Startup founders are like elite athletes. They drive hard to achieve high performance or they don’t make the grade. We all know that the chances of survival for an early stage tech startup are extremely slim. The only way to improve the odds is to focus 100% on doing the right things. You need to do more than just read The Lean Startup. You can apply similar principles to every aspect of the business. We have helped over 500 startups over the past 3 years and have found that the following tips can make the difference between failure and success;
Do you have what it takes? – Are you the type of person who can focus 100% on one thing? Are you able to work 70 hour weeks for months on end. Great founders do not have to be academically accomplished, but they do need to be able follow a vision with single minded passion and execute their ideas effectively. Founders should look very carefully at themselves and decide if this is what they want. Remember there is no safety net and no opportunity to take your foot off the gas.
Take on focused people – It’s no good being the only one in the team that is prepared to work. Find people who are equally committed and will share in the pain. Look for people who are better than you and who can complement your skills. There is no room for ego’s, either theirs or yours. The team needs to focus on getting the job done in the most effective way possible. Look for good product, UX and technical people who will keep the startup on course and make sure that their rewards are aligned to achieving a successful outcome.
Follow the right advice – Accurate and focused advice is like gold-dust but it is often extremely hard to access. Poor advice is worse than no advice at all. Start by accessing reputable online sources such as Steve Blank, Eric Ries, Paul Graham and David Rose. Don’t spend too much time on conceptual works like Crossing the Chasm. Remember this is all about focusing on practical solutions. Look for advisors with deep sector or technical knowledge but watch out for ‘consultants’ who may not be up-to-date with current business models or technology. Be very hard on potential advisors, even if they come through a programme such as an accelerator. Who you listen too is extremely important. It’s always a good idea to engage with people who have been there and done it before.
Keep the product simple – Products are becoming simpler. Uber, Airbnb and Snapchat are all single function tools designed to solve easily identifiable problems. The Lean Startup helps here. Make sure you are solving a real issue that other people agree is a problem and will pay to solve. Obsess on this and validate rigorously with an MVP until you have a business model that works. If you can’t find one, fail fast and go back to the drawing board. Don’t pump capital into an idea that hasn’t been thoroughly tested. The same goes for your working methods, try not to over complicate things and focus on making things simple, well formatted, well organised and efficient. There are lots of great new productivity tools that can help with this, like Slack for instance.
Practice lean funding – Narrow down your routes to funding. Most founders spend months talking to investors who are never going to invest. Understand who is right for the stage you are at and has the right sector focus. Make sure you are talking to real investors and not consultants. Check that angels are currently investing and not invested out.
So do a startup effectively is all about keeping it as simple as possible. Strip down everything to the raw essentials and focus on these at all times. Avoid scope-creep where nice-to-have functions take over from the core propositions. Don’t engage in protracted partnership discussions during the early phases and be generally cautious about offering meetings unless they get you closer to achieving your immediate goals. It’s easy to be flattered into taking a meeting but it often takes your eye off the ball. Maintaining laser sharp focus for you and your team will greatly improve your chances of startup success.