August 23, 2017
written by Daniel Coyle AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter
With all that goes into getting a startup up and running, it’s easy to miss some important aspects. Below are a few things to make sure you have, and are ready to deliver on; especially as you start to staff up.
Unless you’re self-funding (or at least self-seeding) this is likely something you’ll need to have before approaching investors anyway. But, equally as important as having a strategy that’s known and agreed upon by the founders and leadership, is sharing that strategy with your staff. Not only will this automatically improve a sense of buy-in and awareness, but it’ll help reduce the very common feeling of “everything’s changing really fast and I don’t understand why.” Even sharing a simplified version, such as a roadmap, will accomplish this in most situations.
I see this mistake all the time. It’s imperative that you gather data from every engagement, interaction, response, rejection, etc from the very beginning. If you’ve based assumptions on converting 1% of a $100bn industry as part of your strategy for becoming profitable, you need to know why only 0.3% are currently converting (or 10% for that matter). The easiest time to gather in depth insights for analysis is early on; you just have to make sure it’s a priority for everyone. Over time you’ll see what data sets are most useful and which aren’t. But, early on, you should capture it all.
Learn & Tweak
As a very obvious tie in to the point above, this is also your best opportunity to learn and tweak. Consider assigning ownership over small but critical areas of the business to early-stage staff. Let them hyper-engage with that element and report their findings (or, even better, provide useful insights and suggestions on how to improve) to leadership. This is also where having shared your strategy will come in handy. Staff can often identify how well something is working currently but, if they know what’s coming six months down the road, they can flag things that might break or bottleneck before it happens.
As mentioned above, give ownership to your early-stage employees. Yes, this will often come naturally, but it can also be misguided, unintentionally repetitive, or less-than-useful. Engaging with your staff to find out what they have insights into and how they can best direct that information, will ensure that everyone’s on the same page. Additionally, micro-engaging with your customers is most feasible during early stages. I know this might seem counterintuitive because as you grow you’ll likely have a larger customer success team, marketing team, etc. But, if you’re fully bought into learning and tweaking, and gathering data, these early consumer-based engagements are the most powerful. And, with a smaller staff, the results of these interactions are much more likely to make it to the leadership and not just live and die with the frontline or middle-management employees.
Finally, share every single win you have, big or small. Did you meet a huge player in your sector at a conference? Let people know about it. Did you get your first reorder? Share it with the world! Especially during early stages (but likely for a long time) there are far more hurdles to climb than seamless downhill stretches. Help keep energy and motivation high by over-amping wins. Soon enough something will catch fire, so don’t worry about your staff getting complacent or thinking it’s just smooth sailing ahead. The hyper-vigilance that is pervasive at a startup can lead to burnout and unnecessary worry. Combat those more destructive tendencies by shouting out every little win along the way.
This is a good place to start, but it is just a start. If you’d like to discuss your startup, organization, or team in more detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to see if I can help!