A friend once gave me some sage advice: “Running a startup isn’t a sprint – it’s a marathon. You have to be ready for the long game.”
Well, a few years on, and I have to say: that’s a load of crap.
It’s a series of week-long sprints tied up in a huge overarching race that stretches (sometimes interminably) into the future. It’s amazing, it’s all-consuming, and it tests you in ways that you never thought possible.
Maxuri.com has been live for well over a year now, which infuses me with the motivation to list down some of the practical advice that I wish someone had given me when I first embarked on the journey. These tips won’t necessarily work for everyone. I’m not a hyper-intense control freak who gives out bro-fives and drinks 18 cans of caffeine and sugar bombs a day, so if you are, you’re probably not going to get a lot out of this column.
Cultivate Your Sense of Humour
This is non-negotiable.
Things will happen to you in startupland (a mystical, magical place where nothing ever really goes according to plan) that can make you either cry in self-pity or laugh in the face of adversity. I highly recommend option B: A team that laughs together, stays together.
Not only will your team be emboldened by your fearlessness, it gives you the chance to look at the challenge objectively – which leads into point number two.
Turn challenges into opportunities
Startupland will throw its fair share of challenges at you along the journey. One of the key elements of success is the ability to analyze challenges from all sides (after laughing bravely at them; see above).
Is your competitor coming out with new functionality on their mobile app? Check it out, grab some user feedback and see if there are UI/UX issues that you can address on your own platform.
Is a key client upset about more favourable contract terms given to a competitor? Use the opportunity to sit with them, understand their business and design a uniquely tailored experience for them.
Gilt-edged opportunities don’t come around all that often. You need to make them happen, and to do so you will need to forge them out of circumstances that initially may seem quite adversarial.
This is the area where a ton of startup founders drop the ball. Pre-startup, they glow with positive health and aligned chakras. They enjoy drinking fair trade coffee and only eat organic vegetables.
Two years on, they are either emaciated, shaking wrecks with a rehab-level caffeine addiction and an aversion to sunlight, or they are 20 pounds heavier, sleep at the office and dine out on Burger King.
I’ve got to put my hand up here. This is where I dropped the ball – I didn’t look after myself during my first year of startup, forgetting to eat most of the time, and then gorging myself on white rice and white carbs when I did. I ended up with a full blown case of type 2 Diabetes, which is (thankfully) under control now, but certainly added a layer of complexity to the startup game.
Don’t do what I did. Always set aside time for exercise and eat well. GIGO, remember? Hearkening back to the whole sprint/marathon thing, you simply can’t push through with willpower alone. Your body needs to come along for the ride; no use exiting your startup in five years’ time only to blow half your windfall on medical bills.
You and your managers need to agree on workplace culture
Everyone is keen to get their hands dirty when first birthing a startup. It’s only natural, right? You want to use that fresh burst of energy to create momentum and get things in place.
However, I can’t stress enough the importance of setting out the standards for workplace culture. Quite simply, it’s the gold standard on how your team interact with each other and external parties, along with the accountability inherent in their roles.
If you and your senior managers aren’t aligned on these (or you don’t live by them – a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality), your team will never buy into them. There’s a lot of crazy long articles out there about workplace culture written by paid professionals, so I won’t harp on too much about it here, but trust me – culture is the foundation of your startup, and it’s something you need to get right.
Be passionate about what you do
You have to be.
Funds will get tight, the nights are long, and your partner will need to have the patience of a saint. I don’t believe there is enough written about the impact running a startup can have on a long suffering partner – I might touch on this in my next article.
Startup means time away from family, friends and pets. You need to passionately believe in what you are doing, and the opportunities you are leveraging.
I can’t stress this next point enough: if you are struggling, reach out to someone. A friend, a peer, a sibling. Drop me a line if you need a sympathetic ear. It’s amazing how many startup founders share the same struggles.
Ok, that’s about it. I’d relish any feedback, suggestions, or even just plain abuse – good for a giggle, right? If you know any startup founders who are struggling, please forward this article to them – some of us might be in competing markets, but at the end of the day, we’re all human and we all need each other. Awww…