I recently gave a talk at a “She Leads Tech” event hosted by YourStory and Facebook for the women entrepreneurs community, this is the presentation I gave there.
1. Don’t take advice on face value
Your startup is unique, the advice is generally not, especially drive-by advice.
Whenever you come up to advice that sounds good, ask why: Why did the advice work for the person who gave it to you, why will it work for you? Why will it work now? The Why’s give you context, they help you understand the premise under which the advice will work or not work at all.
- Should you be a product-driven startup or a sales driven startup?
- Sales is an important distribution channel for startups, especially when building a B2B product. But startups, when driven by sales, get a lot of flack. Depending on different stages of your startups, you may need to pick one over the other for the short while, but it can’t be influenced by your peers are doing it.
- Should you spend more time on new features or grow the customer base on current features?
- To growth hack or not to growth hack
2. Not talking & not meeting your customers
I have been through this one. After talking to a few prospects and getting them onboard for an Alpha product, I did not go meet my customers, turned out they did not use it as much, and when they did log in, they struggled to figure out the charts we delivered.
More important, when meeting customers you need to
- Have empathy
- Focus on the problem, not your solution.
In addition, when you are doing UX Interviews, make sure your team members are a part of them. Once they see the user going through the problem, they get a whole different drive to solve the problem.
3. Don’t blindly listen to them
Customers are not the best at defining problem statements, if the problem statement is incorrect, the solution will not solve the right problem. Also, customers have a very narrow view of the problem which is biased from their vantage point. Blindly listening to them won’t solve the problem in most cases.
4. Not Zooming in & Zooming out
As a founder, you need to know the nitty gritty details of your product and overarching themes of the industry you are in and your business in & out. Knowing both the controllable internalities and the uncontrollable externality helps in making decisions simpler. Also, not knowing something is not an excuse to not do something.
I wrote a more detailed post on this here
5. Not Looking Ahead
Looking ahead helps you plan ahead. It is not easy, but it helps in building various frameworks and guard rails. Below are some of the learnings which are derived from this.
5.1 Not Having a Mission, Vision & Strategy Documents
Documents like these help in focusing & anchoring the entire team around them. They make decision making faster as there is reference material.
But do remember, they are flexible and not written in stone, they should evolve as you grow and learn.
And it is just not this set, ideally have product vision & mission docs, have a design document. They help bring transparency and purpose.
5.2 Not planning a future organization structure
Having a possible future org structure/chart greatly speeds ups hiring as you know what roles you may need in the future. Once the roles are defined, you can start scouting for talent so that you are ahead of the requirements and spend time with them.
Unless you do this, you can’t be in an “always be hiring” mode
5.3 Not Projecting finances
Your cash flow will be the lifeblood of your startup. Projecting finances will give you an idea of the stress points of your business model and teams. They need not be complicated, simple excel sheets will do.
Below is a screenshot of a (not so simple) projection variant we made for PureMetircs, which poked a few too many holes in our business model.
5.4 Looking ahead, makes it easier to delegate
Delegation is hard, but once you know what your next problem statement is, you know what you are doing now needs to be delegated
5.5 Looking ahead, you realize you need to upskill your team
Up-skilling your team is the most important aspect startups forget, some employees are great at growing themselves, others might get lost in operationally work. The rising tide can’t leave people behind.
6. Not Debating
Having done a lot of this with my Co-Founder Abhishek Nandi, I realized the importance of debating. A debate is not an argument, the goal of debates is to get the best understanding of the possible outcomes of anything by getting everyone to voice their thoughts. At YourStory we debated in front of the tech team as we wanted to build the culture of actively questioning anyone. Debating in front of them allowed them to jump in where they agreed or disagreed.
Disagree and commit, if, it is not really stupid, and the cost of making a mistake is low. This is probably a case where most folks take the quote up blindly when missing the context.
7. Not Reading
Most of the mistakes I did, I read in books later. You should foster a culture of reading, not a culture of having a stack of books in your office.
Here are some of my recent favorite books:
- Jobs to be done. From theory to practice
- Execution: The discipline of getting things done
- Principles by Ray Dalio
- Good Strategy, Bad Strategy
8. Not Writing enough
I will let someone else elaborate on this
He has a medium post where he elaborates this.
Another great advantage is writing also helps in remembering better.
9. Not Worrying About Culture
This one is hard to explain as culture is a vast topic. At the simplest great culture helps retails talent, and that is a big win. Setting up and growing good culture is hard, destroying it is very easy, be very cognizant of what you do and say as founders.
Be Empathetic, yet just,
Support the best, fire the bad actors
Trying to build a good culture has massive domino effects
To have a good culture you need to know your people
If you know your people you know their needs, strengths & weakness
If you know their strength, you can leverage it
If you know their weakness, you can support them
10. Not breaking problems down
Breaking problems down saves time and effort. More details here.
11. Not worrying about distribution
Distribution is Growth. It is something I have started recently reading up on as a subject.
Distribution can be achieved by
- New Features
- New products
- New markets
- New partners
What are some of your learnings from your entrepreneurial journey?