5 Things I Learnt from Year One in my Startup

Tagga is over a year old now – actually it is now 1.5 years old.  Boy…they do grow up fast.  Since we have past the one-year mark, I thought I would share 5 important lessons that I learnt in my first year of creating and running Tagga.

Five things you need to know in a startup

1. A “Strategy Guy” should not be hired in a startup. The reality is that things change so much in the first year that your strategy is shaped by the data you gather from your market, customers, and team.  You begin with a hypothesis “my product will solve this problem” and then you test it in the market.  The only way to acquire that data is by rolling up your sleeves and getting involved in those very important grass roots dialogues.  Everyone on your team should be willing to get “his or her hands dirty”.  The “strategy guy”, as I call them, often want to be hired with the pitch that they can shape the strategy of your business.  These people often feel very senior, not interested in writing lines of code or cold calling and believe their offering is of value because they somehow have a deeper knowledge about your market and business than you or your team do.  These so-called “business kick-starters” will inevitably be a waste of your time and will likely only disappoint you.  If you want someone to help test ideas and gather feedback, use your Board or Board of Advisors.  We all have the strategic prowess to run multi-billion dollar businesses in our heads.

2. Hire those with the best attitude and a willingness to learn over those with experience.  Often investors and peers will get excited at the opportunity to recruit an experienced “rock star” to your team.  The trouble with that is that these types of individuals are often not as eager as they ought to be and that can be poisonous to your company environment.  If you have anyone on your team that isn’t willing to wear more than one hat: fire them.  Everyone needs to be flexible and used to working on tasks above and beneath their skill or desire.

3. Build your product to solve a customer’s problem.  Do not build something because your competitors don’t have it.  At Tagga, we entered a very noisy market.  That is not unlike most new media companies.  While it is critical to differentiate yourself from your competitors, your mandate is to build out a product or service that solves a problem from your target audience.  This should be your single guide.  Often companies will focus on building a product based on what their competitors don’t have, without establishing if there is a clear pain point for the target market.

4. Stay Focused. Stay Focused. Stay Focused. As you shape your company’s path, you will learn new things about the market and as a result new opportunities will emerge.  Often many companies will fail because they start to chase every opportunity that comes their way.  When you start a company you have a very short timeline (often governed by cash) in which you need to prove out your business model or acquire customers.  This requires focus.  At the same time, you need to know when to quit and shift directions.  The best way to do this is to treat each milestone in your business as a project: objectives, critical path forward, key metrics to achieve.  If you fail on achieving your key metrics, that’s probably a signal to reassess your direction.  Remember, it is critical that if you are going to fail, you need to fail quickly and move on.

5. Attract the best and pay them what they are worth (or the best you can).  Your only asset is your team.  If you can build an excellent team then you exponentially increase your chances of achieving excellence.  Good people need to be paid well.  It’s understood that you have limited finance options in a startup, however spend wisely and compensating your staff well is a good investment. (note: expensive staff do not always = good).  You can always be cheap on rent, desks, phones etc.  Always reward those that perform and get rid of those that don’t.

I think I could go on, but I will stop here and maybe add a part deux to this article.  Not surprisingly, a key theme here is building a great team.  They really are your best assets and if you can cultivate a positive and efficient company culture, then, I believe you can navigate most hurdles in a startup.  Be patient though – an amazing team does not get built overnight.  Like anything in a startup, you have to remember to crawl before you walk, and that it truly does take time to build something great.