Perception matters. 80% of startups fail, so when you describe your business as a startup, you are instantly associating your business with the perception of instability and uncertainty. If you’ve done your research on your space, have a clear plan on how you are going to obtain your customers, sell your product, reach break-even, and continue building your business, then there is no reason to give people the idea that your business is anything but solid. If you haven’t done your homework on those things, then by all means call yourself a startup.
If you have to handle emails on vacation, then it’s not a vacation. It’s super important to unplug every now and then, turn off your computer / cell phone and take a break from email. The best indication that you’ve built a solid business is how long it can operate WITHOUT you. Every entrepreneur’s goal should be to build a company that can run without them forever. If your business is not at this point, then you don’t actually have a business, you have a job and you are the bottleneck.
Everyone has a different idea of what a ‘Meeting’ is. It’s a very generic term we apply to any gathering of people in the company. Small, quick, meetings happen at CoachUp all the time and I actually encourage it. These involve a couple people gathering around a computer to resolve a problem / issue / question. The biggest time sink you can have is a larger meeting (read: more than 4 people) that involves unprepared people wasting everyone’s time.
Granted, sometimes it’s important to have larger meetings with multiple stakeholders involved. In this case, the secret to having a productive meeting is in the preparation. There should be one person who is responsible for leading the meeting and s/he should be responsible for sending out an agenda beforehand. The most important thing about the agenda is the goal of the meeting. The meeting should end with some type of resolution towards this goal. If you’re not planning prior to the meeting and making progress during the meeting, then you’re just wasting everyone’s time and you would be better off doing nothing.
It’s important to seek people who can provide counsel instead of people who just give advice. I always distinguish between advice and counsel. Anyone can give you advice, but counsel is a very specific type of advice that comes from people who have vast knowledge or experience in an area of your business. You should always try to surround yourself with people who have more experience or are more knowledgeable than yourself. You do not have to be an expert in every area of your business, but you should put together a council of people who are the most knowledgeable about every critical area of your business. It’s your job to know what those areas are.
Beyond needed updates, is there ever a good reason to stick with a certain version of your software or product, or should you constantly evolve, and why?
Remember, software is a tool that helps you achieve your business objectives, not an entity itself. The purpose of your software is to accomplish these objectives in the most efficient manner possible. So with regards to evolving your software, the decision to do so should be made with your end business needs in mind (both now and in the future). If you’re continually building your business and need to evolve the software, then by all means do so! However, if your current version meets your needs and will continue to do so into the future, then there’s nothing wrong with sticking with what works and focusing your efforts elsewhere.
There are many important milestones when you start a company, but none is more important than breaking even (and more importantly becoming profitable). Until your business reaches this critical stage, you’re not running a business, you’re basically just burning through money. Once you’ve built your business to the point where it can stand on its own, your options are unlimited!
What is one cautionary tip for startups that are just starting to put together the “stack” of software they’ll use for operations, from email to task management?
Remember, your operational software ‘stack’ is just a set of tools that you use to allow your business to operate day to day. Your tools should help your business objectives and make your team more efficient. If they’re getting in the way, then you need to reevaluate your processes or change your tools. Early in the company, we focused on using tools that would allow us to get set up quickly and see results. As we grow the business, scalability has become much more important. If we’re going to make a certain piece of software a cornerstone of our processes, then we need to feel confident that it will be able to scale with us for a reasonable length of time.
Hiring a remote team can have many advantages for early stage companies. However teams need to have direction and guidance to perform efficiently. This holds especially true for remote teams. Don’t think that you’ll be able to just ‘hire’ a team overseas and set them loose on a project. They will require much more attention than if you were working side by side. If you’re not careful, it can end up taking much more of your time while making things less efficient.