5 simple hacks to a better start-up

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While starting a business or any venture is one of the most difficult things, given the financial insecurity and uncertain future that it brings along, 99% of people fail at this step. But my $0.02 is for the journey afterwards and why some start-ups continue to stay average or good and some become breathtakingly great.

The answer is as smackingly simple as the lines “You must do what you love” or “Perseverance is the key to success” but also some of the most difficult lines to implement.

So, here goes my list of simple hacks. 

A. Vision

You got to be 100% clear on what you are trying to build. If Steve Jobs came back in 1997 and said let’s catch up with Microsoft and make better softwares, I doubt he would have gone too far. He believed in something, just like Evan’s rejection of the $3 billion offer shows that he definitely does. (Now, don’t you think Instagram sold out cheap to Facebook?)

Most start-up CEO’s fail because they are unsure about what they are building, the “How?” is OK to be unsure of, but the “What?” is just blasphemy because what’s the brand going to stand for; what are the people going to look forward to create and so on.

Write your vision down, put it on your door, on your forehead, scream it every day, evaluate all decision on this goal. It’s like Columbus’s search for Americas – to find it, you must keep going west against all other temptations.

If you want to learn how I learnt this, and how much this has impacted my business – ping me for coffee or a run when I am in town. I can only tell you it took us from operating in a $10 million market to a $1 billion market as soon as we clearly stated who we want to be.

B. A Team

The foremost mistakes I see my ilk make is that we hire the first 5-6 people who are brilliant on execution. While it’s tempting, it is what seems to be the biggest difference between average, good or truly great start-ups.

Every business has a core and 1 or 2 more critical functions. While it is good to hire a few young people (costs you less, right!), it’s critical, for success, to hire people in your core area or critical functions who are incredibly smart. And, a benchmark for that should be that they know a lot more than you in their domain. A lot more. A freaking lot more.

The question is “How do I convince talented people to join a barely there start-up at no money or very little money”.

Typical solution – Lets go get more money and then hire these people. I would say this is as wrong as wrong a decision could be.

My suggestion – the effort and back-bending you are doing to please that first few clients, save some of that and go in the talent market, convincing talented people to join you – use your convincing powers and hard work there. Build a freaking A team.

C. Finances

This has to be your third concern. I am an athlete; I know what blowing out or winding out means. It simply means my heart cannot pump more oxygen to make me go any further or faster.

We never want our business to run out of oxygen. So, at all points, look at that cash flow book every day. What should be alarm bells?

(a). I do not have a 3-6 month of expenses ( not working capital) in my bank.What should I do? Well – if you love your start-up and want to give it the right runway, you must ensure it has a long enough runway (another word I use for oxygen, which is a metaphor for money).

How to get money – Land a big services project (what we did); get angel investors (what we did too); get short terms loans (did that too); get convertible debt (did that too) – In short, there are tons of ways to get money in the bank – be proactive and have a 3-6 month runway. Your brain doesn’t function well without oxygen – try doing 105 * 5 when you are running at 17kmph for 5 minutes.

D. Culture

Since culture comes only once you have 4-5 people, I am putting it down as No.4 on my list. Culture is everything you are and want to be.

Apple is innovative – culture. IBM is true blue – culture. Tata is honest – culture. Reliance is aggressive – culture. The culture you create will determine in the long run the people who attract, the business decisions they make, the X factor which no one else can copy or code, it will also determine your brand, and you.

Build it.

E. Tenacity and Hard Work

There is no short-cut. The best line I have ever read “The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare”, or the second best – the line I have used since I was 13 “The harder I work, the luckier I get” (As athletes, we sometimes say, “The harder I work, the faster I get”).

There is no hiding this. Elon Musk seems to work 100 hour weeks, I-bankers work 80-100 hours for their million $ paychecks, Steve jobs called it constant worrying, and examples are numerous.

You are lucky ‘because, as an entrepreneur, you chose your work and you have the freedom to enjoy it as exemplified by Sir Richard Branson.

Those are my $0.02. If I had to add one more, I would always swear it to be ‘Dedication. Focus. Consistency.’

Embrace it, and you will see the difference like I have.

P.S: Next author should be Raksha Shetty for we hear from the entrepreneurs far too often, but rarely hear the other side “Working in an entrepreneurial venture”

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