Especially in the early days
Creating a business from scratch leads to some sleepless nights. From coming up with a business plan and raising capital to finding a team that will support and execute the company’s mission, there’s a lot to get done, especially in the early days. Below are a few things that continue to keep me up at night, and how I’m dealing with them:
- Making sure we grow in the right way
As a company grows—whether that’s through new partnerships, new office locations, or an expanding team—certain roles may have to shift. For example, a CTO at a 50-person company is going to be coding a lot less than when that company only had 15 employees. Is he okay with that? How do you help him adjust to his new role? And most importantly, how do you hire someone who can be the main coder at 15 people, but is also capable of becoming a team leader instead of an executor? Those are dramatically different jobs, and often require entirely different skill sets. If you’re lucky, the same person adapts. But if not, you may have to make a tough call and find someone who can better handle the constantly evolving nature of startup life.
The number one problem any company will have, and something my company is still wrangling with, is internal communications. In a startup’s early days, everyone tends to know everything, as the team is typically small and everyone is usually already friends—or at least acquaintances. Then, when you get bigger, you have to scale. That means implementing new systems in different departments, which usually comes with a learning curve.
For example, we’ve occasionally had projects with two parties thinking, “The other guy is doing it,” and it doesn’t get done. There have even been times I’ve realized some key personnel were completely unaware of a problem or a victory. I’m constantly worrying about who knows what, and every day is a challenge in making sure the right information gets to the right people—but without oversharing. This might seem benign, but when you miss a big contract because someone was lacking the argument to convince a client, simply due to a lack of information, not communicating properly can have far-reaching consequences.
- Marketing ourselves
When it comes to marketing, we’ve always made sure that if we were going to tell the world about ourselves, we had something worth hearing about. You want everyone to know about your product, but if you’re solely focused on everyone merely knowing about it, the product itself might not be any good. And even further, how much hype is too much? If we oversell the product, then we’re bound to disappoint people, which is ultimately more damaging than not marketing at all.
We’re also mindful that all companies in VR have to evangelize this entirely new space. Whenever you’re creating an entirely new product category, you need to tell people why they want it. Moreover, you have to tell other companies why they should care, too. And in doing so, you need to stand out from the dozens of other startups also trying to make new and amazing experiences within your product space, all while staying on a budget.
It’s almost a catch-22, but marketing is absolutely necessary for us to function. We don’t pay for VR broadcast rights; we partner with major broadcasters like FOX to bring them into VR. How are we going to do that if they’ve never heard of us, what we do, or why we matter? We’re still a startup, and it’s important that investors know who we are and are excited about what we’re doing. We haven’t cracked it yet, but we invest in marketing in small, experimental increments until we’ve achieved success, and then we aim higher.
- Staying authentic to core company values
Feedback from clients, partners, and customers is always important, but it can’t be the end-all and be-all to your business strategy. After all, depending on them too much can create issues that affect your roadmap. Balancing when to listen and when to ignore is a huge time suck, and can involve making some of the most stressful decisions any founder has to make.
We’ve always been a sports company, but we’ve had huge pressure to do other kinds of live events. After all, the live workflow is pretty much the same. But we’ve built our product around user experience and accessibility, and working on other kinds of events would mean moving our design away from that. It was extremely tempting, but we knew we needed to remain focused on making a great sports experience first before expanding to other verticals. We’re sensitive to our clients’ and partners’ needs, but they can’t deviate us from our core mission: to make live-streaming sports games in VR mainstream. [Fortune]