10 crucial startup tips

I. Relax

Image courtesy of audi_insperation

Work time should end at a certain point during the day. Period. Just because you are focused and energized by a specific task doesn't mean that you should continue to work on it until you conk out on your keyboard at 4 a.m.. The rest of your productive week will be completely ruined. Instead, stopping work on a project you are really into will give you a jump start on your work the following morning, and your energy will hopefully last through the day. Finally, turn off your cellphone / blackberry and switch gears: kick back to spend some time with family, read a book or watch (something intelligent on) TV.

Now, obviously, this doesn't apply to deadline days. If you have a project due the following day, you should never blow it. But, as general rules to live by, budget your work and plan ahead so you don't work into the late hours of the night, and always set aside time for non-work related activities.

Your work hours will be more productive if you are well-rested and well-rounded.

[Note: If my wife sees this tip, she will, of course smirk, because this is the one tip I break repeatedly, every single night (including right now).]

II. Document your time

One of the greatest baseball players of all time, Kirby Puckett, was notorious for watching videos of his at-bats after every game. By seeing where he had failed and where he had succeeded, he was able to make minor adjustments for the next game that helped tweak his success. Business is no different. Visionaries cannot be at the top of their game if they are not constantly fine-tuning their efficiency by data-mining their activity.

Here are some ways to keep track of your productivity:

1. Keep a diary of your time from when you start work in the morning to when you end it.
2. Make notes on which tasks you spun your wheels.
3. Note which tasks you completed, and the amount of time they took. Did you spend more or less time on them than you expected to?)
4. At the end of the day, list the day's highlights and completed tasks. This will be invaluable data later.

III. Notice your own achievements.

Image courtesy of Marcus_Vegas

Often, when you are dealing with a monumental task, it is quite easy to forget just how much you have accomplished and how far you've come. It's very easy for you and your team to get demotivated in the middle of a long grind.

Each Friday, look over your daily highlights for that week. Do you feel like you've been unproductive this week? The list will show you otherwise.

IV. Have a clear mission, with gravity.

Your business must have an attainable realistic purpose driving all decision-making, and must never veer from it. For example, if your mission is to "enable environmentally-friendly commerce," the company car should not be an SUV and the kitchen should not have styrofoam cups.

Your purpose must be precise:

1. Your mission statement should be 5 words or less.
2. Your mission must have gravity.

Your mission is going to be the glue that ties your organization together -- it attracts talent to your team; it defines the deals you make; it defines every decision you take. The clearer your mission statement, the more gravity and focus it will yield. Some examples of great mission statements with gravity:

1. Nurturing the creative spirit - DeviantArt
2. Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade. - Etsy
3. Organize the world's information - Google

V. Only work with people who believe in your company's mission.

A successful company is pretty similar to organized religion. For example, the Catholic Church is so successful because everyone who works for it believes in its mission. Everyone, from the lowest level employee to top-tier management, should believe in the mission or they are working at the job for the wrong reasons.

Don't hire employees. Hire missionaries.

1. Your interview questions should be structured around the mission.
2. Your job ads should be structured around the mission.

VI. Don't go anywhere without a map.

Image courtesy of Wolfgang_Staudt

You wouldn't drive into the middle of a desert without a map or navigation system. Why would you do the same in business? Know where you are going, before you start out. Make a business outline that details your plan. Keep focus on the path you laid out for yourself. It is extremely easy to lose focus of what your company's mission is when another exciting opportunity comes along. But stick with your map.

Review your outline once every 2 weeks to make sure you're still on course.

VII. Stick with what you know. Only do what you love.

If you're not a musician, you shouldn't be creating the next social site for musicians. If you're not an artist, you shouldn't be creating the next RIA (rich internet application) for artists. Your biggest advantage is in knowing the industry you are building for, better than your competition does. This advice holds true for investors as well.

Don't take on projects you wouldn't be interested in if the opportunity hadn't been presented to you.

VIII. Be frugal.

Image courtesy of goat_girl_photos

Before you say to yourself "Of course, I'm frugal," I have to caution you that having money in the bank that you did not earn is a lot different than having money in the bank that you sweated for. Money you earned is something you will inherently be careful with. Money you are given has as much value to you as Monopoly money. It is impossible to value an investor's money the same way you value your own money in your own bank account. It's human nature to want a fancy office, fast car and a salary you really don't need. But how far you can stretch a dollar will determine how many employees you can hire and how quickly you can get your product out the door.

Your financial efficiency directly impacts your own pocket; it's your equity that will be diluted when it's time to raise more capital if you spend too freely.

IX. Be transparent.

Your left hand should always know what the right hand is doing. The same goes for your team. Your engineers should have a say in the business direction and your business development team should have a say in the software design. Even if they don't care to offer their advice, team members should at least have some knowledge of the business. This goes to the point about everyone sharing the same feelings about the mission. A person cannot get fully behind something he does not fully understand. And you won't get 100% out of your team unless they are fully behind the mission. The same goes for your web community.

Encourage open discussion

1. Have weekly staff-wide meetings where everyone (or the division leaders, for brevity's sake) shares what they accomplished during the week and what they plan to do next.
2. Keep your user base informed of your plans before you act on them. Let them have a say in your companies direction. Even if you ultimately decide to do differently, they will appreciate you keeping them in the feedback loop.

X. Share.

There's a reason the Open Source movement has been so successful. Giving without the expectation of reward brings out the best in everybody. Embrace your competition, learn from them, share with them, assist them and always take them out for drinks at conferences. Karma does exist and you'll gain far more by giving back to your industry than you could possibly anticipate. Your reputation at the table is ultimately what is going to drive deals.

Make your knowledge public.

1. Let your data be used by other companies and people. Make it accessible. Don't put frivolous restrictions on its use.
2. Keep a company blog, and don't just post news on it. Post your individual experiences, the good and the bad. Post your advice.
3. Let others learn from your mistakes.

I have quite a few more tips, beyond these initial ten, but these are a good introduction. If you have any rules or tips from your own experience, please do post them. I'd love to read them.

Thanks to: Carol C. for copy editing this essay!]]