The truth about what it means to be a tech startup
A startup! A fantastic new buzzword for what is nothing more than a new business. Oh, I know there are posts about; you have to be fast paced and grow by 5% plus a month etc. Wake up! You are still just a new business, not some fairy tale business running in Lala land. All the traditional rules still apply with some new rules added on top.
Why are you creating this startup?
If you had to think about it or your answer was I want to be rich, pack up your toys put them away and ask mummy for a cookie and some milk.
You need to be more passionate about your new idea than a male Salsa dancer on viagra. If you have no passion how can you get others excited and involved in your offering?
Eat it, sleep it and drink it (except if you developed a new alcoholic drink). It needs to be so ingrained in your psyche that when you go to sleep, your sub-conscience takes over and floods you with amazing ideas to take it even higher.
Do your research
Before you even think about quitting your job and taking the leap into starting, erm a startup, do proper research. By research, I don’t mean that you go and ask your family and friends what they think. Especially not your friends they will tell you a mud cake machine is a great invention and will make you millions.
Don’t ask opinions on social boards. The majority of the people there are bored out their minds and will jump on any bandwagon coming past for at least as long as it takes for the next bandwagon to come past. Get out there and do proper research. I have personally gone around to hundreds of boutiques, fashion brands, stores and spoken to the decision makers myself about a new idea. It wasn’t easy as often I had to keep trying before I got to the right person.
The next Uber of whatever or a unicorn?
Most likely it is not you. Get over it, get some counselling if you have to. What you have, is a great idea and until you execute it, it may as well be written on your stomach, and you can wash it off later in the bath.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Is my offering a fad, nice to have, add-on or a necessity?
If it is not a necessity can you turn it into one?
If you can’t turn it into a necessity or it is not even an add-on ask your old boss for your job back, you need it.
It is all about the sale
Sell, sell, sell. Guess what the bubble has burst. The days of spending a million to earn a pound are over. The investors now want to see a sellable offering, and they want to notice growth.
How do you grow?
Yup, you guessed it. Selling! If you have a CTO half worth his salt you will have the smoke and mirrors necessary to start pre-sales and bookings before your offering is finished.
What is the real value of your new startup?
Nothing, you can create forecasts and expected sales figures based on promises and hypothesis until you are blue in the face. You are still worth nothing. Start turning those promises into agreements and start selling and you will have some value.
Have you set goals?
You need to have a clear game plan for yourself as well as for your startup. If you don’t set goals, it is just another wish, and we all know that wishes are worth nothing. My granddad used to say make a wish in one hand and have a shit in the other and see which one is real.
Turn that wish into a goal, write it down and now it is real. Set a deadline for your goal. You most likely will not achieve the deadline, that is ok. Keep at it and get it done. There is no such thing as an unrealistic goals only unrealistic deadlines.
Your role as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Just because you came up with the idea or started the startup (sigh), doesn’t mean you are fit to be the Chief Executive Officer.
Being the head of the startup is the hardest part of the business, you are responsible for everything from top to bottom. Plus this role means you are spending a lot of time doing social flirting. Flirting that includes presenting to potential clients, investors and the media.
Between all this time spent being social, you still have to build the business. Before you even think about taking on this role make sure you have the right key people in place. COO, CTO, CBDO and if it is your first time, get a C-Level business coach.
Please don’t hire your mates, get networking, and soon you will find the right person or they will find you. Join an accelerator; they will act as your missing team. Investors want to see a capable team in place before they will invest a penny.
The startup Chief Technical Officer (CTO)
Now for the biggest joke of them all the CTO. Hello, sunshine. Just because you have built a few apps or pranced around as an information architect with your powerpoint diagrams doesn’t mean you are capable of being a chief technology officer.
A startup CTO is the tech lifeblood of the business. Just because you have built a previous product using one language doesn’t mean it is the best for your business. The CTO needs to know what the latest tech is in the marketplace and how it can be used or partnered with to grow the business further.
As a CTO you need to know how to hire and manage staff (your buddy who worked at your previous gig is not the right person). You need to learn to recruit based on the businesses needs and make sure the candidate will fit in with the startup's team dynamics.
You need to know all the legislation that surrounds your product and where you will be trading. You need to have a good understanding of business processes and know your way around basic finances. You need to understand the data protection act especially GDPR and PCI rules like the back of your hand.
Do you as CTO know the ins and outs of growth hacking and online marketing? If you don’t, how do you know if your offering is set up correctly for your content teams to start promoting?
If you are building PaaS, SaaS, software, systems or the likes get your head around the dirty build. It will save your business. Don’t know the dirty build technique? You are not a CTO.
The dirty build goes hand in hand with the smoke and mirrors needed to be created for marketing and initial sales. It will also save money by quickly delivering a product to test with intended consumers. Yes, you have to test your product with your audience on a continual basis, this is how you increase adoption rates going forward.
Of all the halfwit CTOs I have to vet for investment funds the biggest jokers are the idiots who can’t have a social conversation never mind sell their offerings in a networking environment or a presentation. I have even met CTOs that don’t understand what they are building.
Networking, presentation, teaching and selling your offer is part of being a CTO, after all, you are in the big leagues now.
If you have an office, you are not a CTO but a self-important ding dong, get out on the floor. Be in the mix with your teams, you will learn a lot and your reaction time to issues will improve tenfold.
The startup Chief Operating Officer (COO)
This role is one role that I don’t wish on anyone. The COO is that person that is ready to jump out the window and head for the beach first!
In the early days, the COO deals with all the stuff the CEO and CTO avoids. Legal matters, HR contracts, agreements, SLAs, HR, terms and conditions the list goes on. In a new startup the COO often also acts as the office manager. In short, you are everyone’s bitch.
You are the person that is until you get a Chief Financial Officer in charge of the purse strings and trying to curb in the rest of the team spending like mad fashionistas.
Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO)
Networking, sales, marketing, partners ships and in case you have missed it I will repeat this essential concept. Sales. You are responsible for getting the clients/customers. As a CBDO you have to be out there socialising like crazy at networking events, shows and even when out shopping.
You are the one-man marketing team. All the original material needed are down to you. It will be a great bonus if you understand Growth Hacking. In fact, it is a vital skill set for all team members to learn.
Curb your enthusiasm
When you start to focus on your product or service, determine what the easiest way to sell and get it into the market is. Once it is performing and money is starting to flow in, then you look at the next product. Trying to launch too many products will kill your business.
We made this mistake once and burnt through half our investment sooner than expected. Trust me you don’t want to be the person that has to tell the staff you aren’t renewing their contracts or even terminating it early. It sucks.
Getting your business or product out there
Well, now this is a new beast. Modern marketing has changed, and if you are coming out of university with your spiffy new master’s degree, you are in for a big fat surprise. The shit you learnt in Uni is about five years behind what is happening. Oh and don’t try and group traditional marketing with online marketing. It doesn’t work.
You should as a startup first get your website up and running. We all make the mistake of just getting a one-pager up there as quickly as we can and hoping for the best. Yes, you should get essential information up there as soon as possible, but you should continually expand the content. At the end of four months, your website should have clear and concise information about your services and products.
A significant part of building your website is SEO. SEO (search engine optimisation) is a way to optimise your website so potential clients can find your site searching on Google (and other search engines like Bing and Yahoo). I see new startups stung by this all the time. In short, successful SEO involves defining your keywords/phrases, optimising your pages, creating content and then quality link building.
Yes, I know you don’t want to hear this… You have to start blogging it is the fastest way to up your SEO as well as build credibility.
If you can’t write. Tough!
You should have paid attention at school when they covered writing skills. If like me you didn’t, don’t worry there are some great courses out there that will get you writing like a blogger in no time. Also the more you write, the easier it becomes.
I started by posting interesting articles I found and then provide my thoughts on it. Another option is to have a ghost blogger. Aforementioned is a person you tell all your ideas to, and they turn them into posts. My only warning about this is that this writer has to get the tone of voice of yourself and your business right.
Get to know Grammarly; it is a tool that helps you with your grammar and also shows you where you need to improve sentence structure.
Learn about growth hacking. Your CTO most likely already knows about this, or he should do. Growth hacking is a combination of technology and marketing. Read Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday it is an excellent introduction to the subject. One of the quickest tricks is to use the bottom of your email to advertise your product instead of doing the vanity “look at my spiffy logo”.
Make friends and play nice. As a lean startup, you need all the help you can get. I still don’t understand the lone wolf mentality employed by a lot of startups; there are thousands of other startups willing to plug you if you plug them. We currently get 90% of our sales for Fabacus Symphony via other companies that have clients that want to integrate their product with other systems. We have competitors selling Fabacus Symphony!
Give back to others
The final and one of the most amazing things you can do. Help someone else without wanting anything back from them. You will be amazed at what you start getting back.