Lately, it seems like everyone is kicking off a business in one form or another. Though the market has gotten friendlier in terms of resources for first-time entrepreneurs, an average of 60 percent of startups are expected to fail according to Fortune. The individual points of failures for these startups are unique to each, but some tend to be commonalities that many teams experience and fail to learn. In this post, I cover the five lessons I learned from the launch of one of my past startups.
Build Strong Teams Early
A startup is only as good as its founding team. Products and services will come and go, but the folks pulling the hours in designing, implementing, and marketing the startup’s products and services are the bread and butter of it all. A strong team of three trumps a mediocre team twice its size. Harsh words, but true.
Building a strong team up front can save the organization a great deal financially and legally. If only half of your team is producing their deliverables while the other half sort of shuffles their feet, it’s time to re-evaluate the working relationship. Two of the most important decisions you make apart from forming your business model will be the formation of the development crew and the managing team. For young startups, these two teams might be the same. Having the wrong members in the backbone of the business can lead to disaster.
Separate work and non-work relationship habits. While it’s perfectly fine and quite common to go into business with friends and family, don’t let that pre-established relationship affect the working relationship you are supposed to have. They are, after all, a part of the team. Considering the boundaries required upfront may help prevent headaches and awkward conversations down the road.
Accept the Variability in Personal Investment
Not everyone will be as invested as you, respect everyone’s investment in the startup. For some folks, their job is everything to them; for others, it is just a job. While you may be fine pulling all-nighters to deliver a concept to the management team, consider that your other team members may have families, hobbies, and personal goals that may prevent them from doing the same. As individual contributors, we all want to get noticed and while don’t want others to “skate by,” we shouldn’t expect more of our team members outside of what the team had set as the expectations.
The same issue is especially prevalent for distributed teams. Maybe everyone is on different time zones; perhaps it operates on various shifts. Regardless of the setup, it is essential to remain mindful of the expectations set for the team and the simple fact that people do have lives.
Have the Difficult Conversations
Have the difficult conversations early-on to keep the boat afloat. Transparency is key to the team’s success. Due to factors like time availability and every individual’s investment, it may seem that others are either working way harder than you or don’t even come close to your performance level. It’s rare to find teams that are a fine-tuned machine in early-stage startups, which is why maintaining that transparency amongst each other and having the difficult conversations early on can help save the team overall. If the team permits tension to build and build, at some point, it’ll implode, and that’s where the lawsuits and Articles of Dissolution get filed.
By setting the tone early on and iterating expectations of the team in general, the team will introduce a strong foundation for success. If we ignore someone’s lack of involvement or major show-stopping mistake until weeks before funding but complain about it frequently, we allow for the negative energy to pollute the workspace. Share the concerns early on, have the awkward meetings to correct the issues and always have a proposed fix ready.
Less is Not Always More
Avoid constrictive business models by considering multiple revenue streams. Yes, you read that right. There can be several ways for your startup to make money, and really, there is not much stopping a startup from leveraging several at a time provided there aren’t any legal roadblocks to do so.
Spring the cash for tools that will automate repetitive and time-consuming processes such as accounting tasks, building and deployment steps, etc. Some startups will try to keep their operations as lean as possible, and while this is usually the best mentality to have, it is imperative to consider small exceptions for things that will provide immense value and save the team countless hours of work.
Make Iterative Planning a Habit
Minor planning between sprints or product development cycles is a game changer. At this point in your journey, you may have come across the concept of approaching deliverables in an “agile” manner or perhaps agile product development and its benefit.
The term Agile is commonly used with software development teams about methodologies applied to iterative product development and deployment. There are various flavors of agile, and not all methods may apply to your team, but consider adopting it into the team’s routine as a way to provide structure.
Why is this important? Why does it matter? Well, while your team may have an overall high-level plan on what they want to deliver as a product or service and how they intend to monetize these items but the devil’s in the details, as they say. Some plans may require fine-tuning and market research. You may find that a mistake found early on ended up saving the team a fortune in re-work. Chop the deliverable into logical units, tackle them piece by piece until the whole is complete. You’ll be glad you did.
To get a handle on what this is, check out the Agile Alliance website.
Thanks for reading! One last word, and it’s not so much of a lesson learned but rather a friendly reminder that when it’s time for the team to part ways, never burn bridges on your way out. You never know when you will need a connection or a skillset.
Best wishes on your startup journey!