The Ultimate Start-Up Guide

Hard Won Advice from Venture Capitalists

Many of us love to read stories of the beginnings of Apple or Facebook. We imagine what those early days were like and what it would be like to be a part of a small startup that skyrockets to success.

But, of course, statistically most startups fail. Studies show 90% fail in the first two years.

That’s sobering.

 

Why do so many startups fail?

What can the successful ones teach us?

Is there a blueprint for startup success?

 

Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent founded Crowded Ocean, Silicon Valley’s top marketing firm for startups. They have years of experience working with some of the Valley’s most successful firms. Their new book, The Ultimate Start-Up Guide: Marketing Lessons, War Stories, and Hard-Won Advice from Leading Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors, is packed with the wisdom of their experience working with numerous startups. I recently spoke with them about what makes a successful venture.

 

“Start-ups fail because of lack of execution.” -Charles Beeler

 

Why Start-Ups Fail

Everyone reads about how many startups fail. What are a few of the reasons?

Dog design. According to a recent study of 101 failed startups, 42% cited ‘no market need’ as the reason they failed. In other words, they created their product ‘because they could,’ not because of any perceived market need.

ultimatestartupguidenew2Running out of money.  Obvious but it happens more often than you’d think. Because of parsimony (giving away as little of the company as possible) or optimism (I’ve never missed a deadline in my life), first-time CEOs work from budgets and schedules that assume that everything will go right. It usually doesn’t—and so the founders fold shop.

‘Camel Design.’  If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, a camel product is one where the founders listened to too many people, didn’t trust their initial instincts, and built a product that is a little of everything and compelling to no one.

A single, dictatorial founder. It’s one thing to have a strong vision. It’s another to refuse to tolerate questions or input about that vision, especially when that input comes not just from employees but from the market. One way to track how much of a martinet you’re being is by tracking employee retention:  this may be your first rodeo as CEO, but most startup employees are on their third or fourth.

Underestimating the competition.  Sometimes it’s hubris; other times it’s just not enough time. Either way, most startups don’t respect—or keep an eye on—the competition the way they should.  Give the competition their due:  The analysts who cover your market—and who have probably had nice things to say about the competition—don’t want to look like they’re stupid. Same for the prospects who either own or are considering the competition. So keep your derisive comments to yourself.

 

“Data driven marketing is…one of the best investments an early-stage start-up can make.” -Moe Kermani

 

Translate Failure into Success

How can past failures translate to a positive experience?

It all starts with humility and honesty. Virtually every team has one or more scars from failed past ventures. The key is to admit it to other key team members and then use the lessons learned to avoid making the same mistake a second time. The other element is pattern recognition:  If you can use your past failures to recognize a mistake in its early stages (say, a bad hire), you can take corrective action before the mistake takes root and does damage.

 

“Less is more. If you think you have focus, focus some more.” -Jishnu Bhattacharjee

 

Why Diversity is Important

I love this. Many people think diversity is for more mature businesses, yet you argue otherwise. Why is diversity important for startups? 

Diversity of multiple types is healthy and invigorating for startups, not only to build a strong culture but to build better businesses. All the survey data shows that diverse teams make better decisions and improve profitability. So, just like startups benefit by being able to start fresh at the whiteboard to design a better product or service, we believe startups should try to build in diversity from their founding. We encourage startup founders to focus not only on gender and ethnic diversity, but also to consider hiring staff who bring both big-company and small-company backgrounds and to consider embracing the oddballs and misfits who represent “disruptive” thinkers. When tech titans like Apple, Google, and Salesforce have heads of HR and cross-functional teams chartered to lead diversity initiatives, you know diversity is a big deal, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it translates into better businesses.

 

“You never really know what the market really is until you go to market.” -Pete Sonsini

 

What is post-launch depression? How do you guard against it? 

What A Caterpillar Can Teach You About Growing Your Business

Master Near Constant Change

 

Many people think that businesses should develop a strategy and stick to it at all costs.

But Sid Mohasseb, serial entrepreneur, investor, venture capitalist, and former the Head of Strategic Innovation for KPMG’s Strategy Practice teaches an entirely different approach: It’s the ability to adjust your strategy, almost constantly, that brings success. The environment is uncertain and changing, and changing with it is vital.

Sid teaches that we must push for more and evolve from one approach to another.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his new book, The Caterpillar’s Edge: Evolve, Evolve Again, and Thrive in Business.

 

Prepare for Constant Flux

Why a caterpillar?

The caterpillar evolves many times over before it becomes a butterfly. It changes form until it turns into a completely different species. The caterpillar teaches us the wisdom of constant and incremental evolution and offers the promise of flying.  To compete, to advance and to win, in our businesses and in our personal lives, we must evolve constantly and purposefully, always.

 

“Things do not change. We change.” -Henry David Thoreau

 

How is the game changing? And how do leaders prepare for the constant flux?

Innovation is constantly approaching from every corner of the world. The speed of change fueled by unprecedented technological advancements and constantly increasing customer expectations are challenging companies to “stay relevant” – competitive advantages are temporary. The game has changed from, “How do I gain an advantage and defend it?” to “How do I change to stay relevant?”

To win in a state of constant flux, leaders must shift their minds and change their actions. First, by realizing their addictions (old assumptions, orthodoxies, biases, etc.). Next, by aligning with uncertainty – no plans can be permanent and no decisions are certain. Leaders must learn to live with probability and a portfolio of related plans – always ready to take the path that offers the most likelihood of success. They should also appreciate the reality of their capabilities and aim to build the future in increments; success cycles must be shorter and capabilities (people & systems) have to be created accordingly. Last, leaders must constantly look for the next advantage and aspire for more “Aha’s.” They should look for and discover the next challenge or opportunity, always; innovate, always (create new value), and evolve, always.

 

“To win in a state of constant flux, leaders must shift their minds and actions.” -Sid Mohasseb

 

How to Embrace Change

Why do we so often refuse to deal with change and uncertainty?caterpillar-cover

The refusal is more natural than intentional. We refuse to deal with change because of our fears of unknown (what is on the other side of change) and comfort with the status quo (comfortable routines we are used to and have served us well in the past). Most people embrace change when they i) realize the severity of the problem they face and ii) gain trust that what they can change to is a better state. We often refuse to change because we believe that the status quo does not present a major danger and/or we don’t trust the alternative paths offered by our leaders.

At business school and later at work, we are trained to look for certainty to plan to and execute against – assuming reduced risk. In our personal lives, we are comfortable living with probability and operating in uncertainly – there is a 40% chance of rain, and we decide, based on our risk tolerance, to take an umbrella or not. In our professional lives, we are expected to be certain and execute with confidence in outcomes. People, on a personal level, can innately adjust to uncertainty. However, they are reluctant operating with uncertainty at work because corporations expect and reward the illusion of certainty.

 

“The only thing that is constant is change.” -Heraclitus

 

3 Categories for Leaders to Plan in a World of Change

23 Hacks to Boost Your Creativity Instantly: FREE Webinar

Awaken the Creative Genius Inside

 

Do you think of yourself as creative?

Ever wish you could be just 5% more innovative?

Do you know how to create an environment that fuels your creative genius?

 

“Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.” –Jonathan Swift

 

Each of us can become more creative. Inside YOU is creative genius, as unique to you as your fingerprints.

It’s up to you to unlock it.

Over many years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview numerous experts in the field of creativity and innovation. Whether learning from an entrepreneur or an artist, I have collected some of the best advice available on how to boost your creativity.

And these experts have shared with me what we get wrong when we think about innovation. There are myths that we believe to our own creative detriment. Don’t believe these limitations which lock you in to a dull, gray world!

 

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” –Henry David Thoreau

 

Unlock Your Creative Genius!

You can now access a FREE webinar designed to Unlock Your Creative Genius.

It’s free to all Leadership Insight subscribers.

So, don’t wait! Subscribe today and claim your seat in this online webinar.

If you do, you’ll learn the:

  • #1 true enemy of innovation
  • 9 myths and misconceptions about creativity
  • Why being stubborn and unreasonable may be just the ticket
  • 8 symptoms of a culture lacking in innovation
  • 4 creative styles
  • 23 hacks to boost your creativity instantly
  • What color to paint your room to increase your creativity
  • How to use exhaustion to your creative benefit
  • What color to make your wallpaper on your phone
  • How to use procrastination to help create masterpieces

Unlock YOUR creative genius! Learn how anyone, anywhere can tap into the innovator inside.

 

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” –Maya Angelou

 

“Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world.” -Brene Brown

 

“Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.” -Dorothy Parker

 

Why not make this the year where you uncover the artist, the innovator, the creative genius inside of you?

 

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Why Presidential Candidates Need a Founder’s Mentality

This is a guest post by Chris Zook. Chris is a partner at Bain & Company and has been co-head of the firm’s Global Strategy practice for 20 years. He specializes in helping companies find new sources of profitable growth. He is the co-author with James Allen of five bestselling books on strategy, including The Founder’s Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth.

Do You Have a Founder’s Mentality?

Few countries revere its founders as much as the U.S. does. From the founding fathers who came together to write the Constitution to the founders of our most iconic and enduring companies and institutions, we see founders as role models of leadership and positive vision in a world where great leadership and the positive energy of hope are increasingly needed more than ever.

 

Fact: 1 in 3 winners of the TIME Person of the Year is a founder.

 

In the past 20 years, nearly one in three recipients of the TIME Person of the Year Award has been a founder (including Steve Jobs, who received honorable mention the year he died). Books and movies about founders have captured the public’s imagination, from The Social Network about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook to the eagerly anticipated release at the end of this year of The Founder starring Michael Keaton, about McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. Entrepreneurship is one of the fastest growing categories of school and class enrollment—everyone wants to be a founder. Whereas trust in our largest companies is at an all-time low, smaller, often founder-led companies head the list of institutions in which we collectively have confidence.

ZookChristopher_2015 (2)Great founders also achieve great results. During the ten-year period from 2002 to 2012, nearly 50 percent of the value created in the U.S. stock market was from 15 companies—like Google, Apple, Oracle, and Facebook—that are part of the ecosystem centered at Silicon Valley, the ultimate crucible for founders. Throughout this period, founders were at the helm or still involved in 13 of 15 of these value-creating companies. Moreover, since 1990, across the entire stock market, those companies where the founder remained influential performed more than three times better than those where the founder was nowhere to be found.

 

FACT: Since 1990, companies with influential founders perform 3x better than uninvolved founders.

 

Even more important for the U.S. is the role of these growing companies in job creation—the issue of primary importance for the average American.  Research by the Kauffman Foundation shows that the largest companies have been net destroyers of jobs in America (as have governments). By contrast, the smaller, frequently founder-led companies are the source of nearly all good new jobs. The data on new company formation and their growth across economies shows that our ability as a nation to encourage, nurture, and celebrate founders is central to making the U.S. economy so robust and allowing us to be the privileged nation that we are.  At a time when ensuring the supply of good new jobs is so important, we should heed the role of founders—and especially the lessons we can learn from them about building the enduring institutions that are the foundation stones of a great country.

Of course, the founders of our country and later of its defining businesses and organizations were human beings, often flawed, with personal quirks or dissonant personal beliefs. Yet our research on these enduring institutions and how the founders set them up in the first place shows that the great founders shared three common traits that enabled their accomplishments and were often infused into their organizations. We should note these three elements as we decide the traits we want in America’s next leaders.

 

3 Common Leadership Traits of Great Founders

First, great founders are insurgents, vocal and eloquent about an inspiring mission to improve the world. From Jefferson’s list of the unalienable rights that define why governments exist to Elon Musk’s desire at Tesla to redefine transportation, to the founders of Google’s objective to “organize all of the world’s information,” a purpose stated in the most positive and inspiring tone was always at the center. We live in a world in which only 13 percent of employees say they have any emotional connection to the purpose of the organization where they work. Yet, those who do have that connection to a positive mission of what their company is striving for are three and a half times more likely to offer innovative ideas or go the extra mile to solve a problem on the spot. This is in stark contrast to our current election year, which has been branded “the most negative campaign in history.”

 

Positive, inspiring purpose statements are at the center of great companies.

 

The second trait that great founders of enduring institutions share is an obsession with the details on the ground, and a focus on (and empathy for) the people at the front line. In businesses, founders were often salespeople or product developers first and the best ones maintained that ground-level mentality even as their institutions grew and prospered. Henry Ford referred to the contribution of plain men who never got into history. Arguably, the greatest contribution of Ray Kroc was his development of a franchising model that allowed all of his store managers to become mini-founders in their own right.

 

Enduring institutions have an obsession with the details and focus on the front line people.

What Do You See in the Clouds?

Leadership Perceptions

 

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” –Edgar Degas

 

An artist I know loves to show me a blank canvas and describe, in detail, the painting. To her, it’s so clear. Where I see only a blank canvas, she sees an entire landscape full of vibrant colors.

An entrepreneur I know once took his family on a tour of a remote piece of property. He shared his vision for where buildings would go and all the customers who would be mingling in various parts of the land. The family couldn’t imagine it, but he saw it all vividly. And, today, it looks exactly like that. It’s a thriving business.

An author friend of mine creates characters in her mind. Month after month, she dreams about them, talks with them, listens to them. They become so real to her that, when she finally starts writing, it’s as if she is merely recording what happens instead of inventing it.

 

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.” –Vincent van Gogh

 

That’s the power of imagination. It’s the power of creativity.

  • Seeing something magical where others see mundane.
  • Seeing something beautiful where others see garbage.
  • Seeing potential in someone they don’t see in themselves.
  • Leaders inspire us by seeing a positive vision for organizations.
  • Successful people see opportunities when others see problems.

If there’s one skill you want to cultivate, it’s seeing the positive, the beautiful, the magical in others, in yourself, in challenging times, in dark places.

Because that change of perspective can make the difference in your outlook.

 

“To change ourselves effectively, we first have to change our perceptions.” –Stephen R. Covey

 

On a recent vacation, my wife was relaxing on a deck with a view of a mountain. As she often does, she was bringing people into her mind and praying for them one by one. Mesmerized by the beautiful scene in front of her, she decided to take a quick picture with her phone.

When we returned home, she was looking at her pictures and shared this one with a few close friends. Immediately, the responses started coming back. There’s something in the clouds!

 

“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” –Chuck Palahniuk