Month: May 2012

Your ugly stepchild

Every startup has at least one. What’s an ugly stepchild, you ask? (more…)

Why the basics are so important in startups

Everybody gets tired. Especially in the fast paced, ever-changing world of a startup. But you can’t just stop. You can’t go on a vacation for a month, or even a few days. It’s critical you, and your team continue to push forward. But some days, weeks, projects, you just can’t. It’s too much.

This is exactly when the basics and your core habits become so important. When you’re too tired to do customer service, just respond quickly and succinctly. If marketing becomes overwhelming, just write a short blog post or do a tweet. If programming, finances, project management, whatever, becomes too much, do the absolute minimum. Fall back on your most basic habits.

Then come back and kill it the next day. You’ll feel so much better for doing even a tiny amount versus ignoring it all together. Or worse, pushing yourself to continue to run at a sprint. It’s okay to slow down, and even required, as long as you’re okay with it and realize it’s all part of the game plan.

The basics are so important because they get you through those exhausting days. They take the pressure off and make your job really easy, until you’re ready to jump back into the fire.

Build your company for yourself

Be all you can be. A huge cliché, but very true. It’s amazing what happens when you truly focus on yourself, for the sake of yourself. You find what you’re passionate about and do it. You create habits which make you the person you want to be. You’re able to accomplish goals regardless of any external support or criticism you may or may not receive.

How about your company? Is your company the best it can be, purely because it can be? Are you building a culture of ‘catch-up’ or a culture of leadership? Are you partnering with other companies or customers who feel the same way? Do you sway to the whim of every customer complaint or do you solve the core problem the best way possible? It can be very hard to keep the focus of a company on the idea of being the best it can be. Customers are distracting, revenue is distracting, everything is distracting. Instead of solving problems the best way possible, you find yourself solving problems quickly so you can move onto the next problem. The goals change from being a great company to being what your customers need and that’s it.

Building for yourself can be extremely hard. It sets you up for failure and leaves you no one to blame but yourself. Yet if you’re able to keep that core ideal of being the best you can be, and internalize that mindset across your entire company the results are amazing. You’ll magically solve all your customer driven issues much faster and much more preemptively. You’ll add features and solve problems better than you could have otherwise. And you’ll have a lot more fun and satisfaction doing it.

Live for yourself. Build your company for yourself. And do it because you can, not because of any external reason. If you do, you’ll create something no one else can.

Why habits are more important than goals

If you look around the business blogosphere you hear a lot about goals. Track everything, know what winning is, quantify every action, etc. It’s all data and finite, quantifiable actions. I have nothing against this, in fact, I agree. I think it’s hugely important to track your actions and have definable goals to know if you’re winning or not. The problem I’ve seen though, is, what happens when you reach your goal? What happens when you figure out if you’ve won or not? How do you keep winning?

The obvious answer is, create another goal. Figure out what worked and repeat. That’s all well and good but let’s call a spade a spade, you’re creating habits. You’re figuring out what’s working then repeating your actions to get the same or better results.

Why not step back from the continual rat race of chasing goals and figure out what habits you, and your company as a whole, exhibit which make you successful? What habits were required to win that big deal? Or revamp your website? Or create an awesome customer experience? And on the flip side, which habits hindered your ability to reach your goal?

Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at another industry, the diet industry. What works and what doesn’t work. Every year there’s a new fad. Don’t eat meat, eat only meat, eat organic, cut calories, whatever, there’s always a fad. And every fad is marketed by the end result, the goal. A guy, 200lbs overweight, then a picture of him with a 6-pack. What an awesome goal, right? Get fit, get healthy, look like him. And a lot of times the fads work, people do get heathy, well at least they get skinny.

The problem is, after they reach their goal they usually bounce right back, they gain back most of their weight pretty quickly. Why is this? Simple, they didn’t create the right habits. They were so focused on the goal they forgot what happens after they reach it. So once they reached it, they had a big sigh of relief and then started eating again.

Back to businesses. Once you reach your goals, what then? Have you created a sustainable process? Have you created internal habits which will not only allow you stay at your goals but to continue building them? Or do you have to go back to the drawing board each time around?

The more I learn about culture, communication, goals, revenue, and just life in general, the more I’ve realized it’s all about the right habits. Do the little things really well and just keep building on them. The best businesses all rely on great habits, even if they don’t say it out loud.

So my question to you is, what habits do you have? How about your company? Are they helping you or hurting you?

Why freelancers are great for bootstrapped companies

In a bootstrapped startup every second counts. Every day worked, every project has a huge impact. With low capital and high risks, it’s imperative that every resource is executing efficiently. A huge problem presents itself when you need to increase your resources. The simple answer, assuming the money exists, is to hire another employee to help with the load. The problem with this is two fold though.

First, the flexibility. When you hire, you will always hire for a specific expertise. The new hire will be passionate about, and an expert in, a specific area. You’ve hired this person because you think increasing resources in this area of the company is where you’ll have the highest ROI. The problem in a startup though, is the areas with the highest ROI change constantly. Your highest priority today will most likely not be your highest priority tomorrow. Yet an employee is a fixed cost, a fixed passion. No matter how willing they are to change, their passion and expertise wont.

Second, a new employee takes time to train. They may be experts, but they’re not experts in your business. They may be passionate but they’re not yet passionate about your business. This takes time. It can easily take 3 to 6 months to have a new employee fully operational. Longer if you don’t yet have solid processes in place. On top of that, it takes another few months for them to execute on a project and see the resulting return on that project. This means, each new hire has a minimum of a 6 to 9 month lead time until you see a return. That’s a life time in a startup!

So how do you get around this problem? Freelancers. Figure out what requirements you have today and outsource. You can increase or decrease time spent on various parts of your company relatively easily. You can repeat actions which work with a very low overhead. And if your business takes a little longer to take off than you had thought, you’re still financially okay as you can easily pair down your freelance spending.

The really cool part is you’re preparing every single one of your freelancers to be a full time employee. You’re talking about your vision with them. They’re understanding what works and what doesn’t to grow the company. You’re figuring out if they fit culturally. And when you start seeing your growth. When you know with 100% certainty what you can replicate to bring in a huge ROI, then you hire your freelancer. The freelancer you’ve already been working with for months. The one who knows your culture, knows you, knows how to be successful from day one. You’ve now cut your ROI on this person from 9 months to tomorrow.