Some years ago I worked on a project that was not exactly a success. Maybe not an outright failure, but more like a small-scale healthcare.gov for its era. At the time, I joked about writing an opus titled “Anatomy of a Failed Project” to record all the disastrous actions along the way. I never did write it, and over the years lost my pithy observations to time.
Since I have much fresher memories regarding the challenges of a sputtering startup I thought I’d record a few thoughts now, rather than face the doom of repeating the past. Rather than carp about the negative, I’ll offer a few positive prescriptions.
Do know your limitations. Just because you are smart and good at some one thing does not mean you are good at everything. Really.
Do hire quality. Don’t assume that you can hire good people once your business is successful. You likely won’t ever be successful without a quality team.
Do mind your business. You can spend endless hours debating the latest Facebook news, but unless you are learning from their actions you might as well spend your time sorting nuts for all the value it provides. Apply the same attention and intellectual rigor to managing your company.
Do communicate honestly and frequently with your employees. Your employees joined on because they believe in the vision. Treat them with respect.
Do communicate honestly and frequently with your customers. Your customers have made a bet on you. Maybe they’ve paid for your product, maybe they’ve trained their employees, maybe they’ve effectively gone “all in” – whatever their level of commitment, they are counting on you.
Do treat your partners with respect. If you’ve partnered with other companies, apply the golden rule and treat them as you’d like to be treated.
Do have a plan and execute it. Don’t assume good things will just happen, that prospective customers will spontaneously flock to your product or that buyers will materialize from thin air. Work it.
Do build a culture of respect, honesty and integrity. A company’s founders will set the tone going forward. Realize it, and build something you can be proud of.
There are of course many more “do’s” for a startup, but I’m already starting to forget them….