Know your motivation
- It’s really hard to build a successful start-up, doing it just to make money rarely works. If you love your industry or a technology there’s a much higher chance of success than if you are doing it so you can retire in five years. Long hours, worrying about payroll or fundraising and constantly thinking about what’s next (even when you aren’t at work) means you better love your company like a child. If you don’t adore the industry or your technology you’ll tire of it as soon as you run out of willpower.
Instill a no-asshole rule
- Hire the best possible talent you can, give them a stake in the game with equity, and never, ever hire a rock star at any position if you wouldn’t go out with them and have pints or dinner. Use the tiny island test: if you’d rather try to swim to Hawaii than be trapped on an island with a person, then don’t hire them.
Use guerilla tactics
- If you need something get it for free
- If someone is willing to give you something get them to pay you to take it
- Observe the industry and competitive landscape, get as diverse a view on the situation and as much input as you can then decide the optimal strategy to success and act on it immediately. I can’t stress enough how important it is to take action and then start all over again observing and evaluating, then take action again – and keep going through that loop process.
- Spend your marketing money like Scrooge - flyers slid under hotel doors at conferences costs 10% the price of a big booth and get more notice. Finding cheap ways to attract attention or become thought leaders is the ultimate goal. .
- Write a book or training manual to establish credibility in your space, this is the ultimate marketing tool; walking into a sales pitch and saying “We wrote the book on this technology.”
Sell your strengths and turn competitors advantages into weaknesses
- When my 20 person-team at ODIN beat IBM for the world’s largest RFID contract in 2006 for the Department of Defense we stressed the advantages we had they didn’t (specific pioneers, patent-pending technology, 100% focus on RFID) and then tried to figure out what IBM would stress (stability, size, vast expertise, global presence) and positioned their strategic selling points as weaknesses to the decision makers. It worked time and again.
Use Fear as Fuel
- Adopt the mindset of an entrepreneur – fear is excitement and fuel. Chaos is fun! Mindset makes all the difference in the world to success or failure, that mindset also cascades down to your growing team a start-up requires. If you can hire people who have an ability to look at stress, anxiety and chaos as catalysts for peak performance you’ll have a team that will have great fun in the trenches together. Late nights (or really early mornings) finishing a release, or putting together a proposal under pressure are far more fulfilling to team members with a “fear as fuel” mindset. It means work is a challenge, a fun test of a team’s ability to perform at the highest level.
Always put employees first and remember rewards are more than money, so take care of your team and celebrate wins that follow those tough efforts.. Do fun stuff and make sure your industry knows your company does fun things. IBM doesn’t rent stretch hummers with hot tubs in the back to go play paintball, or bungee jump – but you can!