I’ve been fortunate to know a few things about successful startups. I’m blessed to have created three major endeavors that have struck gold, and I’m getting ready to launch my fourth in 36 hours. This has given me the opportunity to reflect on some of the essential attributes and components of entrepreneurs seeking to win the big prize.
Here are seven of them:
1. Dream Big – Follow Your Passion
Start with the attitude: This will be the start of something big. Shoot for the stars. Dream big. It helps, of course, if you have come up with the idea for an epic product or service that really excites you—something that is going to be in hot demand whatever industry you’re in. Start with the goal of becoming a category leader. Big goals are good. Small goals get you nowhere. A successful startup needs your passion. You wake up at night with ideas percolating in your head. You have difficulty falling asleep because your mind is alive with the possibilities. Be passionate. Be obsessive.
2. Build a Team
Find your rock stars. Put together a group of people who will share your vision and work collaboratively with single-minded determination to make your company the best in its field. It is people who turn great ideas into even greater products. This means you need to hire the best. Assuming your goal is to be the best you’re not going to get there if you recruit a mediocre team. You can never do everything yourself so identify key executives to whom you can delegate important tasks. You want to surround yourself with people who have integrity, drive and determination, who fully support your mission. Find people, though, who aren’t afraid to disagree with you. Listen to them while retaining the right to make the final decision. You don’t want ‘yes men’ and you certainly don’t want anyone who might stab you in the back.
3. Plan Ahead
A successful startup looks beyond tomorrow. This is not a sprint to the finish; it’s more of a marathon. While it’s tempting to barnstorm ahead (and there’s nothing wrong with fast action, believe me) you should, at the same time, have an eye on the future. Imagine your company two, three, five years from now and what you’ll need to have in place to make it function like a smooth-running machine. Appreciate that you may have to learn the art of patience. Building a business always takes much longer, costs much more and is a lot harder than most people realize.
4. Be Lean, Not Mean
When you’re launching a startup spend every penny like it’s your last. Every penny counts. Run a lean operation (even if you’ve somehow raised a million bucks). You don’t need a suite of fancy offices or expensive furniture. Who are you trying to impress? What difference will that make to your bottom line? When I first started I worked out of my bedroom. When I had to have office space I made sure I could afford it and even then bought budget furniture. Where you can’t afford to be tight-fisted is when it comes to hiring the best talent. Then it’s important to financially acknowledge the brainpower of your rock stars.
5. Test and Roll
Face it right now. You are not going to launch the perfect product on day one, no matter how much you might think you are. You don’t have time to waste. You’re not a startup until you get started. So get out there with your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and test it. Then refine and improve and roll it out big when you’ve got some feedback and experience under your belt. Fail fast and learn even faster. Make your mistakes. Correct them. And stride onwards.
6. Be an Authentic Leader
Be genuine and inspirational. Give credit where credit is due. You’ve hired the best so let them get on with it. You’ve hired people who, in their respective roles, should be smarter than you. So, don’t micro-manage. Your job is to lead and establish the corporate culture that others will follow. Communicate at all levels and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Follow your lead.
7. Don’t Over-Extend Yourself
OK. This is easier said than done. Every excited entrepreneur ends up burning the midnight oil, sleeping on the office couch (or the floor) and generally performing like a whirling dervish. It comes with the job description. Been there, done that. But I’m going to say it anyway: Be careful not to burn out. Take care of yourself. Get a good night’s rest. Get some kind of exercise. Eat healthy. You have to take good care of yourself so you can take good care of your company. Especially if you want a long-term success.
One last point: Never, ever give up. Be resilient. Be determined. Understand that there will inevitably be setbacks and failures as you make your journey. Overcome them and show the world your true character.