Advice

Founders, don’t fail because you overlooked these simple things

As you no doubt know

In a  high growth startup there’s tonnes going on. It’s super easy to forget a lot of things – especially as CEO or Founder. I wanted to use this post for some simple quick wins that have helped me over the past decade. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just things that popped into my head whilst having this morning’s coffee!

P.S. I wish you the very best this week, keep pushing hard — if I can do anything to help anyone who reads this, it would be mission accomplished. Hit the chat thing in the bottom right and I’ll usually respond in a few mins. Also, I’ve just launched my first book on Amazon 🤓 be sure to check it out, but more on that in another post.

Righto, back to the post…

Come up for air

It’s super easy to let the day-to-day operations consume you. Firefight after firefight. Flip this on its head. Using a wafty management term, you want to be proactive rather than reactive. How do you do that? Easy, don’t get lost in the detail. It’s easy to fall into the habit of micromanaging 👎, and ensuring that you have final say and sign-off on everything. Don’t. Build a team around you that you trust and let them get on with it. Yes, there’ll be mistakes along the way — but that’s how people learn. Your team members will respect you for it — what do we all crave in a professional setting, a sense of autonomy.

Doing all of the above enables you to come up for air, and think big picture. Rather than thinking on a micro day-to-day level, you’re now able to think – how are all of these pieces going to fit together 4-6 months from now. You get to think of what actions you need to initiate now. One example for me, we were probably 6 months away from starting our fundraise, and I knew having a prominent ex-public service member on the board would considerably strengthen our funding prospects – had I not been able to come up for air and think this work stream through – it would have seriously impacted our fundraising prospects.

Be transparent to investors and team members

Every week, every day; heck, every hour there is something newsworthy going on in your startup. You as founder are the only person (most likely) that knows how all the strings hold together. One thing that has worked well for me in the past is being transparent upstream and downstream.

Upstream to the board, and investors; get into the habit of producing a weekly, or at the very least a monthly update. There’s a bunch of services springing up which somewhat automate this. Don’t for a second think that just because an investor has a tonne of cash that they don’t mind about the £50k that they put into your startup. Angels will typically invest because they’re excited by the vertical and the space you occupy within it. This means they want to know the challenges you are facing, they most likely don’t want to be silent partners — they want to help wherever possible. I can’t urge you enough — be open, be transparent, and frequently update them. Give random phone calls to them and let them ask you questions. Don’t try and have answers to everything. It’s okay to say you don’t know.

Get an office manager as soon as you’ve raised >£500k

Contracts, holiday time, invoices, admin, the list is endless. As CEO, you don’t want to be entering team members’ holidays into HR software. You need to stay focused on three things: hiring, strategy, and investment. Office admins are worth their weight in gold – plus you can double them up as someone to manage your calendar and take your inbound calls – again allowing you to focus on the business critical stuff. As a benchmark in London, you’ll be able to get an office admin for anywhere between £18k – £25k dependent upon experience.

Don’t be afraid to ask for exactly what you want

I see so many partnerships take longer to establish than they should, simply because the person doing the asking won’t be direct and ask for exactly what they are looking. By being upfront and honest – it helps establish the dynamic and setting.

Culturally, it’s not always the norm to ask directly for what you want, or if we do ask, we do a terrible job of it. (Also, women face significantly more challenges in both cultural norms and consequences for making direct asks; see HBR and NYT for more). Instead of specifying what we want, we hem and haw about ideas, often walking away from great conversations without clearly articulating our message, what we hope to achieve, and how the other person can directly help us.

Take care of your health and your body, you kinda need them

Unlimited beer on tap, late night, pizzas, the list of temptations for you is endless. Also, don’t forget – you will have most likely worn down your willpower from all the decisions and stress you’re faced with on a day-to-day basis. So that midnight pizza, once you get home from the office starts to look mighty inviting. This is one of those easy to write, hard to put into practice posts. Also, it’s a bit cliche – sorry for that. But from my experience – I can 100% say you need to take care of your body. The stress will wear you down. You’ll be more susceptible to colds and flus. If you’re pitching with a cold or flu, it’s makes your thinking hazy, you won’t be able to portray your message as clearly and I guarantee the investor will spend most of their time thinking “I hope I don’t get sick”. Get some rest, switch off, go for a run, etc.

Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships

I always seem to be banging on about this – but trust me, partnering early on is a shortcut to growth. And it usually centres around distribution or partnering into someone else’s already established customer base. What do you lose from it? At most a bit of margin. Think laterally – who has a huge customer base of relevant people that isn’t being hit up by every startup under the sun?

Overtime start to diversify and don’t sign any exclusivity or long term contracts without break clauses. As you approach funding, you’ll want to demonstrate that you aren’t reliant upon the partnerships, you just used them to springboard your growth.

Get used to making notes – either voice or written

This is maybe more a a person specific post – but if you’re anything like me, I forget everything unless I’ve written it down or make a note. This can be fatal if you’re the founder of a startup. The most clear thoughts can come at the most random of times. Make sure you get in the habit of offloading all of the brain time dedicated to storage. You want to use your brain primarily for thinking, not storage – plus we’re pretty useless at storage.

Random list and thank you

Thanks for making it all the way to the bottom! Hopefully you found this useful 🙌I could have written a tonne more, maybe I’ll put it into a few posts or make it a Monday thing. Please do take the points above onboard, hopefully they’ll help you achieve you mission.