Building a new tech company from the ground up is incredibly hard. Here are some tips from founders and co-founders who have already scaled that mountain that might help ease the journey for others..
1: Haste makes waste. It’s natural to be in a hurry to get product out the door, but take a breath first and really gauge where you are. Slow down when it comes to key decisions, said Dan Belcher, co-founder of Boston-based Stackdriver, a startup focused on monitoring and managing cloud workloads. “Doing things too early is as dangerous as — or even worse than — doing them too late. Think hard about when you start to invest in sales and marketing and when you start forecasting, you need to implement roles and controls.”
Matthew Bellows, co-founder of Yesware, an email provider for salespeople, agreed. “Don’t sell your product too soon. [That's a] hard lesson for a salesperson like me to learn but our board was very clear that I shouldn’t start selling the product before the product was getting tons of in-bound interest.”
2: Do everything. This is easy because you’ll have to, but embrace this opportunity to get outside your comfort zone. “Founders should do every role first before hiring someone to take it over. This helps me understand who I’m hiring, what they should be good at, what they should be doing and how to measure their success,” said David Mytton, founder of Server Density, a London-based provider of server monitoring services
Karl Wirth, co-founder of Apptegic, which helps companies tailor content shown to website users based on who they are and their activities, agrees. “For the first year and a half, I was our only salesperson.” This meant he learned how to cold call prospects, to cull the live ones. And to assess that person’s problem then work overtime to close the deal.”I knew sales would be important — I didn’t expect it to also shape and refine us so profoundly,” he said.
Hardi Meybaum, co-founder and CEO of GrabCAD, an online marketplace for mechanical engineers, is all over this notion. “You are engineer, then product manager, then sales manager, then you’re raising money, then you hire smarter people than yourself to run product, engineering, sales, and marketing and then you need to lead by trust and great communication,” Meybaum said.
3: People are your biggest asset. Hire carefully. Mytton feels founders need to hold off on any new hires until things start hurting. “Hiring ahead of demand is the fastest way to burn through money,” he said. But, conversely, founders always need to look for new talent — perhaps for hiring down the road. “You should always be interviewing and always be hiring regardless of your headcount plan,” says Stackdriver co-founder Izzy Azeri. “It’s so hard to find good people and the founder is always the best recruiter.”
4: It’s all about the user, stupid. Ok, that’s harsh. But any startup or older company that loses its focus on the customer and solving a customer problem is toast.
“If you are genuinely helping people work more effectively, you will get pulled into companies,” said Yesware’s Bellows. “The days of selling to the IT department and the office of CIO are coming to an end. Frankly, the days of sales-and-markeing-driven companies are coming to an end.” So, talk to your users and perhaps more importantly, listen to your users.
5: Be prepared to fail. Expect it; it’s part of the gig. Dan Foody, co-founder of Cloze, the maker of an iOS app that consolidates a user’s mail and social media messages, said anyone in that line of work should heed Path CEO Dave Morin’s adage that the first version of any mobile app will fail.
Morin’s right, says Foody. “The real reason is that Apple restricts developers to at most 100 beta test devices for any app. In today’s world that’s not nearly a large enough audience to refine an app (especially a consumer-focused one),” he said.
“You need hundreds to thousands of beta testers. How can you avoid this pitfall? Build a web app first so you can learn the hard lessons up front with a wide audience without being restricted by platform and store limitations.”
That’s a good micro example, but generally speaking, failure is how we learn. So founders: be prepared to fail. It can be a badge of honor, especially if you learn from the experience.