Startup Mistakes and other questions
When I started on the “One Day, One Blog” challenge, I asked a few people in my network if there are any particular questions they would like me to answer. Most of the questions were related to “Startup” life and a few about my personal challenges in a professional setting. On day 29 of “One Day, One Blog” challenge for the month of January 2019, let me try and answer a few of them.
Let me give a brief introduction for the sake of people who do not know me( I am being very optimistic and hope that people who do not know me are going to read this 😜 ).
I have been an entrepreneur for 7+ years. I co-founded the Ed-tech Startup Fourth Ambit with 3 of my classmates from engineering college. Prior to the startup journey, I had worked in the B2B Sales function for nearly 10+ years. There… I hope that establishes my credibility to answer some of these questions.
Q1: You co-founded a business with your friends. And apparently, you all have a good relationship. What is the one thing that you would still do differently if you were starting out today with your friends?
Communication is critical in any relationship. We have a long history as friends and can communicate easily. Even so, I still feel we can do more in this area.
Rahul, our CEO does this wonderful thing he calls a “War room”. The four of us are locked in for a day and we sort out any issues ( personal and professional) we have with each other.
But the challenge in a startup is that you always do not get the time to do these sessions. So my recommendation would be to chart-out time just for this once in a month.
Q2: What is the one mistake startups often make?
We believe that raising money is the toughest thing for a startup. That is not true. If you have a viable product and customer traction, you can raise money either as debt or equity.
The mistake that almost everyone makes happen after you have a bit of money. Almost every startup hires more people than they need.
In a startup, people are always willing to do a bit more than what their JD calls for. So it is not required that you hire for every contingency.
Always hire less than you think you need.
It’s is easy to hire and tough to let go.
Q3: What are the things that you need to keep in mind while recruiting for a startup?
There is a quote attributed to Steve Jobs.
“Hire people smarter than you — and then let them tell you what to do.”
Every CxO of a startup should live by this principle. It may sound easy but please bear in mind that for a founder, the startup is no lesser than an offspring. As a parent, you would find it very difficult to hand over your child’s upbringing to another person. Similarly, a startup founder will recruit a great person and still make them do things your way.
When you do this, you are not being fair to the new recruit and you are cheating yourself of the opportunity to benefit from this person’s expertise.
Q4: What advice can you give to college startups who have to manage teams of people who are either their friends or perhaps, people who are elder to them?
There is a book called “Extreme Leadership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. They were both U.S Navy Seals. They used the lessons learned from the Navy and applied that for management purposes.
In one of the chapters, they stress the importance of everyone in the team understanding the Goal. It could be the need to incorporate a feature or adopt a particular marketing strategy. Often, such strategic decisions get watered down by the time they reach the people in the front end. It is the responsibility of every senior leader to ensure this does not happen.
You cannot force the “buy-in” of employees. They need to understand the need for a particular action and then they will do everything that is needed to achieve that goal.
Q5: How can we ensure that we have a great startup culture?
I believe that our startup has values that are a reflection of its founders.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no particular process that can help design a perfect culture. What is important is to decide what values are important to you (and your co-founders) and ensure that these are not compromised at any point.
In it’s simpler form, I would go so far as to say, where culture is concerned do not do in office what you will not do in your home. Will you be disrespectful to your parents? Will you lie to them? If you do lie, how would you feel when you are caught in the lie? These should act as guiding principles when you are concerned about the culture in your organization.
Having said that, there should be a very strict line drawn as far as POSH (Prevention of sexual harassment) policies are concerned.
Read up on the laws for setting up ICC (Internal complaints committee) and set up the same in your office. Ensure that every employee is told that you have a zero tolerance policy during induction itself.
Q6: Any other advice to startup founders?
Quite a few actually 😃
- Founders tend to become generalists as the years go by. If things do not go as you planned, you may need to support yourself with a job at some point. In which case, it is imperative that you keep building on your skills.
- If your business is not meeting its KRAs quarter after quarter, there is something seriously wrong. Sit down and have a hard look at yourself.
- Startups tend to pivot often. While it is a good idea to listen to the market and make changes as needed, do not pivot too soon. Ensure that you have given an idea the required time to bear fruit before you change track.
- Founders are not GOD(s). They too need help. Get a mentor or a leadership coach( even if you need to pay for it) when needed.
I had done an “AMA of sorts” on WhatsApp and this article was the net result. There were a few more questions that did not fit into the “Startup” storyline and I will try and answer them in a subsequent article.