Ash's Business Startup Words of Wisdom
In a big company, if you mess up, most likely someone will bail you out and the worst that happens is you get a less than positive annual review. If your manager is doing their job, they will have already figured out that things are not going well and will have a plan to sort it out.
In a start-up, there is no-one apart from you to "sort it out". You can lose your life savings, alienate your investors, customers, suppliers & co-founders, be out of business and out of work if things go wrong.
To get the most out of your start-up, work is required. Building a great product is a great start but that isn’t enough to build a great business. I've written a more detailed blog post on some of the logistics required in setting up a new business ("We have a great product; we're all set ...."). Meanwhile, here are my personal recommendations to help your business succeed:
Product. Make sure you have a great offering and work to make it greater still.
Goals. Set unambiguous goals. Otherwise, how else will you know when you’ve achieved them?
Strategy. You will need a strategy. Hope is not a strategy.
Plan. Think before you act. Plan ahead of time, not when you’re in mid-flight.
Understanding. Understand your market, your business, your capabilities, your offering, your competitors, your customers and your partners.
Detail. Pay attention to the detail, (or get someone to do it for you); it’s not optional.
Focus. No-one else is going to focus on your business; it’s down to you.
Decisions. Be decisive; take the tough decisions when they come up; do not procrastinate and put off until later that which needs doing now.
Proactivity. Reacting to feedback is good but it’s your business and you need to decide what’s important and what’s not, what’s high priority and what isn’t.
Entitlement. Forget any sense of entitlement you have built up working in a bigger company; everything has to be earned again.
Spend spend spend. Don’t do it. Think carefully about the return on investment and cash implications for every expense.
Give stuff away. Don’t give away money obviously but ideas, content, trial software, demos etc. Generosity is rewarded.
Safety net. Unless you have unusually generous investors, don’t bank on someone bailing you out.
Cash. Monitor cash balances, inflows and outflows like a hawk; when the cash runs out it is game over.
Investors. Nurture and cherish them. Even if you don’t have them or need them yet.
Advice. Find and develop reliable sources of actionable advice.
Bullsh*t. Don’t do it; you will get found out. And don’t fall for your own; you’ll just be fooling yourself.
Realism. Optimism and positive thinking are great but it’s important to be realistic about what is happening. Stay connected to reality.
Transparency. Be open and fair; people will trust you. Ensure your business “does what it says on the tin”.
Communicate. People like to know what’s going on. Don’t keep them in the dark.
Sustainability. Consider your impact on the environment and how to minimise it. Customers, staff, investors, our children, everyone expects action.
Feedback. Seek out and treasure honest feedback. Appreciate the difference between positive support and actionable feedback.
Referrals. A genuine introduction with recommendation is the best way to win new business. Look after your customers and they will look after you.
Failure. If you’re going to fail, fail quickly and elegantly. Don’t drag it out interminably and waste everyone’s time in the process. You can start again.
Learn. Keep learning about everything that affects your business. You can never know enough.
Processes. The better your processes, the better the outcomes.
SMART. Beware of nebulous action plans; ensure your action items are Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timely.
Repetition. Repeat what has worked well; don’t repeat what hasn’t worked well. Doing the same thing but expecting different results isn’t a recipe for success.
Review. Be mindful about what you and your business are doing.
Revise. You and your business must revise, evolve and grow to survive and thrive.
So, what’s the bottom line?
Starting a company is fun, energising, challenging and potentially rewarding. It’s also a lot of work and not for the faint-hearted. Having a great product is a good start; getting armed with an understanding of what’s actually involved is better still.
Ash Madden is Founder and Director of Madden Associates Limited, the Specialist Channel Sales & Partnering Consultancy