I began my journey as an entrepreneur in 1995. I’ve participated in successful startups, and a few that didn’t quite make it. Looking back – and forward – here are the 6 essential ingredients for a successful startup.
CEO is a Technologist
A startup is wrapped around a disruptive technology, and the commander in chief has to be a technologist at heart. Startup CEO’s come to the table with decades of successful business experience. They don’t run malls or fashion labels, they run technology companies.
All principles in a startup should be technologists, but the CEO has to be a technology thought leader. The best CEO’s that I’ve worked with are able to initiate deep discussions in meetings about tech, product development and “what makes us stand out from the crowd and how exactly do we get there.”
A technologist CEO will always be thinking of the next step, building a plan and getting key executives onboard for the “next wave”, while pushing hard for strong quarterly revenues.
Powerful Product Development
R&D creates the technology, and Product turns tech into something that real people use – whether B2B or B2C. Without R&D, there is no startup – they are the architects. A successful startup should focus on building a bridge from R&D to Product. Without it, you can’t go to the next step – Marketing and Sales.
Look at the world around us – without product professionals, you wouldn’t have a computer mouse, automatic checkout at stores, a smartphone or even a touch screen. These ideas “crossed the bridge” from idea to prototype to successful implementation.
I’ve seen startups that thought they could skip the product phase and go from R&D straight to sales. They end up with wonderful technologies that no one uses – or will ever hear about.
A Hunter Mentality
Startups need to be on the hunt for their first successful sales – and implementations. The game begins when Sales signs the first customer. At that moment, the CEO and COO need to stop everything they are doing and focus on achieving their first win. Early stage startups won’t have a customer success team – it is up to the CEO and COO to show leadership in getting someone to use and benefit from your disruptive technology-product.
Once the first customer signs, the clock is ticking. Every startup is burning money, so time is of the essence. Fly to your first customer – or your first 10, get a hotel and don’t leave until they “go live”.
A lack of a hunter mentality leads to a slow decline in a startup.
Respect For Benjamin Franklins
Show respect for your investors’ $100 bills. They are taking risk and expect you to be wise with their money. If your startup works from an office and you have the cash on hand, there’s nothing wrong with having a few perks to make your startup a pleasant place to work at. Draw the lines. The steak lunches and expensive coffee machines are wonderful – if you can afford them.
I’ve seen startups spend money like water when they only had 6 months of cash in the bank. Frequent meetings with exuberant potential investors isn’t something to get excited about. You can’t pay salaries or bills with “maybe’s”.
Startups are inherently intense. Most don’t succeed and every month you are burning through a lot of cash, with little or no revenues. Startup executives should come to work with a positive attitude. Everyone needs to be able to express ideas – without guarantee of acceptance – but knowing that others will listen.
Good communication isn’t a luxury in a startup – it is a necessity.
I’ve noticed a huge gap between self-confidence and results in startup executives. You don’t want to end up a macho underachiever – the dominant one in the room who no one ever read about. Judge your peers by results and not attitude.
A year into the game, a successful startup should already possess and be constantly improving an amazing technology, and moving into the “product zone.” In rare circumstances, there are two areas of potential focus. This becomes dangerous after 2-3 years of burning investor cash.
Many startup executives miss this – the longer your startup is in the game, the more you have to show the next investor. After 3 years, if no one is actually using your technology-product, you will have a lot to explain to potential investors – and your future is in their hands.
The sooner you have paying customers who are “massively benefiting from your technology-product”, the better.
All Those Years Ago
Israel has an incredible startup scene – there are so many opportunities out there. You will definitely see a few of these traits as you climb up the ladder. Hopefully, you will see more of the positive side. 10 years ago, product was a new profession and innovative marketing tools were only beginning to appear. Today, we have all the tools we need to succeed.
A technologist CEO, product development, a hunter mentality, respect for money spent, good communication and focus improve the odds of any startup to succeed.
I am quietly rooting for more Israeli success in high tech – keep at it!