It seems appropriate to reflect on the last year — at least leading up to the official anniversary of the company — on lessons learned. Maybe someone can get something out of it.
So that being said, if someone was dead-set on starting their own company and they asked me for pointers, here’s what I’d say. In my mind, the first three are absolutes for a successful growing concern:
1) You have to sell. No business without a sale can exist for very long, even the venture-backed kind. Can’t or don’t want to sell? Then save yourself the pain, and mail it in.
2) There needs to be something to sell. Offer something of value that really benefits people. If you find the product(s) or service(s) you are selling do not provide this kind of result, then fix or drop them. You cannot afford to get a reputation for sub-par performance.
3) People are your most important asset. Without the right people — whether they be partners, freelancers or employees — you will not be able to succeed.
4) Don’t take flyers on people. A bad apple can ruin the whole barrel. Call their references, read/review their prior work, gage their ethics and their stability. Pay attention to your gut instincts, and have others interview them. Do everything you can to get a feel whether or not they will a) fit in with your culture and ethics; and b) if they can do the work. Note the order.
5) Treat your people like volunteers. A Peter Druckerism, which rings true to me now. The modern work environment demands that you create an environment where people can find meaning at work, and feel sincerely respected for their contributions. Anything less is a recipe for a one year (plus or minus a few months) stint.
6) You must have processes for performance review and work. This is a big focus for me over the next few months. You can’t just run down the hill like a bunch of barbarians out to conquer the world. Processes give the basis for success, and at the same time provide a means to get the work done and evaluate performance in an agreeable fashion.
7) Naysayers: So what! If you did what everyone told you, you might be a mid-level manager at IBM or the like. The risk is great, but it’s yours, not theirs. Further, you need to remain positive. Surround yourself with positive people who will encourage your success.
8) Treat equity as something precious. Be open to possible partners, but make them survive the test of time.
9) Challenges occur, particularly financial ones. Natural disasters (in my case), sales slumps, non-paying clients, protracted 30-60-90 invoices. These are things that can and will happen. Having savings and a credit facility tied to the company are musts so you can weather these times.
10) Believe: You have to believe you will be successful, and eliminate doubt. Practice visualizing your success.
11) Commit: It’s going to be a difficult road, so you need to commit yourself to the rigors of entrepreneurial endeavors. Sick? Too bad. Your team goes home at 5 or 5:30? It’s not their company. Weekends? Oh well. Vacation? Bring your blackberry… Until you get big enough, this is the way of things. Sorry.
12) Along the same lines, it’s definitely a marathon, not a race. Growth must be manageable, and while taxed you cannot afford to burn-out or over-commit.
13) Make sure your spouse/significant other is behind you. You need their support more than you can possibly imagine. Thank God for my wife Caitlin.
Why 13? That’s not a nice number for one of these 10 rules, eight principles write ups. It’s odd, and in some circles unlucky! Oh well, it’s what I have to offer today, so I guess the cute marketing number will have to wait for another entry. Please feel free to add to the list.
We’re back up to full speed on Monday. Thank goodness. I booked a personal retreat for myself in three weeks just to recharge the batteries.
It looks like we will be able to roll out the new web site and positioning around the one year anniversary, and that’s cool. Plus I’m getting a lot of blog business right now, which is fun. I enjoy professional blogging because it takes me back to my days as a journalist, only it’s less formal and more enjoyable.
Here are Monday’s quotes, as usual a day early…
- “Perhaps there is no more important component of character than steadfast resolution,” Theodore Roosevelt.
- “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” Confucious.
- “Impossible is only a word to be found in the dictionary of fools,” Napoleon.