12/20/11 | Uncategorized

Tips & Tricks: Five Fun Ways To Ruin Your Startup

By Laura Klein (Principal, Users Know)
So, you’re interested in ruining your startup. At least, that’s what it seems like based on a lot of decisions I see some companies making.

Let’s talk about some of those terrible decisions that really hurt startups.

#1 — Hire Big Thinkers

Here’s the thing about Big Thinkers or people who describe themselves as Big Picture People. They don’t execute. At least, they don’t execute in any way that is helpful to a startup.

Sure, there are a few people who can both lead and get their hands dirty with details. If you find one of those people, hire them immediately.

But more often, I see startups stall out because they’ve got somebody making decisions who doesn’t have to actually implement any of those decisions. They’re delegators. And the problem is, at very early stage startups, there just aren’t enough people to delegate TO.

If you’ve got a team of four or five people (or even ten or fifteen), every person should be spending the majority of his or her time actually building, making, designing, writing, testing, selling, or some other verb that isn’t “setting direction” or “planning” or “establishing policies.”

Want a successful startup? Hire Big Doers, not Big Thinkers.
#2 — Talk About Awesome Features All The Time

Yes, yes. You have this fantastic idea for the next big pivot that’s going to make you all rich. But you know what? That idea that you had two months ago that you still haven’t finished building was also fantastic. So is the one you’ll have two months from now. Also the one you’ll have two minutes from now.

Startup people are incredibly rich in ideas. Unfortunately, they tend to be broke in every other conceivable resource.

A great way to ruin your startup is to spend all of your time in meetings discussing in detail all the wonderful features you’re going to add in the future. Instead, capture the broad outlines of the idea quickly, put them in your backlog, and, when you’ve actually built something and need to move on to something new, see what ideas you’ve collected that would solve a real customer need. THEN design and build them.

Want a successful startup? Sure, you need to dedicate a little bit of time to thinking about the future, but spend a hell of a lot more time working on the present.
#3 — Wait To Ship Until It’s Perfect

It can be tough to release something into the wild before you think it’s perfect. But the thing is, it’s never going to be perfect, and the faster you get it out there, the faster you’re going to start learning which parts are the least perfect.

The longer you put off getting something in front of users, the more money you’re going to spend on something that might very well fail. Wouldn’t it be better to find that out early enough to turn it around and make it awesome?

Want a successful startup? Release small pieces of your product often, and get over worrying that it’s ugly or doesn’t work exactly the way you want it to. You’re just going to end up changing it all anyway.
#4 — Work 40 Hours A Week

This one may not be what you expect. It’s not some diatribe about how startup employees need to work 24/7 and not have outside lives and eat all their meals at their desks. If that works for you, great. Personally, I enjoy going outside.

But you do need to acknowledge that work at a startup doesn’t follow a strict 9-5 routine. Sometimes you need to check on things over the weekend or answer customer complaints late at night. Sometimes you need to make a final push to get something out the door quickly. Sometimes decisions need to be made outside of regular business hours, and there isn’t anybody else to make them.

Want a successful startup? You don’t need to live at the office, but you do need to be aware of what’s happening and be able to react when necessary. If you want to turn your phone off at 5pm on Fridays, you might consider working someplace where you’ve got more people to back you up.
#5 — Make A Lot Of PowerPoint Decks

Sure, investors love them, and you’ve always got to show something to your board, but I’ve seen this get really out of hand. If you’re spending an hour or two a week building slides to share information with five other people, you are wasting everyone’s time.

I get that there’s important information that you need to share with the team, but the problem with PowerPoint is that people start doing things like tweaking display and finding funny pictures to make their points. A whiteboard works just as well for writing a few bullets, and it’ll get you out of meetings faster, not to mention taking far less prep time. ?

Want a successful startup? Consider creating a simple dashboard of all the metrics that everybody in the company should be monitoring so that they can see the pertinent information at any time. That way, nobody’s waiting on you to build graphs and paste them into a deck once a week.

This post was originally posted at Users Know.

Photo credit: *m22 on Flickr
About the guest blogger: Laura Klein is a Principal at Users Know, helping you get to know your users and create better products. Her goal is to help lean startups and other small companies improve their connection to their users and design better products, working directly with startups as a member of the team, not only to design a great product, but also to help you learn how to involve your users in the design process. Follow her on Twitter at @lauraklein.



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