startups

4 things that make “garage” startups uniquely powerful.

It’s a story that’s been told again and again as we move through the golden age of startups: a tight-knit group of scrappy visionaries gets together in a garage, bound together by a shared “big idea.” With the help of some elbow grease and enough coffee and energy drinks to fill an Olympic-sized pool, they bring a major innovation to market, and their company blows up seemingly overnight.

But isn’t it strange that no matter how many times you’re exposed to these modern fairytales, they never seem to feel any more attainable? In 2020, the lore behind household names like Apple, Google, and Amazon has created somewhat of a new religion: modest startups worship at the altar of these tech giants, hoping that one day, the heavens might open up and shower them with similar success.

But what if it didn’t take a miracle? What if, when you dug a little deeper, these “overnight success” stories started looking a lot more like calculated hard work and a lot less like winning the lottery? Take it from someone who’s just starting to graduate from garage status: small teams can achieve big things. Huge things. Life-changing things.

There’s no room for luck in a business plan: for many successful startups that went from garage to greatness, their secret sauce was a blend of four key factors.

1. The A team

A startup’s founding team is arguably the most make-or-break variable in the mix. Whether or not you’ll be able to pull off your big idea hinges on the strength of the team behind it.

The great thing about companies that start in a garage (or spare room, or kitchen, or basement) is that the space itself acts as a filter, a giant sieve that sifts out everyone who wouldn’t want to operate out of such an un-glamorous locale. The garage, proverbial or literal, is a symbol of erratic hours, chaotic brainstorming, and ‘round-the-clock work: magnetic to those who enjoy veering off-track, working their fingers to the bone, and pursuing their insatiable curiosity. As such, it’s also a warning to those who do not.

There’s no silver bullet for creating the perfect team, but I think you’ll find that people who are willing to risk it all will naturally gravitate towards your project. Those are the motivated minds you’ll want in your startups.

2. Unwavering focus

For garage-style startups, “focus” is a strange beast. On the one hand, you’re totally strapped for cash with little to no resources, so you need to scrutinize every dollar and every minute spent. And on the other, your makeshift office becomes your sanctuary, shielding you from distractions that crop up in standard workplaces. You don’t have to deal with a thousand departments, rigid protocols, or endless red tape: you have a single mission that everyone can rally behind, and nobody standing in your way.

It’s the push and pull of total freedom and ruthless constraint, both of which promote laser-sharp focus in this context. Convenient! And when a handful of savvy individuals come together in a space this conducive to “getting it done,” the results can be electrifying.

3. Speaking of focus… keep it lean

When you consider the dedication of a garage team, the hours they put in, and the amount of bureaucratic nonsense that simply isn’t a factor, you start to realize that big innovations really can come from small teams. But don’t get too big for your britches – small teams can only make magic happen if they focus on things they can do exceptionally well. The moment you lose that hyper-focus is the moment you crash.

At Aira, our engineering team focuses on one specific part of one specific industry: free position wireless charging technology. With this specialization as our north star, we can confidently choose which features to keep or trash (no matter how much we like any given one), make swift resource allocation decisions, and concentrate our energy where it can make the biggest impact.

Sure, there are many other products and ideas we’d like to explore. But if we did, we’d be spreading ourselves too thin, losing our ability to innovate – our only competitive advantage as a startup – in the process.

4. “That was cool.”

Top-down management hierarchies have been known to choke out creativity in the name of following the rules. That’s not the case with Aira. In our humble garage, the reins belong to us: we always do what we think is best. We don’t need to convince management why it’s worth the time or money. If we think it’s cool, we just do it.

That being said, the only thing “cool” and “easy” have in common is that they’re both four-letter words. In fact, if something piques our interest, it’s often because it’s inherently complex or out-of-the-box. Startup teams are like kids in a candy store when faced with a head-scratcher of a problem; as innovators, we are obligated to pursue the path less traveled if we want to pioneer something new. It’s the rainbow that’s most likely to lead us to our pot of gold.

Focusing on your core competency means you’ll be doing what you do best to the exclusion of everything else. Never, ever outsource this responsibility – define your vision, get everyone on the same page, and watch the sparks begin to fly.

Small but mighty wins the race

Building a startup is an emotional rollercoaster, constantly ping-ponging between boundless promise and certain death. In a situation where change is the only constant, you’ll need a die-hard team that can move mountains on a shoestring budget, all with a smile on their face and a fire in their heart. Now, I’m passing the torch to you: find your people, get focused, do something cool, and you may just become the next garage startup success story.

Jake Slatnick is the co-founder and CEO of Aira. He oversees the company’s growth strategy, partnerships and fundraising, and serves as Aira’s lead spokesperson. Jake and co-founder Eric Goodchild started Aira in 2017, after attending the Wireless Power Conference in San Francisco, setting an ambitious goal to transform the wireless charging industry with the world’s first free position charging surface.