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How to launch your startup in 2021

If you've been thinking about starting a business, there's no better time than now. Here are some mindsets you'll want to have on your entrepreneurial journey.

6 min read

Small Business

How to launch your startup in 2021

Unsplash photo/SmartBrief illustration

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Now is the time to scratch that entrepreneurial itch. We’re riding a new business wave, with record numbers of new businesses launching in 2020. Founders are responding to fresh demands emerging during the pandemic. And soon, promising vaccines may provide another reason to believe this massive trend will continue.

Investors are hungry for new prospects, and there’s every likelihood the new administration will offer support. How can you catch this wave in 2021? Here are the vital first steps for entrepreneurs to start the new year right.

No. 1: Awaken

The Awakening is just what it sounds like. The openness and sense of urgency that comes from an epiphany. It may begin with a hazy idea or something inspiring you’ve read or heard. You’re jolted into an awareness that there’s a new role for you in the world, and you start to imagine your next moves. What might happen, you ask, if I give it my all? Here is where you commit to your dreams. 

No. 2: Embrace the Maker mindset

To test your idea, you must prototype. Whip up a primitive offering and see if anyone will pay for it. This approach is engrained in the essential archetype we call the Maker. No startup can succeed without a Maker, without the fast prototyping, iterative mindset that needs to run through the team.

Sputtering startups nearly always lack Makers. This is the opposite of the “write a business plan” or “create a slide deck” mentality. Makers resemble speedy and practical scientists. They accelerate learning by quickly testing one or two elements at a time. And you can test much more than you think — your pitch, the phrasing of a sales offering, even exploring which Facebook advertisements get traction.

Fast-moving startups prototype and test all sorts of things. Best of all, once you get the Maker bug, there’s no going back.

No. 3: Shift

Entrepreneurs are doers. The Shift is where you move from thinking to action. How do you know you’re starting to Shift? You meet (physically or digitally) with others who “get it.” This is about joining. You sign up for a stimulating program, join forces with a colleague on a project, or mentor another entrepreneur or startup. You actively collaborate, even when you aren’t sure where it may lead.

This is the stage where you seek out and find leaders and mentors who can teach and guide you. The Shift is also where you begin to get serious about that idea that stirred you awake. Or pivot to a better idea. Another kind of Shift: The recognition and faith that you can come up with a second or even third concept. The confidence that you can learn from a failure to pursue a new direction. 

No. 4: Be the Outsider

In “The Entrepreneur’s Faces,” we detail 10 archetypes who go through the entrepreneurial journey in their own unique ways. Many thrive by embracing their type, while others are hybrids, a mixture of types. But there is one archetype we can all learn from: the Outsider.

This entrepreneur brings what’s called the “Beginner’s Mind” – essential at the exploratory, idea stage. They are especially good at deconstructing a current market or service to spot elements to innovate. Not surprisingly, Outsiders launched Airbnb and Uber. This is about challenging the status quo, and asking the probing “what if?” questions that more seasoned pros often neglect to consider. Cultivating your skills of perception and analysis is key to entrepreneurship and comes naturally to the Outsider. 

No. 5: Find your Place

Place matters, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Entrepreneurs thrive with stimulus and serendipity, and they are masters at creating their own neighborhoods, whether in San Francisco, London, Lisbon or in digital networks of their own making. Place is about joining or building a community, and we recommend that you engage as fully as possible in an ecosystem — whether it’s a physical or digital accelerator, incubator, university or something less formal.

With vaccines on the horizon, one of your most important decisions will be to choose the city or town where you will thrive, because at some point in-person meetings will return, and these will fuel your entrepreneurial growth. There’s nothing like free-flowing, spontaneous human interaction to get you going. Be open, too, to global possibilities to strike valuable partnerships and collaborations online — powerful options that remote work has made abundantly clear. 

No. 6: Be the Conductor

Gaining confidence along the way, entrepreneurs develop a keen sense of how to tap a multidimensional strategy. Growth ultimately often comes down to team dynamics, to balancing the optimal synergy of talent, passion and skill, to orchestrating a vision on a broader plane.

We call this archetype the Conductor, someone who explores models that scale, constantly seeking more building blocks to elevate their evolving platform. Conductors such as Ben Silbermann of Pinterest and Marc Benioff of Salesforce are excellent examples, each having pioneered prosperous platforms. Nearly every entrepreneur and startup can benefit from the holistic and growth-focused techniques of Conductors. Sometimes, you might say, it takes a platform. 

No. 7: Launch

Entrepreneurs do not panic or delay. You ship, sell, open for business. In short, you follow your gut and launch. But when the pandemic hit, thousands of CEOs and businesses listened to bean counters instead of their intuition. They chose hibernation over activation, cowardice over courage. Many missed out on one of the greatest opportunities in a generation to stake out new markets and customers.

The supreme value of launching, of learning on the run from real interactions with paying customers, will only increase in importance. Vaccines promise to soon curb this disease, and entrepreneurs with the right mindset, teams and strategies will be at the ready for whatever comes next. 

The year 2021 will be a great time to launch.


Jonathan Littman and Susanna Camp are co-authors of “The Entrepreneur’s Faces: How Makers, Visionaries and Outsiders Succeed.”

Littman collaborated with IDEO on the best-sellers “The Art of Innovation” and “The Ten Faces of Innovation” (more than 650,000 copies sold worldwide in 12 languages). The author of ten books, five of his works have been optioned for films. His award-winning journalism has appeared in Playboy, the Los Angeles Times and Forbes. Camp is the editor-in-chief of A journalist specializing in emerging technology, she was an early team leader at Wired magazine and has also been on the staff of Macworld, PCWorld and Outside magazines.

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