Love him or hate him, some say that French entrepreneur Loic Le Meur is an accomplished startup strategist. A few years ago, I remember reading about his “Ten Rules for Startup Success” and thinking that these principles were generally on target.
More recently, I was invited to speak to an entrepreneurial MBA class about my own thoughts on the subject. What resulted was a terrific general discussion about startup tactics, strategy and misconceptions. The students showed genuine enthusiasm for the subject. Interestingly and unintentionally, some of Loic’s points surfaced (sort of) even though he wasn’t mentioned specifically. Credit where credit is due.
The product of the group’s collaboration is what I’ll refer to as the “ish” principles. Just like Loic himself, love them or hate them, the points below are similar and should foster some commentary.
In short, don’t get bogged down with administrative perfection. Instead, just get it done with the best’ish approach to each pressing need:
1. Your business needs to be something that you are passionate and almost obsessed about. Nothing necessarily revolutionary or complicated…this is rare. Find an exciting empty space and execute as fast as possible. This will rarely be your last venture.
2. If you have a defined exit strategy, then it is not a true passion and therefore questionable if the right amount of energy will be applied. Exit strategy will come in time and potentially change by the minute.
3. Don’t focus on getting rich. Focus on the client-base and the best possible experience for them. The rest will come.
4. Carefully share your idea taking in as much feedback as possible without giving away the keys to the kingdom. Stay informed and keep on top of the industry. Startup/VC/tech blogs are great sources of info.
5. Build a community inexpensively. Social software & blogging gets you known and solicits useful feedback. Be responsive and be open to new connections.
6. Network obsessively. It potentially leads to financing, client prospects, partnerships and recruiting. Conferences, social networking tools, blogging, peripheral meetings, etc.
7. Use technology that you know to drive your business. Don’t over-complicate it. No need for latest & greatest in both platform & infrastructure. Stability, uptime, etc. comes later. Buy used equipment if possible and upgrade when/if you need to.
8. Be proactive about recognizing problems and publicly addressing them. Everyone makes mistakes, learn from them and gain respect by being visible.
9. Spend very little time/money on market research initially. Use your immediate network. Launch test versions quickly and improve openly and frequently.
10. Spend very little time/money on marketing/pr. Contribute to blogs, attend conferences and get you/your product known in a “stealthy” manner generating natural and viral interest. Your close community/immediate network needs to love and endorse the product.
11. Don’t over-complicate process, project metrics, reporting, etc. Nothing will ever get done. Meetings for the sake of meetings are useless.
12. Don’t obsess over textbook/formal business plans. Know how your company will make money but formal business plans themselves will always change. Recurring revenue is king. A superb PPT/overview is key to highlighting the problem, the opportunity, the solution, the management team, the technology and the projected revenue.
13. Keep good books. Eventual due diligence (good problem to have) will teach you that.
14. Create a sales machine. It’s a numbers game. Everyone sells.
15. Limit costs. Fancy computers, offices, swag, etc. are useless and only important to non-team players. There’s nothing private about a startup and everyone gets a crate to sit on in the beginning. There’s no crying in startups.
16. Bootstrap if you can, angel money, loans, then maybe VC. OPM when needed.
17. Stellar team is key…no mediocrity! People with an entrepreneurial mindset. Hire people that love to work and are driven and have thick skins…no drama. Different skills that compliment each other and are better than you in various disciplines. The right team does not need to be classically managed. They just get it done.
18. Use creative recruiting. Try not to use headhunters as they will never (really) understand your true needs and expectations at the start. You need people who will wear all hats and the “formal job description” could be 10 pages long.
19. Be real during the interview process. Textbook interviews foster mediocrity. Clearly convey expectations, stress level and expected work ethic. The wrong candidate will run away scared, the right one will embrace this.
20. Understand your core competency needs and pay up for those folks. Pay down for everything else. Try to use internships.
21. Keep the organization flat. True startup people don’t care about org structures and really get the team concept. Formal organizational dynamics have no place here. Everyone is hands-on and there is no concept of “that’s not my job”.
22. Keep everyone accountable to deliverables but let them establish their schedules. Effective self management is key. Make milestones visible to everyone so that the group members hold each other accountable.
23. Try to use consultants at a minimum and only if absolutely necessary. They are expensive. Determine if true expertise is what you really need for that role.
24. Make the environment energetic and fun. Make rewards visible and always encourage healthy competition.
25. Share the love and rewards properly. You’ll have your dream team for the next big thing and that type of trust and endorsement is priceless.