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Three Startup Questions

by J. Cornelius

Our friend, J. Cornelius (@jc), hit some gold with this recent post. It’s published here as a Guest Post with his permission.

A community leader/budding entrepreneur here in Atlanta recently approached me with these three questions. Hopefully the answers help you, too.

1. If you could narrow launching a startup down to 5 general steps, what would they be?

Assuming you already know what you’re going to do, these are in no particular order:

  • Make sure you have the right people on the team. These are people you’ll be spending a lot of time with. If you have any personal issues or peeves, get them out of the way. They may not be your friends. That’s okay. It’s more important to have the right skills in the room.Les McKeown has a good breakdown of the personality types you need: The Visionary, The Operator, The Processor, and the Synergist.
    1. Visionary: They set the goals and aspirations for the team. The problem about them is that they are easily distracted. The positive is that they dream big. No one has anything to do without their vision. Visionaries know they have their own limitations.
    2. Operator: How are we going to make it happen? Symbiotic relationships. They will make it happen. They get stuff done. The visionary doesn’t always think systems and processes are for them, so they need strong operators who will help them fulfill their vision.
    3. Processor: If you are going to get through the stage of white water, you will need a processor. If you want to scale you need people to put systems and processes in place. If you want to deliver in the face of complexity, you need systems and processes!
    4. Synergist: Learning where their limitations are and working through them. Learning to have compromises and understand the NEEDS of the interworking components of all THREE of these positions
  • Keep your day job until you actually generate revenue. Note, I said revenue. It’s fine if you chose seek funding, but you’ll be in much better shape early on if you can generate revenue from bootstrapping. Besides, already having revenue is attractive to investors.
  • Carve out a reasonable amount of time to work on it every week. Too much and you’ll burn out too soon. Too little and you won’t get anything done. Spend just a little more time on it than you’re comfortable with. It will pay off.
  • Find mentors. Ask them lots of questions. Listen to and follow their advice (but not verbatim). As a follow-on to this, get out of the typical startup ecosystem. There are lots of ‘wantrepreneurs’ out there that talk the talk, but don’t really contribute to your team or goals. It’s okay to put the blinders on, shut up, and get to work.
  • Tell everyone about your idea. Talk about it tirelessly. George Bernard Shaw famously said “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
2. What are 3 things every startup should look for to be successful?
  1. Revenue, revenue, revenue.
  2. A small group of loyal followers/fans/customers.
  3. Efficiency in everything. Don’t spend assets (time, money, good will) foolishly.
3. Before you were a leader, what are 3 lessons you learned when someone was leading you?

There are always lessons to be learned. The moment you forget that is the moment you begin to die.

  1. Be humble. Humility goes a long way when trying to inspire and motivate people.
  2. Focus on your goals, not on any one path to get you there. The world changes rapidly. If you spend too much time looking at the short-term path you can lose sight of the long-term goal and find yourself lost.
  3. Be candid. Communicate clearly, often, and listen more than you talk. Asking questions is the only way to learn where things are going right and where they’re going wrong. When you spot a problem, fix it quickly and move on.

Of course these aren’t meant to be all the answers. This is no recipe. Take this advice like any other and find your own way. There are plenty of resources out there to help, but in the end it’s up to you to make it happen.


Photo credit: farm8 on Flickr

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