This is my first post for the Startup Nation and I am very happy to share any wisdom that I have aggregated in my years as a digital marketer & entrepreneur so far.
So first of all, I’d like to introduce myself & the experience that I have – this will provide more context for the subsequent points.
I manage a Digital Marketing Agency called ‘No Label Inc.’ and my experience can be characterised into 2 parts.
The first is growing out small/medium size websites for SME’s – primarily having static/basic pages with simple conversion mechanisms, a functional UI and most importantly – making sure the right people visit those sites/pages.
The second is an in-house start up called ‘DiveAdvisor’, which is a very large project with mobile apps for both iOS & Play, a very deep backend, user generated content and pages in the tens of thousands.
I truly feel like I have learned some very important lessons which are shared below.
Lesson 1: Stay Light & Small
A new businesses only advantage over a large well established business its ability to out manoeuvre the larger business & really focus the efforts/finances into a single point.
By having a small team, you are able to easily pivot the product, which almost always happens, and secondly you will have a leaner cost structure meaning whatever funding you get will last longer.
Now, of course you have to have ‘enough’ people – but at the same time, you want to have as few as possible.
The key to this is making it extremely difficult to join your team, and testing the person repeatedly.
Lesson 2: Understand What to Automate & When
A lot of startups in the beginning think too big.
Businesses at different sizes has to be structured and run differently and this cannot be forgotten.
For example, if you are a new service/product then you are most likely not dealing with sufficiently large volumes of sales/transactions/interactions to warrant building automation elements.
Lets imagine you are on online store and you just launched.
You do NOT need to hire a separate person and integrate an ERP + CRM system right away.
What you need is a spread sheet.
Only once you really are on track to a point where you cannot manage the business any longer then do you need to invest in to the next phase of automation.
Do not anticipate problems too far ahead of you.
Continuing with the online store example, your initial investment should be focused on increasing sales, rankings & engagement with your store.
Now, of course there definitely times when YOU do need automation, or rather investment in a serious systemic solution.
The trick and the experience of the manager/founder is to decide when this is necessary and when it is not.
Lesson #3: Building the MVP & the Power Rule
Build an MVP, get to market fast and survive.
That is the general axiom of startup wisdom, however, establishing WHAT the MVP is, is perhaps the biggest question that needs to be answered in any business.
There are 2 things to keep in mind when trying to understand how to prioritise all the tasks that need to be done.
The first is establishing what the MVP is. Frankly, in the beginning this is mostly an assumption, although customer validation, surveys, market research and any available data can make the guess a rather educated one.
Once the MVP is established, it is important to build it in progression, so that it becomes usable as quickly as possible.
Lets say you are building a car and your MVP is basically a body, steering wheel, brakes, engine and tires.
The idea is that once you get in the car you are able to do get from point A to point B.
The steps which you take must get you as quickly to the point where this is possible, disregarding some of the finer things like A/C, radio player & so on.
Each step must be the next logical step in bringing the user to a usable MVP, without distractions on tasks that are beyond the MVP, unless of course absolutely necessary.
The next thing to understand is the ‘Power Rule’.
The power rule is basically a ‘law’ found in nature which shows that in many different situations, 80% of the effort will bring 20% of the reward and vice versa.
Put simply, 20% of the things you will do today will bring 80% of the benefits and vice versa.
Identifying how this applies to you is critical.
For example, if you find that 80% of your customers are using a specific service (20%) – then most of the effort should be made on improving/growing out that service, rather than focusing on the other 80% which will only be used by 20% of the users.
To sum up:
- Identify what MVP is clearly
- Build MVP in least number of steps
- Focus on the most important 20% of the business
Lesson #4: Planing Costing & Understanding Utility
Similar to the dot com bubble in the 90s, a lot of startups seem to be speculating everything they do way beyond what its actually worth.
Besides mentally inflating the value of their own business, they mentally deflate the costs that it will take to build this vision.
The first thing that must be really understood is the ‘utility’ or the ‘value’ that your product or service brings.
For example, if you build an app that can save somebody 10% of their taxi bill, or a website that helps someone learn a new language very clearly – they are definitely getting ‘use’. The degree of this ‘value’ is really important to understand.
In the first case the user will save 1000’s of $ in the long run, and in the second he will know a new language that will open new career opportunities and salary increases.
In contrast, think about an app that lets you make fart noises.
Compare the 2 and see what you are willing to pay for and what you are not.
The right thing to do is be extremely prudent & pedantic.
You must take the most pessimistic expectation of costs as well as the revenues, to visualise the worst case scenario and use that as the basis for your plans.
Lesson #5: How To Manage Employees
Managing real life people, is often far harder than computer code, bugs or revision history.
The goal is to nurture your team and create the environment to get the most potential out of every employee.
What makes this difficult is the fact that every person is different and understanding the approach to each one needs to personal – thus taking time.
There is no way to systemically automate the selection of HR.
Some people like to be micro managed and given clear cut tasks, while others like to be given larger tasks and allowed to work independently.
Some are morning people and some work best at night.
Matching the right personality to the right kind of task is very important and can be the difference between a successful venture and not.
Think about it, most VC’s will blatantly tell you that they value the team over the business.
Building a well functioning team that collectively can do something a lot more than the sum of their parts if probably the most important task & goal of any entrepreneur in any sphere of business.
A startup, or to use a less ‘trendy’ word; ‘young business’ is a very exciting & important phase of a business.
The sad reality is that the vast majority of startups, especially in the overly inflated, speculated and often quite useless ‘tech’ sector fail.
Succeeding in business takes a more than just skills, it takes experience and a sense of judgement that only comes from experience.