9 Rules for Your Unborn (or Growing) Startup

Published April 15, 2015

For the last few years I’ve gifted Rules for My Unborn Son, a book by Walker Lamond, to almost everyone I know that is graduating from high school or college. Now that I am a newly minted dad, I’ve revisited my own copy of the book to see if there is any useful knowledge I should be passing on to my own son.

As I have come to find out over the last few weeks, one of the only things tougher than helping build an early stage company is raising an early stage child so if these maxims can help me raise a well rounded son, I am sure a few of them can also be applied effectively to building a business.

1) Twice a year, write down your goals.

While we prefer to write ours down 4 times per year (through the OKR framework that we recently adopted), the Peter Drucker quote holds true – “What can be measured can be managed”. The word “management” may be taboo in the world of startups but the concept is powerful. Clearly defining your goals – individually, as a team and as a company- can help get everyone on the same page and pushing towards the same vision.

2) When it comes to shoveling snow, the earlier you start, the easier the job.

Technical debt is probably the most talked about application of this concept but there are many others that are relevant to a fledgling enterprise. Hiring rapidly without an onboarding plan for new employees, for example, can harm your ability to maintain the company culture you have worked so hard to build. By the time you realize that you haven’t set yourself up to grow properly, it can be too late.

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3) Make yourself useful on a boat. If you can’t tie knots, fetch the beers.

See also: Learn to drive a stick shift

Resources are tight for almost every young company, necessitating what Chris Messina recently called the “Full Stack Employee”. Sales people with a strong understanding of what it takes to build a product. Engineers willing to jump on a cold call not only to sell but to learn more about the prospect’s needs. Designers with front end skills and back end understanding. These are the types of people you want to hire in order to foster a culture of learning, transparency and collaboration within your growing company.

4) Don’t gloat, a good friend will do it for you.

As noted by Close.io CEO Steli Efti on Hubspot’s Sidekick blog, 91% of customers say they would be willing to give referrals but only 11% of sales people actually ask for referrals. When you’ve figured out how to truly add value to your customers, it is very possible that they will become your most important source for new business.

5) Let the axe do the work.

One of my favorite posts from the last year was CBInsights’ look at their “Lazy SaaS Marketing Stack“. With tools like Zapier to help all of the applications you use talk to one another, you can start letting the tools work for you instead of the other way around.

Did I mention that Visible has a bunch of awesome integrations that bring all of your key data into one place automatically to help keep all of the important people in your business engaged?

6) If you are going to reinvent yourself, be original.

There are often going to be times when the market or your customers dictate large scale changes to your product or your business model. If you are faced with the need to take your company or your product in a new direction, move boldly in that direction and offer something uniquely valuable to your customers and end users.

7) Know your neighborhood like the back of your hand

To reference another book that I am currently reading, the one of the most powerful ideas in marketing is to own one word in the prospect’s mind. Fedex owns “Overnight”, Volvo owns “Safety”. Those are huge companies that have focused their resources on owning a single word in the consumer’s mind.

As a small, scrappy upstart, owning the word you want requires you to deeply understand and focus on “your neighborhood”. Know what motivates your customers, what they struggle with and what you can do to give them superpowers.

8) Sometimes the best tool in your toolbox is a walk around the block. Sometimes it’s a hammer.

If you are not careful, you can spend 90% of your time at a startup putting out fires. When everything is urgent, nothing is. So take some time for a stroll around the block to assess where you should be focusing, then swing your sledge hammer forcefully at whatever that turns out to be.

9) Time is precious. Cancel your magazine subscriptions.

Learning from others is great but it has its limits. On top of that, most startups have not reached self-sustainability and thus have an expiration date in the absence of significant growth. Stop spending so much time reading blog posts (yes, even extremely awesome ones like this) and expose yourself, your product and your company to the moody, often irrational Mr. Market. The feedback (and the uppercuts) will be swift but the learnings will help you take your company in the right direction.

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