First things first
What is the most important for you?
It can sound like too much of psychology at the beginning, but the question related to a startup idea is more profound than you think. Startup will become an important part of your life - period. The answer to that question can give the extra kick in the time of doubt and a relief in the time of success.
Shortly about things that will have an impact on you
People are used to having short-term or even long-term goals based on emotions, current finances, geopolitical situation - but in general it always comes to survival or control. I would argue with myself about the meaning of control (life?), but both with survival these are the base for the drive, the energy (and perhaps for a meaning of one's life).
Running a business requires consistency and drive (among other things). Something that you probably won't have from the very beginning is the experience. That is why the drive/energy is so important. If you don't have the experience you will have to gain it, and the energy will give you the power to learn.
What about the motivation? I am not sure that motivation is required. It helps, at least in the beginning, but more often it makes you dependent on it. Think about it.
Why are we doing this - first post of the startup series
We want to make use of our knowledge and experience from working with startups, SMEs and corporations related to IT solutions. All of the products have been implemented in real commercial conditions. Additionally, we have this thing about understanding the market/user fit and founders vision for the product before designing and creating any product.
Seeing the struggles, fails, and spectacular rises of businesses based on products we have produced we have gained much distance when we are evaluating the projects. For every new startup idea, that we approach, we act like investors questioning everything and advising on better approaches. So as you have already figured it out, we are not just another software house.
We will share with you experience that we have gained, the experience of the founders and business owners we have worked with (and anything that we consider valued from the startup perspective).
For the first post I am attaching content of our two blog posts Berlin Starup Camp 2016 Summary, and The mature tech startup dillema: what's next? created by Michał and Susanna. I think that they will cover all the things you should remember any time when you are at the early stages of the entrepreneur's path.
Additionally, I've added some links at the end to help you gain extra knowledge.
Leave me a note when you would like to have the special topics to be discussed and ping me anytime via LinkedIn or an email.
#Chapter 0: Hints and words worth noting.
Before you start
Investors & VCs
Startup Strategy 101: Surviving the early days by Claude Ritter
- Have a long term plan, but do not focus on it - it hardly ever works. Concentrate on short-term initiatives, because this is something that actually happens.
- Never try to do things ONLY for your investors. Align your plans to theirs if you really must.
- Always have a plan. Because if you won't, they will come up with one, and they are not the ones that know your market that well (in many cases)
- NEVER do things that do not matter to the goal you want to achieve. (ex. if you want to maximize profit margin, going to many markets at once might not be the best idea)
Reality Check: 5 of the biggest myths about growing your business by Mark Miller
- The larger the market, the further you should run away from it. It is way easier to be a large part of a small market. This especially goes for building a sustainable business without VC's help.
- It is a lot better to get money&feedback from your potential customers than from your VC - so focus on customers ASAP
- Do not "build to exit". This will make you fail. Try to build a good, sustainable business and only when you have good revenue, think about going further.
26 years of lessons learned: How to secure constant international growth without any investor by Carsten Mickeleit
- Build the right team from the beginning and create a good brand.
- Even if you do need an investor - talk to them. They will give you feedback, some of which might be of value.
- Avoid HotSpots for building your company. Nobody will buy your product just because you have an office in Silicon Valley. They will buy it if they love it :)
- Focus as much on the value for your customers as you can, not the revenue itself.
Top Keys to Market-Success for Startups by Reike Treder
- Do not sell to markets, SERVE the markets.
- A product will NEVER sell itself. TALK to your customers and never wait for your product to be perfect. The VAST majority of clients will reach to you very late in their buying process (78%).
- FAIL! Fail early and you will fail cheap.
- Never stop sourcing new leads, move them along and be data-driven when it comes to sales.
- OVER-Service your first customers - they will be referencing you.
Successful Sales Strategies! Who knows best – buyer or seller? - Panel
- If you can, get yearly or 2-years subscriptions - it will give you cash upfront.
- If a client tells you NO, call the next day and ask him friendly why he did not choose you although you thought there was a fit. Always stay friendly when your customer tells you NO.
- Every client who says NO, but is amazed by your product can be asked to recommend you.
- The question "what can we add to the product so that you will be interested in buying it" is really worth a shot.
Do’s and Don’t’s when it comes to managing people by Artur Steffen
- Make sure your team knows who you are hiring.
- Promote, before hiring. If you are not promoting - tell your team why.
- Make sure experts can have a significant role WITHOUT taking over leadership.
- Recognize people for doing a good job!
- ADMIT your mistakes, ask people about their opinions and listen.
- Communicate your expectations clearly and never bullshit your team.
- Maintain confidence in your company
- Never make impulsive decisions.
- Never demand impossible.
- Educate people to solve problems by themselves.
After you are already there
Sales and customer support
Sales may seem as the easiest part at the beginning. If the product is already proved and you have hired a talented team, the process goes smoothly. However, scaling sales and high-quality customer support may become an issue.
Ask yourself first:
1. Do I really know my customers? Does my product fully meet his/her expectations?
If so, make sure all of your team members know it as well. Complaints and lost customers are the main sources of information.
2. Is my service vision clear? Does everyone in the team see it as clearly as I do?
If so, implement metrics and regular indicators to put this vision into numbers. Discuss the overall performance of the team in order to build a genuine service mindset together.
3. Don’t you complicate the process by improving?
The only rule here is to react on time and make the process friendly to customers as well as for your employees. It is much easier to handle issues right away than to delay them. By keeping process friendly you minimize the risks of losing any of the parts.
4. What do sales and customer support really mean to me?
Sales are sales, not the races. Put less stress on it and work on your product and existing customers. Customer support is also part of sales, not just collecting complaints to the box. Make sure your team understands that - it will make them confident and probably double your results.
Marketing and PR
1. Do I target my audience?
There are many examples of companies that are successful in sales but still spend 80% of their time on the process simply by being everywhere and doing all possible marketing activities. Be clear about what your target market is and what are the messages you want to communicate to them.
2. Do I reach the influencers?
The digital age is rapidly changing everything. Internet is now a market place and influencers are your vendors. Know them, communicate with them and reach out to them regularly with your product.
3. Don’t I focus on the competition too much?
Never believe in the hype! When you’re inside the bubble and pay attention to every announcement of your nearest 3–4 competitors it’s easy to get despondent and lose time you could spend on your product improvement.
4. Don’t I plan to invest too much?
Your product is always your best marketing tool. If it is able to speak for itself, support it but don’t pay through the nose.
The phrase "HR is dead" is repeated in startup circles quite often. As the list of procedures – yes, as the talents’ management – no and never will be. So take a look at the questions and answer if you are on the right way:
1. Do I invest enough in my team?
Strengthening your company’s capacity for collaboration and high performance requires long-term investments in building relationships and trust. Your team is the main asset and by enriching it with knowledge, culture, and values you maximize the profit of all the parties.
2. Do I hire A-players?
An A Player is the right hire; a talented person who can do the, while fitting in with the culture of your company. A hiring mistake may cost 10-15 times an employee’s base salary in hard costs and lost productivity, so it is important to get it right. By hiring the best you also create an opportunity to attract other a-players to your company.
3. Is my communication with the team clear and sufficient?
4. Am I using the resources that are available to me?
Networks and referrals are invaluable. They’ll be your best sources for candidates.
Operations are those areas that startups don’t necessary consider important from the very beginning. But still, if you start early with the proper approach you won’t lose your time and money on chaotic and irregular processes.
Answer these questions:
- How the sales/production/project management processes look like (step by step)?
- Who is responsible for what in the startup?
- How do I monitor the income and the expenses?
- Do everyone know what to do in a case of emergency?
Of course, in most of the cases you should be elastic (take sales for example). Not knowing how to check progress of any process in your team should be considered as a huge management flaw.
Check If You have:
- Manual or guide book with rules of work for new employees,
- Spot where the documents can be stored (shared drive or just a file box in your office),
- Descriptive sales process that your clients can be introduced to,
- Production process manual or forwarding manual (can be very simple at the very beginning).
www.thefamily.co - this is one of the coolest online course for early entrepreneurs.
TEDxPortsmouth YouTube - Dr Alan Watkins - interesting TEDx about creative thinking.
15 Books that Shaped My Mind and Changed My Outlook on Life - Some of the suggested books are a must read.
Reach us anytime firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. Don't be like this guy! ;)