The lessons I’ve learnt over the years, as a co-founder of four businesses, is something that I think about a great deal. One thing that has become clear to me is that most of what I’ve learnt has come either through making mistakes or from working with brilliant people. After much deliberation, I’ve managed to whittle them down to the following list.
I plan to expand on a number of these lessons over the coming weeks so let me know the ones that strike a chord or where you’d like to hear more.
1. Have a clear purpose that permeates the business and stay focused on it
This might seem obvious but it’s amazing how many businesses don’t have one. And it needs to go beyond targets and numbers and be something more meaningful and more tangible. Make sure you remain focused on this core purpose and don’t let yourself get distracted by what others are doing. I also think that everyone in the company should be able to describe your purpose in a single sentence.
2. Instinct and conviction
Rely on your instinct when hatching a new idea. Most people are uncomfortable with change and tend to focus on the downside. Once your idea is formed get behind it with absolute conviction. Don’t let people put you off or dilute your ideas. As Roosevelt said – ‘If you fail at least you fail while daring greatly.’
3. Raise money from partners not bankers
Investors should feel more like partners where your interests are aligned and who can add value to the on-going success of your business. This is much more important than getting the best deal on the financial side.
4. Two founders are better than one
Every business I’ve founded has been with my brother Ben so maybe I’m a bit biased here. But I feel that two founders are better than one because you have the opportunity to have a wider range of complimentary skills and experience at the very foundations of the business.
5. Be bold and punch above your weight
It’s difficult to get noticed as a start-up. I’m a big believer in behaving and looking like the business you want to be rather than the one you are. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and starts with making your business appear as professional, as successful and as large as possible – but within the boundaries of truth! I also think a start-up should always try to be bold and be original – this doesn’t need to cost very much and your competitors will be more set in their ways and afraid of doing this.
6. People – quality not quantity
Your first senior manager hires will establish the DNA for your business. Really invest the time and money to find the right people and remember it’s always better to have fewer really high quality people.
7. Great technology starts with great architecture
Architecture will determine your success, not your product’s more visible features and functionality. It gives you the ability to deliver a great user experience, to scale efficiently and to more easily diversify into new markets or products. Respect it and really think about it.
8. Don’t let ego get in the way
One of the biggest things holding a business back is a founder trying to hold onto too much. As the business grows be realistic about what you’re really good at and bring people in to do the other stuff. You will always be judged by the success of your business not the size of your role.
9. Big competitors are not as scary as you think
My experience is that bigger, and especially public, companies are slower, less focused, more political and generally much more slumbering that you might realize. So if you’re competing with larger companies, or a competitor gets acquired by one, feel good about their vulnerabilities and play to your strengths.
10. Sales & Marketing not Sales v Marketing
It’s amazing how many companies I’ve seen where sales and marketing (two of the biggest cost centers) are pulling in different directions. Everyone on the customer acquisition side of the business needs to be following the same process, targets and terms of reference.
11. Be really, really, really good at something
Every business needs at least one thing that they are brilliant at – that stands comparison to anyone else in the world. This will galvanize the business and give you an all-important cutting edge in the market.
12. Never, ever lose touch with your customers
As the business grows it’s easy to put some layers between yourself and your customers. Don’t let this happen. Make sure you are maintaining a number of direct touch points with your customers – it’s just not something you can outsource