A good friend and previous colleague of mine Ari Beilingson shared some thoughts for start-up CEO´s. This list is equally valid for all management team members that are dedicated on their mission 100%, but every now and then loose their focus. I can agree with this list, hoping that it would be a simple to task to keep these in my mind and knowing that it is far from being that easy.
This is the ultimate success meter for your business. As soon as you have the Minimum Viable Product, you have to keep your customers in mind every day. When you are a small company it’s easy – just call them up and when you are a big company it is just as important.
Just remember to listen what the customers actually say. It is quite commonplace that the founders are so keen on their idea that they actually miss the feedback that customers are giving (and insist on their own idea). Those comments help you to make the changes you need to make a really fantastic product. And strike the balance between being an Apple (we pay no attention to the customer because we know better) or a small company that implements all the changes the customers wish for. Both approaches may ruin your business.
Obviously a customer base is one of the most important success enablers for any business.
“First decide who is on the bus and then decide where it is driving” (Jim Collins)… in case you wouldn’t take my word. The smaller your company is the bigger the individual hiring decision is. In a small company everything you do makes a world of a difference and in a large corporation nothing you do makes any difference. In this particular subject I would emphasize the personal characteristics with 80% weight and formal competences 20%. Good cultural fit.
It’s easier to juggle the task between people who appreciate working with each other than between formally competent people who just happen to be employed by the same company.
The big question I often think about is measuring the results: I can assess how sales or marketing guys are doing but I do not have a tool to assess the results of software developers or other disciplines that are not my own core competencies.
Be an authority on your domain
This is important for many reasons: your business is more credible in the eyes of the customers when the manager is recognized as a specialist in the domain. From marketing point of view it is also important as a lot of small company marketing is done thru social media and “earned media”. In that field you need to offer insights and material that is professionally interesting to future customers. One company doing a great job here is www.priceintelligently.com.
Look outside your company
In addition to keeping your customers in focus, also remember to look what is happening around your company. In a small company you do not have expertise in all the necessary fields. And the the business tools are developing so quickly that even own resources might not know the most useful stuff.
Internet and your fellow entrepreneurs are great resources. Learn one thing each day! I have recently found fantastic help for our business in the areas of marketing, selling, pricing and technology just by searching the internet or talking with people. Generally people appreciate a discussion about your business’ dynamics and new learnings. And they are willing to share their experience. Everybody in the team should be doing that… there is useful information all around us all the time.
Keep the costs down
Have you ever heard of a (young) company overestimating the revenues and underestimating the costs? Probably you need to work very hard for every dollar you earn but it is so very easy to spend money. This is a boring topic but nevertheless important.
The spending discipline will stay with you as the company grows and the moment when you celebrate positive cash flow is closer with smaller cost. Obviously it is not always easy to know what money to spend and what not. If you make good decisions more often that bad you are in a good shape with respect to controlling the costs.