Random thoughts in non random IRC channel

Few (for very large values of “few”) days back, the topic of discussion on ilug-cal channel veered around to the usual “Starting up my own business”. So here are a few things I had noted down around 2 years back in no particular order.

  • Have a “Will never do” list handy. It will come in useful on those days when you are in two minds about whether to do a thing or not do it
  • Create a set of values that you expect to grow the company around. Remember this is not a mission statement. Just a set of value which will define the areas where the company plans to make a mark
  • Focus on a single area which the company could use to produce “customer delight” and stick to it
  • Recruit according to merit. A large number of startups suffer from having friends on board – that’s nice but merit based recruitment would go longer in providing the technology advantage
  • Figure out a yardstick of measurement that allows assessment of how well the company is doing
  • Don’t wait for the “one great idea” to open a company. Instead have the platform in place to take maximum advantage of the idea when you try out tinkering

The driving force behind successful startups is discipline. All of them traditionally begin their lives out of the garage (or similar) setup and then one day find that there are far too many new products/services, new clients and new employees and there’s no framework to either predict the future or even guarantee the present. The immediate reaction from the founders is simple – batten down the hatches and work overtime. Yet that’s not really a scaleable model. What also does not work is getting “managers from outside” to clean up the mess. A framework drawn up initially that anticipates crisis is one of the easiest way to pass through the growing years without the “slash-n-burn” reaction that is so prevalent. The discipline is also required to invest in the engine that ensures that the company keeps on churing revenue.

The other thing that prevents startups from maturing into companies is the ego driven nature of the business. Most startups are result of tinkering by their founders with either a clutch of ideas or “one great idea”. The inevitable nature of this kind of business is that the personalities of the founders tend to drive the business focus and provide the wrapper for the business goals. The immediate shortcoming of such a concept is the lack of sharing ideas with others or even a healthy debate. The latter is one of the best methods of figuring out where the “vertical limit” is – a debate not to score brownie points but to figure out solutions to problems. Creating a style of leadership that places emphasis on self discipline and a culture of rigorous innovation also means that the base bricks for sustaining survival of the company is laid. Else, there’s a fair bit of chance that the company will not live beyond its founder members.