Launching a Business?
7 Ways to Learn from Our First Year
When starting a new business, there is no shortage of advice or stories about the unforeseen challenges that you are about to face. Hearing the perennial statement “you don’t know what you don’t know” can be daunting to say the least, especially as you begin to imagine the numerous scenarios that could go awry as you dive into the world of start-ups.
Reflecting on the founding of TEAMES & CO, we have learnt an immense amount during our journey, but also from the innumerable conversations with entrepreneurs who are invested in positioning their organizations for growth.
These conversations highlight reoccurring themes of ‘things founders wish they knew’ as well as lessons learned through the determination of charting a new course.
While success and growth cannot be distilled into a handful of actions, here is an abridged guide to 7, of the many, things we have learnt along the way.
1. Time = Your most important resource
As a founder, you are embarking on an exciting journey to bring your vision to life. The possibilities are endless. You are meeting with potential partners, clients, investors and team members. You start each day booking meetings, mapping out your networking events for the week, scheduling more phone calls than one person should try to take in one day, and quite possibly drinking more coffee than you ever thought you could.
You are focused on developing the business, sourcing potential clients, developing your business concept, courting investors, and building your team. Then you wake up one day and realize you do not have enough time in a day to make it all happen.
So how do you solve it? You need to take a step back.
Are all of these activities helping you achieve your success metrics? Are they informing and cultivating your key customer segments? In other words: does each action, and time investment, align with your growth strategy?
Time is perhaps our most limited resource and, as founders, we need to be sure our time investments are aligned with our strategy and objectives. It is why Peter Drucker’s advice “what gets measured gets managed” is so frequently cited.
A regular assessment of our time investments will help ensure that we focusing our days on the activities that will drive the most positive impact for our teams, our clients, and our organization.
2. Empower Your Teams
What is an exceptional team? It is a team that has a shared purpose and goals, is empowered and enabled to reach those goals, and is actively invested in their shared success. As a founder, one of your key roles will be to build and develop your team. It does not start and stop at the hiring process: this is just the first step on the journey.
3. Don’t Skip Setting, Reviewing and Revising your Goals and Success Metrics
Many entrepreneurs wish they had taken the time to properly define what success would look like, breaking that down into measurable goals, reviewing those goals regularly with your leadership team and team members, and revising them as needed.
It is too easy to get swept up in the day-to-day activity. Setting and reviewing goals can help you answer key questions:
1. Are we aligned on our strategy and goals?
2. Do we agree on the building blocks that we will need to achieve to reach those goals?
3. Is our customer at the center of our organization?
4. Are we on the right track? If not, how can we course correct?
Creating a process to set, review, and update goals, builds space for you and your team to continually improve and iterate. It gives you the data you will need to drive your decisions and can help uncover areas where your teams are not aligned.
4. Don’t stop at knowing your customers, put them at the center of your company
There is no single formula for growth, but knowing your customers is imperative. Understanding your customer, the challenges you can help them solve, and what is valuable to them will give you a roadmap for how you can create memorable experiences for them. These experiences are what drive their loyalty and your success.
Picture this scenario: I order a gift from you for a friend and ask for rush delivery as I am running short on time. Knowing and valuing your customer, you rush the order and I am thrilled. Putting the customer at the center of your company, you not only rush my order, but you put it in a gift bag and include a blank note card for to write a short note. Now, as a customer, I am impressed. I feel like you really valued me and helped make the gift a better experience for my friend. You can bet I am going to tell my friends about this, and you have 100% become my go to place for last minute shopping.
5. Co-Founders Can be Vital
Starting a company alone is 100% possible, but it also difficult. Frankly, with the long hours and sheer amount of work having somebody to rely on is comforting, but it can also help you build a better business.
A co-founder gives you a sounding board. They can help you troubleshoot problems and develop solutions. They can offer a new perspective and a valuable set of complementary skills. Are you a strong developer; do you have the ability to recruit a co-founder who has a strong commercial focus; and, can help you bring the new product to market?
Co-founders are not always necessary. You can start a company on your own. In fact, I started TEAMES & CO on my own. It does mean you need to cultivate feedback in many other ways. This could include proactively reaching out to friends, family, past colleagues to ask advice and gather feedback. The more feedback on your approach the better, and actively seeking this advice can help broaden your perspective and pressure test your ideas.
6. Mentors are invaluable
Whether or not you choose to launch with a co-founder, don’t forget to choose a mentor or mentors. Some companies even start an informal small board of directors. This does not need to be formalized, but you want to have people in your corner that you can ask for advice. This could be a formal monthly check in for 15–20 minutes or a more informal coffee meeting when questions arise for your team. You will want to be respectful of your mentor’s time, so when approaching them let them know what you are looking for. Do you need advice around a specific topic, and would you like to leave the door open for future questions? Being honest and open with any mentors will help them assess if they can make that commitment.
When picking a mentor, choose a person that you feel will give you honest advice. You are asking for advice to improve your business, provide a better customer experience, build your leadership capabilities; without honest feedback you will not be able to improve your approach.
The one important thing to remember is that your mentors will try to help you, and this is very generous of them, but the company is ultimately your responsibility. You need to own each decision, while considering and thanking them for their time and feedback.
7. Taking the Leap is Irreplaceable
Starting your own company is a unique experience. It is difficult and fulfilling, stressful and freeing, exciting and daunting. You will have nights when you lose track of time working on your idea and mornings when you are dragging yourself out of bed to work on a key deliverable. It is not easy, but it is a joy.
It is a remarkable feeling that comes from building something. Only you can know if you want to take that leap, but if you take the leap, we wish you the best of luck and look forward to hearing all about your journey!
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