21st-Century Success Strategies for Startups

Successful enterprises in 2020 and after will depend on one or more of these, so anyone starting a business or nonprofit today is smart to incorporate some of these into their business plan in order to maximize their chances of success in these fast-changing times.


Not all are brand new, but most have their roots in the last decade or are on the horizon for the next one. Every founder for years to come needs to consider these.

Our innovation hub members learn dozens more of these strategies.

  • Think about who you want to spend your days with and in which role

  • Define and evaluate popular options for businesses like yours in numerous areas before you choose your options

  • Think through your strategy

  • Consider pros/cons of me-too/copy-cat vs unique businesses

  • Build as many proprietary features and processes into your operation as possible to discourage copy-cats

  • Create your own or choose a niche you dominate vs go for 1%-2% of a huge competitive market

  • Avoid markets with lots of eventual competitors (competition kills profit)

  • Consider competitors as role models that make you better

  • Partner with competitors vs compete (as PayPal did with Visa)

  • Use design thinking

  • Inspire people to join your team (as staff, partners and buyers) with a big audacious goal

  • Avoid all types of races to the bottom

  • Create indisputable value

  • Find the gaps and fill them in ways that improve entire systems’ or an industry’s operations

  • Be different

  • Risk being bold

  • Innovate

  • Disrupt by improving something

  • Work to be the very best in your market

  • Solve big, important problems or prevent a buyer’s pain

  • Be nimble AND agile

  • Be lean

  • Build credibility via who you associate with: your early buyers, partners, investors, sponsors, etc.

  • Create something worthy of going viral

  • Be known/liked/trusted

  • Ask for forgiveness, not permission

  • Decide success as money vs as a certain lifestyle and quality of life

  • Use new economy and knowledge businesses

  • Be part of the Internet of Things (IoT)

  • Create one or use the sharing economy

  • Enable the emerging middle classes abroad

  • Develop information products as additional revenue sources (books, courses, training, videos, blogs, podcasts, etc.)

  • Cash is king

  • Create passive income

  • Use OPM – other people’s money (vs your own)

  • Create ways to minimize how much time you trade for dollars

  • Bootstrap to get started quickly

  • Build an asset to sell

  • Always be aware of the level of risk inherent in your decisions

  • Choose a business with pricing power vs one in a race to the bottom (or the lowest possible price)

  • Carefully decide the pros and cons of making vs buying vs licensing

Marketing & Sales
  • Fixate on customer experience

  • Don’t drink the Kool Aid – observe and remain objective

  • Constantly iterate/continuously improve by incorporating your market’s feedback and new systems or technologies

  • Use multiple platforms

  • Use inbound marketing in lieu of ever cold-calling

  • Develop content marketing

  • Attract social media followings

  • Be mobile-friendly

  • Be a guerrilla marketer

  • Offer something free

  • Surprise and delight buyers

  • Reward frequent buyers

  • Make something people love and will promote for you by word of mouth

  • Reward buyers who refer you (the ultimate word-of-mouth benefit)

  • Build a sales funnel and have multiple price points

  • Know your sales conversion numbers

  • Use AB testing to find the optimal approach

  • Use conversational copyrighting

  • Short and pithy wins over long tomes

  • Make your marketing messages about your buyer (not about you)

  • First build systems to find low-hanging fruit as your first buyers

  • Attract a “lead steer” as an early buyer (in ranching, other cattle will follow the lead steer)

  • Plan the source of your momentum that will propel you “across the chasm” from early adopters to mainstream buyers

  • Repurpose content and messages

  • Create genuinely informative advertising

  • Notice online advertising (Google, Facebook) has eclipsed print ads

  • Optimize webpages via SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to appear on top of search results lists

  • Use SEM (Search Engine Marketing) to easily and quickly learn buyer preferences

  • Show and tell via videos

  • Build fans and followers in many ways

  • Avoid shiny objects

  • Destroy silos

  • Flatten your org chart

  • Be deliberate about the type of culture you create and values you want your organization to reflect

  • Empower employees to solve problems without needing approval

  • Hire the right attitude vs skills

  • Fire with clarity

  • Manage to an 80% standard

  • Closely manage your outsourced functions and processes

  • Be careful who you tell, especially in the early days

  • Know your key metrics at all times

  • Frequently redo your SWOT analysis

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff

  • Market-test a minimum viable product (MVP)

  • Launch & learn

  • Use trial and error iterations to improve

  • Fail fast

  • Think in terms of systems, sequences and processes that lead to efficiency, quality control and standardization

  • Systematize processes via trainable steps you document from Day 1 for consistency and to capture your intellectual property and proprietary technology

  • Automate for maximum efficiency

  • Leverage processes for efficiency wherein one action or outcome might contribute to two others

  • Increase efficiency by using one-to-many tactics

  • Create on-demand buyer delivery systems/on-demand content of all types

  • Use the cloud to deliver services

  • Incorporate ecommerce

  • Deliver service or communicate with buyers via apps

  • Apply the power of robots

  • Use 3D printing

  • Use drones for deliveries or capturing images

Other Things to Use
  • Leverage everywhere possible for maximum impact

  • Big data

  • Digital technologies

  • Wireless technologies

  • Podcasting for multitaskers

  • GoPro technology

  • Artificial intelligence

  • Interactive games to train or educate

  • Virtual reality

  • Augmented reality

  • The software as a service model (Saas) to deliver your product

  • Self-driving technology

  • Wearable sensors

  • Smartphone sensors to monitor health or environment

Copyright 2017 Carol Abrahamson. All rights reserved. 


Copyright © 2018 by Illinois Business Innovation Association. All rights reserved.

We make every effort to create accurate, up-to-date, leading-edge information but have no liability for anything that doesn't meet that standard.

Carol Abrahamson

Founder & Executive Director

Carol at CarolAbrahamson dot-com


2500 North Annie Glidden Rd, Suite F

DeKalb, IL 60115​​