There’s a meme that did the rounds last year that claimed Coca Cola sold 25 bottles in their first year. There is more fiction than fact in that story as Coca Cola was not initially sold in bottles. In truth, according to Coca Cola itself, they sold 9 servings per day in the initial year of operation 1886. Today their sales are estimated at 1.9 billion units a day. The point of the meme, of course, was not to give up in spite of your humble beginnings.

Closer to home there’s a start-up story that truly illustrates this message. Fresh In a Box, in their first week of operation in late 2018 sold 10 boxes. The following week they had to stop taking orders as they were oversubscribed. A week is, of course, a very quick turnaround but the lesson remains, hardly anybody starts big. Many businesses start very small, micro or even nano. The key is they started. While nobody envies their starting position the growth that Fresh in a Box has experienced is certainly enviable. What many won’t tell you is that in business there is a lot to learn. It is ridiculously rare to find a new perfect product on the market and impossible to find a product that cannot be improved. A lot of lessons need to be learned in the process of running a business and only the market can teach these lessons.

This is one of the biggest criticisms of formal education when it comes to business. While you are taught scenarios like Company X has $1 million you’re not taught where company X got the $1 million from. I’ve said many times that a business (among other things of course) is a customer. Without a customer, there is no business. As a business beginner that should be your top priority, finding customer number one.

From just one customer you can learn how to position, sell and improve your product, whatever it is for future customers. The humble beginnings are meant to shape you. They are your learning opportunity. In the book Onward, Howard Schultz, the man who took Starbucks to the top makes mention of how their plan boiled down to making one excellent cup of coffee and repeating that experience for every customer.

Starting a business is hard. The energy required to get an object at rest into motion is much more than is required to keep that object in motion. It is a trying time but it is not for nought. The right amount of effort applied consistently in the right direction will get you there. There will be emotional and psychological challenges along the way as you go about business and that is when you’ve got things right. The reality is you will come up against many obstacles, most of which you did not foresee.

Whether you are starting a completely new business, a new division or launching a new product it is important to not despise your humble beginnings. If you have only sold one unit or got one customer congratulations, you have a business. If you have not sold anything yet go back to the drawing board and learn more. Either way, analyse your process, learn what is good to improve it, learn what is bad to change it and consult where you can. We have a section that delivers insightful business tips to help you along in your journey.