Over the years I’ve read plenty of “Top 5” lists of what it takes to successfully navigate the startup phases of a business. Some of these lists speak to entrepreneurs, describing the personality and character of good leaders. Others are specific to the company, conveying what is critical to a successful organization.
I read another of these lists recently, and that got me thinking about Three Pillar Global’s early stages. I figure it’s about time for me to chime in to the conversation and outline the characteristics I think brought us through the earliest phases of our company.
Commitment & Determination – It seems unlikely that any startup would have the ability to survive without an extreme sense of commitment and determination to succeed. The earliest phases of a company can be grueling. Sixty, 70, 80, and even 90 hour work weeks are not unusual. In a bootstrap, lean times are also frequent. Pennies are pinched to ensure payroll is met and founders often need to pony up capital, go without paychecks, and make other sacrifices to get through the bumpy road.
Passion – There’s nothing that fuels a startup more than the passion of its founder(s) and first employees. Where commitment, organizational maturity, and mass are thin, passion must abound. The raw challenge, fun, and excitement of a startup can in and of itself help create some of this passion, but the founders must be genuinely passionate at the core about their product and/or service. Passion is contagious. It plays a significant role in attaining your first clients, partners, and employees. Passion is both a creator and accelerator of momentum.
Unbridled yet Humble Confidence – Yes, is it possible to thumb your nose at naysayers while being humble enough to refine and redefine strategies. I am convinced that the successful entrepreneur must find this radical balance. The cold reality is the majority of startups fail, and everyone, including your mother, will continually remind you of the facts and how you should be careful. Yet entrepreneurship is not for the risk-averse. You must plow forward with vigor and determination, convinced you are going to succeed and willing to tweak your business if you are 100% convinced it will help ensure success. The entrepreneur cannot afford to compromise or adjust – unless not doing so means failure. How do you know the difference? Good question.
Results Orientation – All that matters in a startup is getting the job done. Completion vs. Perfection is another radical balance that must be struck. Perfection will lead to failure, there’s simply no time for it in a startup. Speed without quality yields the same thing. The bottom line in a startup is getting the job done well – no matter what the job. There is no “that’s not my job” in a successful startup. From the CEO to the staff accountant, all hands are on deck to sell, deliver, send invoices, and even take out the trash. Everything needs to be done appropriately to its value, regardless of what it is or who it takes to get it done.
The Right People – Get the right people on board. Different phases of a company require different types of people and different talents (the reality that high-growth startups often outgrow their employees is a discussion for another day). To get going, surround yourself with the best people possible. You don’t have time for management, HR, and performance issues. Seek out advisers, clients, and vendors who will challenge your assumptions, are committed to your success, and who push you to succeed. Creative ways of getting people on board will exponentially benefit you. Don’t think employment is the only way to get someone to help out.
Finally, there’s no doubt that every successful startup has been a bit lucky. Things had to go right for you to get over a hump. To some degree, you create your own luck, but on the other hand, there’s definitely just plain fortuitousness. The annals of start-up companies are sprinkled with failed ventures despite backdrops of hard-work and determination. Ultimately, the words of Victor Kiam, owner of Remington Products, remain true: “Entrepreneurs are risk-takers, willing to roll the dice with their money or reputation on the line in support of an idea or enterprise. They willingly assume responsibility for the success or failure of a venture and are answerable for all its facets.”