Firstly, Happy Dhanteras!! and hope you guys have great Deepawali and prosperous New Year!
Many of you would second that running an Startup (We still have to strive a little harder to qualify to call ourselves an Startup as per Paul Graham) is such a roller coaster ride that it is not even funny. Last couple months have been very hard, inspite of things going well, we have been running into some problem or the other. I have learned some invaluable lessons. Hit by wall on some occasions and being a single founder things have been much harder in my case. Luckily I have very experienced businessmen in my family i.e. Dad and Brother. I have been taking their advice more often now on how I should go about running the company. I did like to share two important things in this post:
1. Accounting and Admin: I think the first people any new company should hire is an accountant and office admin. I cannot emphasize more on how important this is. As Startup founder(s) you tend to focus more on the idea, execution, sales, traction and meeting people. In your mind these are the big and the important things. One mostly tends to ignore to setup the basic accounting process, required official documentation, followup on meetings etc… What this leads to is improper financial management, unfulfilled commitments and loss of business opportunities at times. These issues surface real bad when you try to scale and when you discover the mess, it has kind of become part of the company’s DNA. When you try to instill these processes, it can be very difficult to change the mindset of your employees. I would not be very surprised if an founder does not exactly know if he is profiting or making loss, the exact costing of his products, his finance unaccountable, and his staff disorganized to respond to business opportunity quickly.
2. People and Management: As an new business with limited capital access you generally have limited staff resources working for you and who are naturally multitasking. It is very important that the first few people you get on board are the people you can rely on. It is very difficult to know when you hire them though. If you have bootstrapped your company, there is no angel investor or mentor, it is very difficult to attract talent. It can be more difficult in India if you are not from IIM or IIT to get people trusting you and your vision. As you can guess, problem is much bigger in single founder companies.
Now if you have managed to employ some key people, a bigger problem lies in managing them (more if this is your first startup). A lot depends on your first few hires who will eventually build the foundation of the company. How do you instill the right values, processes, trust, make things executable? A lot of this will come to you with experience but what do you when you are new? As founder(s) you are still figuring out your business and at the same time how do you manage to get the right team, right culture and off course you do not have money too. Trust me distributing equity does not help either. There are many key people who do not follow in the equity criteria but are still very key to your business. For example in my case, warehouse staff, back office, customer support, etc…
In my experience so far, even after getting the right people (trusted, capable) on board with limited capital, you really need a lot of luck to make things workable for you. You cannot afford your people getting sick, they having personal problems. They take time of work and down goes everything for you. Also an Startup sometimes is an very hostile environment. You will have to learn to manage your key people really well, take care of delegation really well and make the working of the company very very transparent . No matter how good your idea or product is, if your people are not able to support you all the time forget growing, you cannot even do your daily business with efficiency.
I think the way it all works, is the founder(s) leading the way. Below are few things I feel are more important to succeed than just having an good idea and a big market:
a. Discipline: Discipline is I guess more important then intelligence. I cannot agree more with Mukund Mohan and relate so well with his post.
b. Cool Head: Founder who is extremely aggressive in business but cool headed when it comes to dealing with his partners, staff, vendors, their ego and actions. Especially in India, wherein in people have an nack of being unprofessional when it comes to keeping their word.
c. Must keep his/her word. If you do not value it others will not either.
d. No compromise in Product or Service Quality. Honest and fare communication with the customers. Even if it means making loss in an transaction.
e. Honest in communication with his partners, stakeholders, key people and keep them completely aware of the the real problems, situation that the company is in.
Off course, there are many people with good ideas and cream of a business but still do not manage to build a success story out of that. A lot of it has to do with experience, continuous learning, self development, discipline, making the right choices, taking the right advice, having the necessary luck and most importantly having unwavering faith in yourself, your team and your dream.