*This post was originally published as an article in The Independent newspaper on 25 May 2011. Click here to access the original article
WAYN.com, the social platform we founded for the travel community just under 10 years ago, was born out of the love and passion its three co-founders had (and continue to have) for travelling. And that indeed is the first lesson any budding entrepreneur should learn: love your product. You’ll need it, because the blood, sweat and tears you will shed in the course of bringing your idea to life will be much easier to deal with if you know in your heart that the product is worthy of all your efforts.
Having said that, be pragmatic. That means being able to step back and look at the bigger picture – recognising what isn’t working, and then adjusting and moving forwards, step by step. Believe us, we’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, as no doubt you will too. But as they say – and this is certainly true in our case – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
For example, the rise of Facebook should have spelled the end of smaller social communities such as WAYN, but the fact that we (and many other niche social networks) have survived – and indeed continue to grow – is testament to our perseverance and the fact that as long as the product is innovative, then there will be room in the market for it.
But it must also be said that luck has played its role in our venture, as it undoubtedly does in all start-ups. We were lucky in that we were one of the very first movers in our sector which gave us a huge advantage, but timing is not everything. Barriers to entry can be broken if you have a good product that better meets the needs of your customers – just look at how Facebook took over from MySpace.
Following your instincts is another factor often mentioned in success stories. And for us, it has mostly paid off. We’ve made many a business decision based on gut feelings. Luckily the three of us have for the most part been on the same page, which is another factor in our success – finding the right people to partner with, those with complimentary skill sets and who can be trusted to do the best for the company. Each of WAYN’s co-founders offers something unique to the company and that has certainly helped to create and maintain forward momentum.
As for the lessons learnt since attracting venture capital investment; firstly, bootstrap for as long as possible so you don’t dilute equity too quickly. Secondly, if you do get into bed with a VC, take care to understand the objectives of everyone involved and be prepared for a different type of journey. For example, when we raised our ‘series A’ investment round in 2006, everyone wanted to be our mates, but relationships change and the stakes are higher when you’re going through tougher times. Furthermore, treat VC money very carefully, or you will pay for it later. Remember that it is a lot easier to spend money to grow than it is to grow your profits to make money.
Finally, enjoy the ride. There will certainly be challenges at every step of the journey, but always be ambitious and never give up. We are certainly entrepreneurs at heart and are very supportive of others like us who risk it all to strike out on their own. We are advocates of policies that foster more entrepreneurship and innovation in society and we hope that the knowledge we’ve learnt along the way will help to usher in the next generation of start-ups. Globalisation and a permanently connected world have levelled the playing field between big and small enterprises, established businesses and start-ups. There’s never been a better time to challenge the norm, and never a better time to disrupt.