On being the chief cook and bottle washer…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen you start out it really seems simple.  You have a great idea, progressed it to what you think is a minimum viable product and you just KNOW people will buy it.  But often they don’t.  That could be because you have not found people who will pay to get the problem solved or your price is not right or there are so many bugs in the software that they cannot use it or they simply cannot see the value in using your product versus that of your competitors.  Of course now we are moving into the realm of business development and more particularly, business building.

Hang on, but I thought that all I needed to do was have a great idea, build a product, sell a few and someone would buy it and my idea would be the next Google?

In our startup, we very quickly realised we needed to not only operate in the detail of our area of expertise, but we also needed to look up and take a helicopter view on things such as our vision, what type of company we wanted, and the practical issues of company registration, intellectual property protection, human resources and all that goes with employing people, costs, investors and so much more…

So were we capable of operating at both a detailed and high level to build this company, particularly as we were only three partners who needed to be management, leaders and employees?  Also, we had to understand all aspects of business.  Aspects which are often so complex that specialists are required to deal with them.

If I had to do it over I would focus on the following 5 steps:

  1. Firstly I would make sure that I had the right partners. Here you can refer to my previous post ‘People issues…Ignore at your peril’.
  2. Secondly, I would have got acquainted much quicker with what a business model is and how to build one.  Here I recommend the book ‘Business Model Generation written by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. This is a practical book that helps you understand what is required to build a sustainable and profitable business and what assumptions you need to validate with your customers.
  3. Successful entrepreneurs know that building a business is hard work and that despite what people might think there are methods that seem to be more successful than others.  I would have tried to understand much sooner in the journey what successful entrepreneurs were saying about what methods or steps work and where the focus should be. In this space the most influential proponents are Steve Blank (The Start-up Owners Manual: Step by step guide to building a great company) and Eric Ries (Lean Startup).  If you do not like discipline and method, then it is possible that getting your business to where you want it to go might be more painful for you than it needs be.  Get their books, read their blogs and follow their simple steps and accelerate your success.
  4. The next thing I would do is understand my own strengths and behavioural preferences and work with the team to really understand theirs.  Talk to successful people, search Google, YouTube, there are clues everywhere of what needs to be done and what type of strengths and behaviours are required to do it.  I would assess the team’s strengths and behaviours and see how it matches with what successful people say is required.  Here I would use a Neuroscience based tool called PRISM.  This tool encompasses the latest research on how the brain connects and is well priced and well within reach of a small budget (For more information leave me a comment and I will put you in touch with a practitioner). This tool enables you to build a benchmark of the types of behaviours and aptitudes that are required to build a business and then match each individual to the benchmark.  This would have given us a better understanding of our natural behavioural preferences and allowed us to identify where we had gaps and what it would mean to fill these gaps.
  5. Regardless of everything we did not know it is still important to have a plan and act on it every day.  Plans are like budgets, they very seldom turn out to be the reality, but it helps you focus and move forward.  As you are growing in the above aspects you can change your plan with the insights you have gained.

The answer to whether you are able to perform multiple roles in the business in my opinion is ‘YES’ as long as you are willing to grow and learn in the areas of business building, leadership and in the areas of the additional roles, for example Human Resources, Legal, Finance that may not be present in the team.  Being aware that when you are starting out in your business that you now have multiple roles to play is very valuable.  Lift your head out of the detail where you feel comfortable and critically look at your business. Knowing where you and your team lacks strength is even more valuable and will save you a lot of frustration, after all it is people who build a business and make things work.  Where there are gaps, outsource where possible or do the work to understand how to perform those roles effectively until you can hire someone more competent than you. But know that if what is required does not come naturally to you it is going to take energy and effort to do. You cannot ignore what needs to be done and hope you will be successful anyway.

Unfortunately until you are making money you own the restaurant, cook the food, serve the clients and wash the dishes, if you like it or not.