Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a long list of entrepreneurs and the startups they’ve founded. I’ve witnessed failures and successes, and though there are unique variables contributing to the results of each young business, for the ones that eventually thrive there is a common theme: The founders give proper attention to the “boring” yet massively important organizational pillars.
The trap I’ve seen numerous founders fall into is giving all their attention to building their product and raising money while carving out next to no time for anything else. This makes sense, especially considering the fact that in order for a startup to grow, it has to offer a valuable product and it normally requires money to fund that build. But there is more — much more — to running a successful business.
I understand that most founders have plates that are constantly spilling over, and though the founder doesn’t necessarily have to be the one tending to the intricacies of the items I address below, the successful entrepreneur appreciates their importance, spends time understanding how each of these pillars will benefit their startup, and, at minimum, delegates these responsibilities to either a reliable team member or a trusted business partner.
‘Boring’ business pillars you shouldn’t overlook
As a founding partner of an accounting firm, I am used to seeing people’s eyes glaze over during a conversation about finance. I get it. The problem is that when many entrepreneurs hear the word “finance” they think about raising investor funds, but nothing more. It doesn’t matter if you’ve raised $10,000 or $10,000,000 or if you’ve chosen the bootstrapped path, you’ve got to nail down the fundamentals of operational finance.
What does your cash flow look like? How much is your overhead? Are you going to be able to hire that new developer? How do your tax filings impact your reserves? Just how long is your financial “runway”?
These questions are just the tip of the finance iceberg for your startup, and the earlier you establish a strategy to better understand this terrain, the more clarity you’ll have, not just in knowing the answers to these questions, but into the overall monetary health of your business. I’ve seen way too many promising startups undercut their own success thanks to a passive approach to understanding their finances. Conversely, I’ve seen many grow and prosper thanks to a firm grasp of this pillar.
I’ll say it right now: If you’re an entrepreneur without a lawyer, stop what you’re doing and go get one. You’ll arrive at impasse after impasse during your startup journey that will require legal advice. No, not a google search, an actual attorney.
Want to raise money? You’ll need a lawyer. Want to add a partner? You’ll need a lawyer. Receive a cease and desist letter from a competitor? You’ll need a lawyer.
You get the point. Get a lawyer.
Having legal counsel on speed dial is a must in the entrepreneurial space. Sometimes you’ll need them to create actual deliverables like contracts, and sometimes you’ll simply need to bounce an idea off of them just to make sure that idea isn’t going to get you in hot water. Your attorney is going to be along for the ride with you throughout the duration of your startup’s life, and the earlier you forge that relationship, the better.
Plan on hiring? If so, I highly recommend cultivating your appreciation for the discipline of human resources. As your startup grows, you’ll likely manage your HR needs in-house, but even if you’re simply toying with the idea of hiring your first couple of employees, it would be wise to consult with a human resource expert.
Different locales have their own policies you’ll need to know about, and you’ll need to fully understand the nuances of engaging with gig workers, freelancers, part-timers, full-timers, interns and any other worker classifications that you’ll engage.
Of course, these days you’ll have to be up to speed on the caveats surrounding remote work. Now that we’ve emerged from the days of pandemic lockdowns, it’s become incredibly clear that the future of the workplace (for many) will be some sort of in-person/remote hybrid, if not fully remote. If you plan on being an employer that falls in either of those categories, do yourself a favor and get some HR help fast.
The backbone of any strong business is a strong team. A human resources professional will enable you to manage the buildout and cultivation of the people who will help you reach your entrepreneurial vision.
The most successful entrepreneurs are aware that to reach their business goals, they’ll have to communicate the value of what they’re doing with their desired audience(s) early and often. Far too frequently, I’ve watched founders get a couple of months past their launch day, and only then realize “hey, we could use some press.” Though the phrase “better late than never” applies in those scenarios, it’s far from the proactive communications spirit that I’ve seen in top-shelf founders.
Instead of treating your communications efforts as an afterthought, I encourage you to make it a key pillar of your business. As you build new features or product lines, be mapping out when and how you’ll communicate those efforts with the people who need to know about them. Also consider crisis communications and how you’ll keep pushing your startup’s story in the times you’re not releasing exciting new bells and whistles. Own your business’s narrative and never take your foot off the pedal that’s driving that momentum forward.
Always strengthen these pillars
Of all the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with, the ones who enjoy the greatest wins are the ones who have established their business(es) on these core pillars. But going further, they continuously nurture each one of them. In the life of a company, there are innumerable twists and turns, but if you consistently invest in these four core elements, you’ll stand a greater chance of turning an idea into a profit.