There are many enviable eyes watching certain startups, particularly in the design and fashion space: they seem exciting, set to find sustainable growth, and well-positioned. The inevitable question then becomes, how EXACTLY did they go from an idea to a grown-up company so seamlessly?
The truth is, nothing in business is picture perfect (there’s a reason why the word “pivot” gets thrown around entrepreneur circles quite a bit). A successful startup and team did their work to arrive in the spotlight. Sure, some of it was the luck they created, but more often than not, it was careful planning, flexibility, lack of ego, and the ability to reach out.
So you’ve got an idea and perhaps a brilliant programmer on board (lucky you!)–where do you go next?
The tech/digital world has crafted one particular thing well for startups, which is the incubator (and accelerator). Both TechStars and Y-Combinator are particularly popular models of what is essentially a program for founders to work with experts who span the business, legal, and branding strategy fields for an intensive period of time until they are actually ready to launch. The small catch to this is that you have to be accepted in order to participate in these programs. If you are just out of college and $15,000 sounds like exactly what you need to get your next big idea going, then this might be exactly what you are looking for. In other cases, where you already have access to experts and have reached a different point in your life, perhaps you would want to work with experts on your own terms (or maybe it’s just not for you). Whatever your preference, there are some serious benefits to the incubator model to take away and use, most notably:
*Create a plan. Everyone has a great idea, in fact many, but the value to an incubator is that it actually hones your actionable steps and acumen for action. Instead of talking about the next best thing your company is going to be, you are routinely asked to explain, to work it out, to test in fact, whether your idea is as good as it seems. And the truth is that you can do that all on your own as well. Create a plan as to how in real life you are going to go about launching your business, how it will grow, what it will do and how you will take those initial steps to make it happen.
*Identify who can help you and reach out. Incubators are full of experts who are devoted to helping you to actualize the business model. While it might seem like a lot to ask, you can also find those same amazing people walking the streets in real life. If you are truly serious about launching a company then you will absolutely be able to find people to help you by offering their expertise, discounted services or leads to people in the know (ask for trusted referrals). This also requires that you put aside the idea that you are the only person who ever thought of this idea–go talk to people who you know who are familiar with the space and see what they can do to help refine your idea. Even in cases where you cannot afford a full service rate, if you’re that serious, people will help you. (*Just be careful not to waste anyone’s time).
*Get serious and keep learning. Nothing happens in a bubble (no pun intended), particularly not a good business. If you are serious about tech, and particularly fashion tech, you need to constantly learn what is going on in the industry. While incubators offer an incredible amount of resources in the form of classes, you can also find countless amazing resources on your own. Sign up for Meetups and small business classes in your city, audit a class at a local college, and suck up a bunch of $25 fees–if you’re serious about this and choose wisely, the resources and contacts you find will truly help to get you to the next level.
And once you’re finally ready–even if you’re not from an incubator–you, too, can be ready to pitch, launch and emerge as one of those actualized companies you’ve been reading about.
Christine E. Creamer is a strategy consultant and attorney focused on emerging designers and digital fashion platforms. She welcomes follows: @cecreamer + emails: firstname.lastname@example.org. Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables.