A friend recently asked me how I decided to start my own company, was it something I always wanted or did it happen by chance, how did I make it happen? While I don’t claim to know anything about how to start a company or even be good at it I figured I should still jot this down before I forget. Frankly, I see myself as the Forest Gump of startups, stumbling upon good fortune rather than actively chasing it. Here are some of my takeaways from the first 3 years.
Stop thinking and start doing
I had the thought in my head for many years before I actually set out. From early on in my career, colleagues had suggested I start a consulting firm of my own, I mostly treated it like friendly banter than sincere advice. I obviously felt I was too young or not good enough to actually make it on my own. But once I started my company I realized I was ready at least 3 years earlier. The more I thought about it the more it made sense to fail early in my life so that I have time to make up for it should things go wrong.
Where is your support system?
We live in a time of amazing tech where you can automate almost anything and it’s possible to be a one man show when your start out, but machines can’t provide you a reality check and advice once you start making hasty decisions. Always have another partner to help temper enthusiasm with reality. If your partner is your spouse (as is the case most times) lay some ground rules and try hard to keep personal and professional relationships separate.
Have a plan
Start out and as soon as you get some time, make a plan for where you want to be at the end of every quarter and every year. It’s important to start this journey with milestones and a destination, I have been measuring mine and my company’s success based on a PPT for the last 3 years and each time we were able to correct our course midway because we constantly use it as a frame of reference.
It’s very rare for a startup to succeed on its first attempt, expect that there will be problems and find a way to stay positive. One of the biggest strengths of a startup is its tremendous energy, try and stay tapped into it. Every once in a while you get bad news and it’s easy to lose track of everything that has been achieved already.
It is going to be tough
Be prepared to put in hours and months of effort. During the first year I worked 7 days a week for almost 14 hours a day everyday (I still do sometimes). Naturally it took a toll on my health and my personal life but it has helped me get where I am today. I have friends who occasionally want to try their hand at consulting and the first thing I do is tell them to join me for month, I ask them not to quit their day job but instead take on additional work from my firm as well, most guys give up by the first week saying it’s too much of an effort, if you can’t commit an additional 4 extra hours per day you’re not ready.
Both feet in
Running a company is not something you can do along with a day job. Most guy’s think of it as freelancing, it’s not. You have to wholly commit to your company. Heck if the founders are not interested then how can you expect anybody else to be?
It’s not just one skill
Being a good techie or people manager is not enough to start a company , it requires people skills , technical skills and financial skills as well as a number of other skills , if you don’t have it hire someone who does , but don’t assume you can be it all or that you can manage without a few of them.
Track the money
Always keep a good eye on the money, it is what drives the company. Know how much you have and where it’s all going, pay your taxes and make sure you understand the pulse of your company. I initially didn’t pay much attention to this aspect but once I started doing some BI on my financial reports I was able to save money from efficient processes as well as divert funds to projects that were more promising.
Set a goal, don’t think of your company as a never ending entity but define the goals for it. Something like “I am starting a company because I want to live in a big fancy house and see the world by the time I am 30” In startup parlance it’s called an exit, the point at which you feel you have got what you wanted from the company and are willing to sell it off or hand it over. Measure how your company is helping you realize that goal.
Look the part
It might seem silly but it does have a big impact, while working, I often asked my managers what my jeans had to do with my coding skills but now I understand the difference. If you’re working in a creative outfit sure jeans make sense but in software development especially the CEO needs to look the part romanticizing the young CEO with rolled up sleeves and jeans only looks good in the movies. If you want to be treated like a leader then you need to look like one too (unless you’re Gandhi).
VC’s cite the team as one of the biggest decision factors when trying to identify good companies and it’s true. A good team can help run the company smoother, better and easier. But as the CEO you need to learn to trust your team. Understand that you are part of the company and not the other way round.
People are good
Believe that people are good because they almost always are. Nobody wakes up in the morning thinking how I can betray someone’s trust today. Clients might be late but the payment will come through be patient and don’t burn bridges until you have exhausted all other options.
Know your worth
When starting out I had a choice to make, bids for projects as the lowest rate or stick to my guns and charge a fair price. I stuck to my guns and was rewarded when clients who initially started with the lowest bidder later came back after losing precious time and money and still not getting what they asked for. These clients are today my regular customers who always think of me when they face a problem and need help.
Put yourself in your clients shoes
If you were the client would you be happy with the service you just provided? Be your clients’ biggest advocate.