There is no owner’s manual for building a successful company, and every business you create will have its unique challenges. Having launched several organizations, here are my thoughts and recommendations.
It requires tremendous effort to start and grow a company. Recognize this from the beginning and don’t move forward unless you are ready. You likely have been successful at other things in your life, tempered with a healthy dose of failure. The lessons from both will serve you well. You will fall, get up, fall, get up again – every day, every week, every month. The highs will be exhilarating. The lows will be humbling. This is the world of a startup.
First step: Your venture must solve an actual need. Too many interesting ideas fail to fix a real problem or help customers make money, save time, or do something they couldn’t do before. And so they fail.
Your business offering must be unique. Unique, however, means different, and different unsettles people. If you can’t communicate the value quickly and concisely, you’ll struggle to find investors, advisors, employees, and customers.
With a clear business solution and a unique offering, team building and market development move front and center. To align and fuel your team, you need a vision that’s bigger than immediate, short-term financial goals. Satisfy a fundamental human need, and learn how to communicate it. In our case, we build products that catch bad guys and help the good guys protect people and property.
As the leader of the startup, passion and drive are an absolute requirement. You are the force that inspires your employees, who must, in turn, enthuse your customers. No one outside your organization cares what your company does. Rather, they care about what your offerings do for them. If you don’t show everyone that you believe in what you do, then neither will your employees. Your customers will feel that doubt and go elsewhere.
Distractions and other opportunities will challenge your plans. You may stay the course or pivot to a new direction. Regardless, you must find a niche that lets you focus on doing a small number of things very, very well, in a market that has the potential to grow. A few sympathetic and visionary beta testers are not sufficient. Persistence and grit are how you will develop a solution that solves that broad-based business challenge.
Establish your company’s core values early. Start with the attributes you admire in your teammates. Those values will become the expected behaviors for every employee, every day. Whether it’s innovation, customer service, quality control, or anything else, it’s hard to beat a diverse group of driven people with a shared vision and values.
Process is more important than personality. As the company grows, sole contributors will give way to teams, who will grow into departments. One person’s skills and personality are no substitutes for replicable processes and systems that scale over time, extending across customer attraction and retention, leadership development, product innovation, internal culture, external branding, and almost every other aspect of the company. These transitions change roles and responsibilities and challenge egos. Success means managing this evolution. Every time your organization scales its operations and redesigns its systems, managing the increased complexity becomes even more essential.
As your company matures, discover what your competition is doing. They’re certainly watching you. If you have chosen your niche well, your offering will be hard to copy. If you haven’t, your competitors will beat you on price, on innovation, by hiring away your talent. The good news is that they make mistakes, too. Learn from their miscues.
Change is always afoot in a new venture, and that goes for you, too. As you build the company, you, the leader, must take a more strategic perspective and develop other leaders to handle the day to day. This change is not easy and carries significant risk. Find the advisors you need to manage this critical transition.
Some final thoughts:
Numbers matter. Every organization requires a scorecard that indicates how the business is performing on a daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. Gather that data from the very beginning, define which measurements matter most, and make detailed analytics a fundamental part of the leadership culture.
No one individual is as smart or as effective as a motivated team, and great teams make for great success. Park the ego. Hire proven and potential talent, and trust them to perform. Be generous. Give them the autonomy to innovate, and reward them generously when they meet their goals.
And now, one last very crucial piece of advice – have fun. Success requires sacrifice. There will be significant challenges along the way. You’ll never get through it if you don’t take the time to celebrate your triumphs – the small ones as well as the big. And never celebrate alone. These are your employees’ victories, too, and it’s always more satisfying when you share those experiences together.
There is nothing like starting a business, looking up after all the hard work and realizing that you are now flying. Congratulations on your success.