Posts Tagged ‘startups’
I’ve been everywhere, man.
I’ve been everywhere, man.
Crossed the desert’s bare, man.
I’ve breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I’ve had my share, man.
I’ve been everywhere.
— Johnny Cash, “I’ve Been Everywhere”
Startups and co-working spaces are like peaches and cream. They go so well together. And I’ve done a lot of co-working during my years in the startup ecosystem.
All of this co-working has given me some pretty strong opinions on which co-working space ‘features’ are most important for entrepreneurs.
Use this set of features as a rough checklist when you’re figuring out where you want to spend most of your waking hours during the earliest days of company building.
This is the top feature if you’re an early stage startup.
It’s completely insane for an unfunded, cash burning early stage company to pay for office space. In New York City and other startup hubs there are many co-working spaces that are 100% free.
Other startups that are at the same stage as yours
…important for all of the following reasons:
- Peer support – When you are having a crappy day (yes, it happens even though we entrepreneurs are ‘crushing it‘ all the time) it helps to have fellow founders around who can empathize with you.
- Talent – If a startup in your co-working space has to fold or downsize (not uncommon), their team will be keen to help their former team members find new gigs. Like most early stage startups you’re looking for good people. Need I say more?
- Service provider recommendations - Startups are always looking for recommendations about which freelance developers, designers, lawyers (you name it) they should be using. You can get in person, in depth recommendations from the other startups working in your space.
Investors hang out there
If you’re a startup and you plan to raise money you need to start building your investor network. If investors are spending time at your co-working space you’ll get to meet them in passing. That’s your foot in the door later on when you decide to formally start your fundraising process. (Remember, “Lines, not dots“.)
Not to mention that startup investors are very well networked. If you’re looking to get a bead on a certain sector of the market they can be a great resource to tap.
Co-working is nice because you are around a lot of people. And co-working can be extremely unproductive for the same reason.
Sure, you can bring your big ol’ noise canceling headphones to work every day. But it’s just easier if the default sound level in the space is Low.
A leader who cares
The founders and managers of the best co-working spaces go out of their way to help the startups that work there.
Running a co-working space is not about collecting rent for them. It’s about building more companies.
Alumni who have gone on to bigger and better things
Startups will “graduate” from co-working spaces into accelerator programs, or they’ll outgrow a space because they’re hiring quickly.
You should give some weight to the success of the alumni that have come out of the space when you’re thinking about where to put down roots.
After all, you want your startup to eventually graduate from co-working. Don’t you?
Before your B2B startup has a product available you’ll want a few – but not too many – metrics to help you steer the ship in the right direction.
Customer Development conversations
It doesn’t matter what your startup is building if customers don’t want it.
Get out of the building and make sure you are talking to potential customers often. This is the only way you’ll get a deep understanding of your potential customers’ needs.
When you’re getting started a good pace is somewhere on the order of 1-2 conversations (new potential customers) per business day. Once you reach 25-50 conversations you should have a good sense of whether or not your product idea has legs.
Don’t cheat on this metric by counting conversations with potential partners or investors as ‘customer’ conversations. These groups can provide useful feedback but their feedback shouldn’t be weighed as highly as what you hear from potential buyers (Customers rule!).
If you’re having trouble finding enough potential customers to meet your goals, here are 4 tips for finding those ‘earlyvangelist’ customers that are so important to a customer development process.
Potential employees met
If your little startup starts to make progress you’ll need to hire quickly. Without a pipeline in place you’ll struggle to make these hires.
Start developing relationships now which may turn into hires down the road:
- If you’re a technical founder without a counterpart on the business side you should make a point to meet a bunch of sales/marketing/product people each month.
- If you’re a non-technical founder without a technical counterpart then make sure you’re meeting a bunch of software engineers each month.
- If you have a complete team in place then just try to meet lots of great people each month.
Like anything in startupland, this is a numbers game. If you’re meeting 5, 10, 20 really sharp people per month you’ll quickly have built up a great pool of future talent for your company.
And if you can actually get them to quit their cushy job to join your budding startup before it’s on the tech community’s radar, then you may be on to something. On the flip side, if you’ve met 40 people and none of them want to come work for you, maybe that’s a signal you need to consider as well.
(Here’s some great guidance from Paul English, founder of Kayak, about how to make your startup really great at recruiting, interviewing, and hiring.)
Even if you don’t have a product available you need to start your marketing engine ASAP. Otherwise you’ll be caught completely flat-footed if/when you reach product-market fit and you want to scale up fast.
Pick one metric (be it leads, blog visits, Twitter followers, Facebook likes, or something else), set a goal for that metric, then execute.
Content marketing is probably your best bet – and most capital efficient way – to reach whatever goal you set (versus buying ads or paying to acquire traffic) at this early stage. And it is the gift that keeps on giving because you can re-use and re-purpose your content to drive future marketing efforts.
That’s why content marketing makes so much more sense when you’re at this early stage. You can develop an audience and a following by creating helpful, free resources to people in your target market.
If you do this content marketing thing right, that audience will be very eager to hear about what you have built once the product is finally available.
One more thing. Even though you are “marketing” don’t market your product. Because you don’t have one (at least not one that works) yet. Plus, the features you promise today may not (OK, 90% likely will not) be the ones that actually ship.
Product features completed
Last but certainly not least you should be setting product goals each month.
These goals should be focused on user facing features (“deliver user-facing feature X”) and not platform features (“build interesting backend queuing system that a customer doesn’t actually use directly”).
One exception? Perhaps a system for your team to monitor customer usage. Kind of important, eh?
What metrics did I miss? Let me know in the comments or just tweet at me and I’ll respond.
Thanks to my enterprise software / SaaS savvy pals:
for their input on this post.
In the last six weeks we have:
- invalidated our previous business model (email API – a cool idea that I couldn’t figure out how to make into a business)
- validated a huge opportunity in identifying, nurturing, and closing high value passive candidates and began product development to attack that opportunity
- interviewed over 40 recruiters and other knowledgable people in the HR tech space
- built an awesome and relevant startup advisory board consisting of the CTO of one of the biggest ad agencies in the world, an entrepreneur who sold her HR tech startup to Oracle, the founder of a leading sales & marketing analytics company backed by Sequoia, and the COO of the leading marketplace for technical on demand workforces
- found an awesome summer intern (MSCS at Cornell with a focus in machine learning)
- experienced many disappointments!
Despite all of that it still doesn’t feel like we’re moving fast enough.
Some people wield the LTV model as if they were Yoda with a light saber; “Look at this amazing weapon I know how to use!” Unfortunately, it is not that amazing, it’s not that unique to understand, and it is not a weapon, it’s a tool. Companies need a sustainable competitive advantage that is independent of their variable marketing campaigns. You can’t win a fight with a measuring tape.
In complex B-to-B sales, multiple “Yes” votes are required to get an order.
A single “No” can kill the deal. Understanding the saboteurs in a complex sale is as important as understanding the recommenders and influencers
We needed a selling strategy that took all of this into account.
In a startup not losing is sometimes more important than winning.
“A” players are executives that are 10x more productive than their peers. They are equally excellent strategically and operationally. They are equally capable at rolling up their sleeves or leading others. They thrive – with or without direction. They are big picture and detailed. They are the perfect mix of confidence and humility. They fit into any team culture, thrive under any leadership style, and raise the game of everyone around them, while befriending them all at the same time. Best of all, they miraculously fit within your pay scale, and you can retain them despite brutal competition for their services. “A” players are perfect – except for one small issue – as defined here, they don’t really exist.
Lots of people talk about ‘before product market fit’ and ‘after product market fit’ as the two main phases of a startup’s evolution. I’d argue that what Ho Nam (Altos Ventures) proposed in his recent blog post might be a better, more granular way to look at the startup evolutionary process:
Getting through the first breaking point is not about rushing into execution mode. It’s a gradual process that will never end. A framework we’ve found useful in assessing progress along a continuum is the Capability Maturity Model see the five levels of maturity below. It’s a development model whose origins trace back to studying software projects and failures in the 1960s when computer science was in its infancy and few “best practices” existed. Within any company, there will always be processes at different levels of maturity. It’s important to keep in mind that even successful large companies will have chaotic episodes and continue to live with countless undocumented, ad hoc processes that are developed and refined over time. Initial – the process is new, ad hoc, chaotic and undocumented. Individual heroics are relied upon to get the job done. The focus is on outputs. Repeatable – the process is somewhat documented. Repeating the same steps may be attempted. It’s not clear if the process will yield desired outputs. Defined – the process is well defined, documented and confirmed as a standard process that can produce results. Managed – the process is quantitatively managed in accordance with agreed-upon metrics. Optimizing – process management includes deliberate process optimization and improvement.
I understand and admire the wisdom of the “fire fast” mentality but that wisdom is no substitute for the real work of leadership: figuring out the right people for various roles. Often when I help a client unpack their feelings while they are in the throes of a decision about whether or not to terminate someone, what is revealed are contradictory facts and ambivalent feelings. And too often, our discomfort with our contradictory feelings, our ambivalence, leads us to rush to judgement, destabilizing and antagonizing the entire organization.But if we wait, if we can pause and bear the discomfort of uncertainty, then we have a shot at getting to the heart of the problem manifested in all those facts. Then we have a shot at creating the kinds of organizations that not only succeed, but embody the best of our values, the best of our aspirations.
Experience is often over-rated. Some of the most successful startup teams consisted of people that lacked relevant experience at the time they joined. But, what they lacked in experience, they more than made up for in sheer talent and hunger. In the early days, hire athletes. People with raw talent and a propensity to get things done. Don’t be resistent to recruiting people that are early in their careers. You’re looking for arbitrage opportunities. You’re looking for the future stars — because you likely can’t afford or convince the current stars.