Tech startup companies are popping up so quickly that the standard rule that ‘90% of all startups fail’ is starting to turn into 99%. With that in mind, it is important for anyone starting a new venture, whether it’s in technology or any other industry, to make sure that they have not only a clear vision of what they want to achieve, but also a number of fundamentals that they can turn to when things get rough… and they will get rough. These are the fundamentals that I’ve found work best no matter what stage of the startup process you find yourself in.
Honesty and trust are paramount
There is no shortage of people that say “honesty is the best policy,” and that through honesty you gain trust. But there are nuances that most people and companies don’t talk about, or maybe don’t realize: Just because you are honest doesn’t mean that people trust you. Your customers, investors, partners, and vendors all require a different approach, even when you present yourself honestly. Being honest should be your top priority, but remember that everyone will have a different perception of what you are communicating, and that you should deal with people as individuals in that regard. Don’t use blanket statements that you assume will bring everyone to your side. People know that you have many different people to please and they want to know that you have a strategy to deal with all of those demands. Tell your customers that they are part of a community that includes your investors and partners. Tell your partners and investors the same, and show them all that they can rely on you.
Accomplishments matter. How long you’ve been in the industry does not.
This is becoming more and more the norm, and it scares most people. Unless you can fill in the blank of this sentence: “I did ______________” You have no accomplishments. Saying I have 10 years of experience as a programmer doesn’t mean anything to me except that you’ve spent 10 years in front of a computer. People want to see–and interact with–the projects that you have completed. Most technologists fail in this arena too often. They don’t think it’s worth the effort to polish up their projects into a format that people can use. Show me how your code materialized into an experience for a user, not your experience coding it.
Their experience with your product matters. Your’s does not.
As I mentioned before, even though it’s nice to know that it took 400,000 lines of code to make that great tool that puts the pretty colors on the screen in the form a Fibonacci spiral, you’re going to lose your user if you drown them in complexity. Apple Inc. has created a world-renowned name and a technological empire by adopting and perfecting the notion that people want simplicity. In technology, do a simple thing well and deploy it. Get your users hooked, and then add more. Your users are going to give you the time to work on your new functionality while they learn how to use the latest version of your app. Use that time wisely and don’t overextend yourself. The best companies in the world build a relationship with their users by adding to their experience in a positive way. People will care about what you give them, not about how hard you worked behind the scenes to give it to them. Don’t take it personally.
Don’t go from A to B… go directly to B, and work back to A.
Seeing your vision, product, mission–whatever you want to call it–clearly, is the single most important responsibility you have to yourself and to your team. Be clear on where you are going. There are too many technologists that like to “drift their scope”. Of course, I know, you’re the creative type. The whole point of starting your own business was to save yourself from a boss whobreathes down your neck, reminding you to stay focused on the “roadmap”. Well guess what. You’re the one that needs to breathe down your own neck now. Remember, it’s not about what you can do, it’s about what you did. See your vision clearly as if it already exists. Then work your way back from the end to where you are now. That way you’ll have a clear path to the end, and you won’t let your own creativity be your downfall.
Surround yourself with the strengths you don’t have.
The founders of startups have a tendency to come up with their business ideas over drinks with friends. This of course leads to discussions on how this exact group will divide up the tasks required to succeed in this new business venture. Then, when they start their work, they realize that they don’t work well together because they don’t have the proper skills, and end up conceding defeat at that same bar where they came up with the idea. Don’t do that. The idea is only as good as its execution, and if you don’t have the right skill set then you have to get the people that do. Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. If you don’t think anyone is smarter than you, you should probably rethink your concept of reality. The best generals won wars because of the skill of the army, not the general’s ability to come up with plans of action. You need a self-sufficient team you can trust–one that that will motivate you just as much as you motivate them. Let go of your control issues. They are only weighing you down.
In the end, it’s about being yourself and letting people know what you want to achieve. Find the people who want to do the same, and make sure they have the ability to do what they say they can. With those fundamentals, you will succeed.