By Kunbi Tinuoye, Founder & CEO, UrbanGeekz
What’s the secret to startup success? Many will come up with a list that looks something like this: raising capital, hiring a solid team, and, of course, recruiting a smart technical co-founder. Not necessarily. Aside from a great idea that fills a gap in the market, one of the key determinants for success is the passion the founder and founding team have for their brand. It’s motivation, commitment, and passion that see entrepreneurs through the inevitable highs and lows of starting and operating a business venture.
We have to love what we do. It takes passion to start — and more importantly maintain — a successful technology-enabled business. I truly believe entrepreneurs need a personal connection to their product or service to have a shot at success. Founders who are knowledgeable and deeply passionate about solving a specific problem run the most promising startups. Founders need to be driven by a burning desire to meet their customers’ needs, against all odds. A good way to think of it is that building a company is simply the physical manifestation of solving a problem. With that being said, if founders decide to pivot or change direction, absolutely everyone in the core team needs to be onboard.
Still, the savviest techpreneurs connect passion to a strong sense of purpose that inspires people — let’s say employees for instance — in a way that chasing profits alone never will. The best startups are driven by impact and fueled by passion, purpose, and commitment to stay the course and stick with a chosen path. For startups to survive and thrive, they need to have this winning formula.
Founders need to communicate passion
But it doesn’t stop there. Startup founders need to be able to authentically communicate their passion. They have to be able to articulate their vision to employees, strategic partners, potential investors, and media professionals. So, for example, during my entrepreneurial journey, I have done several media interviews, in print, radio and broadcast. The most consistent feedback I have received is “I love your passion, it’s infectious.”
Raising capital helps but does not guarantee success
Don’t get me wrong; an influx of money from investors can be critical to transforming a good idea into viable/scalable business model. My argument is that outside financing simply isn’t enough. Why am I convinced? Because VCs give away a wad of cash to startup founders (often geeky, 20-something-year-old millennials from elite Ivy League schools) and many still fail, miserably. Let’s be real, most startups fail, even venture-backed businesses. Getting outside investment does not guarantee success. According to an article in Fast Company, as many as 75 percent of venture-backed companies never return cash to investors.
Starting a business to make an impact
When I look back. I have absolutely no idea what I was thinking. I launched UrbanGeekz with nominal funds and limited resources, with a hyperactive toddler in tow. Still, passion and desire to make an impact outweighed any sense of doubt. Within the first three months of the digital news platform going live, several articles went viral and unexpected media coverage helped create a buzz around the site. Fast-forward three years and we still haven’t received a dime of outside financing, but we are standing. Honestly, bootstrapping has kept us on our toes. We have focused on increasing traction, generating revenue, attracting customers, gaining credibility in the marketplace, and fine-tuning the revenue model.
It’s been an exhilarating and oftentimes frustrating journey. Self-funding is tough. What has really kept us going is passion and our strong sense of purpose. Our aim is to promote educational achievement and career exploration in STEM-fields and entrepreneurship, especially among underestimated groups. We are crystal clear on this mission. You can’t fake passion and, if you’re lucky, having a dose of passion may well propel you to launching a successful purpose-driven startup.
Kunbi Tinuoye is the founder and CEO of UrbanGeekz, an award-winning African American, Latinx, and multicultural digital news platform focused on technology, business, science and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The former NBC journalist is also the Executive Editor of Geekz Watch, a fast-paced news show focused on the very best and latest tech, business, science, and startup news.