Five lessons learned as an early stage entrepreneurPosted: August 11, 2008
In my 16 year career (uggg, I must be getting old!), I spent 4 years at Microsoft in business development and then joined a start up (CoolSavings) as the VP of Sales and worked there for ten years, the last five as the CEO. I ran CoolSavings as a public company with 150+ employees and while revenue exploded from $21 million to $80 million. Then we took it private and I left to pursue my dream of starting from scratch, as the say – tablua rasa or with a blank slate. Now almost exactly two years later from absolutely nothing two years ago, Viewpoints Network has 12 full time employees, 750,000+ monthly users and as they say, the world is our oyster. Allll right, I hear you, get to the point. What are five lessons learned about starting an early stage start up?
1. For start ups don’t hire agencies. Hire freelancers or part timers. We wasted $5k a month retainer fees on a pr agency, an SEO agency and a advertising agency. None of them delivered any real value. The bottom line in my opinion is that if something is important enough to you, do it yourself. If it is not important enough for you to do it, than why hire an agency?
2. If you face a decision to spend money, particularly if it is going to lock you into a monthly spend, put off that decision for at least 30 days if not 60 days. Works like a charm for avoiding some real mistakes.
3. Force yourself to communicate with your employees and investors in a real substantive and honest way at least once a month. I got used to this running a public company and a company that went through some tough times, and I have come to realize that communication to key stake holders is the #1 job of a entrepreneur. (Which is why I am writing this blog. I need to broaden my definition of stakeholder to more than just employees and investors).
4. Be ruthless with your time. Really look at what you are doing every day and make sure that it has the power to move your business. It is possible to waste so much time on crap that does not matter. I use a three ring binder and write down my to do list every day on a new sheet of paper. Then I can always go back and see what I thought was important and if I got it done. Organization and follow up are critical in an early stage company.
5. Keep an open mind. You might have assets and capabilities that you did not set out to build. If you listen closely to customers you will often that they are asking you for something that you didn’t think you had, but you really do. I cannot tell you how many times I have said to clients, "we don’t do that". Then when I stepped back and thought about how we could do that, we really did.
So, that is a start…. more later.