startups had failed. Amazing 1 in 4 went under because there was no market need for their offering. Now is the time to find this out!

How to get testing
Aim to build something in the first 100 days that you can show customers and investors. Test the product in-house first, then have it tested by a trusted group of people. Test the idea with customers even if there is no product yet. This way you’ll get feedback on whether it’s a good offering and whether it’s solving the problem you think it is before you invest too much time and money in it.

5. Build a customer base
Sometimes founders already have a couple of clients and they see this as a reason for not putting emphasis on finding new business in the first 100 days. Yet customers don’t last forever. From day 1, be on the lookout for those people who will find their problem solved by you.

How to get more leads
Start with your existing network. Ask friends and family and their friends and family. This is the best place to start if you’re not all that comfortable talking to people. Make an appearance at trade shows and conferences. Ask people to test your product as a way to get them interested. Try paid ads on social media platforms if you have a website or landing page set up.

6. Look into incubators
Incubators can be a great starting point. They often help foster new ideas. Many specialize in specific sectors like technology or energy. They frequently set entrepreneurs up with mentors and offer advice on funding opportunities, and provide access to desks and meeting rooms.

How to find an incubator
Here in the UAE, startup ecosystems, Free Zones, universities and the government all offer incubators. The entry criteria for each varies, so be sure to check the small print before going too far down the application process.

Be a storyteller
What you do in the early stages of your startup will shape the course of your business and prove you have one at all. We think these six steps are vital to help you achieve this.
As a bonus seventh, spend some time becoming a better storyteller. Once that first 100 days is up, you’re going to find yourself on the hunt for funding and that’s where practising your presentation skills will really pay off.

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