The #libspill news and analysis has been more or less unavoidable this week. All the talk about different leadership styles and consultative approaches is a timely reminder for startup founders. Because founding your business is just the beginning: to survive, you also need to run it well.
Startup founders may not be as dispensable as recent prime ministers, but the stakes are still high. Once your startup is interacting with people – customers, staff, mentors, or investors – it’s important to be both practical and professional.
Know Your Limitations
This is something you need to bear in mind at all times. Startup founders inevitably have to face situations with which they’ve had no prior experience. It could be something as simple as hiring a new developer, or something as tense and tricky as putting together a deal with several high-profile VCs.
Founders don’t have to know everything from the outset, but they should be aware of what they don’t know. Make a mental list of the areas in which you lack skills or expertise. This can help to identify key roles in the business which need filling, as well as preparing you to recognise a valuable mentor when you meet them.
Always Ask Questions
For new entrepreneurs, there can be a strong urge to remain silent and be thought a fool, rather than speak up and remove all doubt. There are very few conditions under which this is the best course of action. If you don’t understand something, or you’re not sure how to handle a situation, ask someone else. Getting advice doesn’t make you any less entrepreneurial.
In an ideal world, you’d have mentors or advisors who had been through the same issues you were facing. Founders with such a full range of experience aren’t yet commonplace in Australia, but that doesn’t mean there’s no one you can turn to for advice. Even a new founder whose company is just a little further down the track than yours can offer insight.
More importantly, you can always ask the advice of the people you’re dealing with. If you’re not sure how to convince your customers to use the paid version of your product, get in touch with them. Finding out what their priorities are can change your product for the better. But it’s not just customers you can consult with.
In an investment scenario, founders are often unsure of the specifics of structuring a deal. In the absence of an experienced mentor, the best person to ask for advice on structuring an investment deal is the prospective investor themselves. Now, there are plenty of common clauses that founders and investors typically haggle over in a deal. But founders’ and investors’ interests are not always opposed.
Asking your prospective investor how they usually like to handle elements of the investment process can shed light on things you had never even considered. Even mundane issues, such as how regularly they’d like to keep in touch with you, and whether they prefer to invest individually or via a syndicate, will affect the running of your business. Of course, the investors may have a motive for giving you a particular answer, but even advice given by someone with a vested interest can be good advice.
Don’t Hesitate to Delegate
As your startup grows, it will become impossible for the founder to be across every aspect of the business. For non-technical founders, the point often comes as soon as development work begins. Whatever your background, keep an eye out for the tipping point and be ready to recognise it.
Startups are so personal to their founders. Placing your trust in someone else to handle part of the business can be one of the hardest things about growth. The best way to handle this is to ensure that you have a good relationship with all of your early hires. Surround yourself with talented people who know more about their fields than you do. Slowly invest them with more decision-making power, until you’re comfortable with their judgement.
Not only is that good for your startup, it’s good for your sanity, too.
Kit Kriewaldt is an entrepreneur and strategic communications specialist. He loves to talk James Bond, cocktails, and psychology – focusing particularly on decision making and consumer behaviour. He is also Chief Marketing Officer of digital communications platform Liquid State. Header image courtesy of Veni, Flikr.