TrueStart’s Entrepreneur-In-Residence, Richard Anson is founder of Reevoo. Here he takes a look at what you need to be a successful startup founder.
Over the past two and half years I have advised over 30 start-ups and their founders and chatted to many others on my podcast. Based on that experience and my own personal experience of building out a business, here’s my take on 5 core “must haves”:
1. A focus on the numbers
My chairman used to say that there were only two things that mattered when it comes to building a business “People and Numbers”. The more businesses I see, the more it rings true.
Yes, things like being creative are also important, but Founders who are all over their numbers have a deep intuition when it comes to the key drivers of their business. The numbers paint a picture of whether the business is behind or ahead and what should be prioritised.
We are not necessarily talking sophisticated spreadsheets; in fact, the simpler things are kept the better in my view. This quantitative understanding covers all aspects of the business from early stage KPIs to sales pipeline and cashflow.
2. Your team
It doesn’t matter how big your team is, having a team around you that are “better than you” will help you scale and grow faster. It’s all about recruiting, leading and motivating the team. This takes time… and includes constantly communicating with your team.
I was once told by a director that I was “moving too fast and leaving the business behind”. What they really meant was that I was not communicating enough to make sure everybody was on board with where we were going. Don’t think just saying things once means that everybody gets it – especially when your team is maxed out.
When you listen to this conversation with Simon Calver, former CEO of Lovefilm, you get an immediate sense of both the quality of his team and the time and effort Simon put in to both recruiting and leading them (many of whom have gone on to lead other successful businesses, such as Zoopla).
To me, this is about the ability to keep going when things don’t go your way – to use the cliché, to get up, when you have been knocked down. It will happen time and time again, whether that’s losing a customer, a key staff member, struggling to close investment – or even all three at the same time. It can be a lonely job, leading and building out a business.
That resilience is about learning to manage stress. Having balance in your life will help during tough times – having something else that demands your attention, whether that’s your family, sport or, unfashionable as it may be in the start-up world, having the confidence to take a holiday.
Speed is so important. I like to think of the term “clock speed”. Speed to execute and get things done. It requires significant energy and drive. It’s easy to do for a few months, but the key is to develop the culture and continuity of it in your team and business as it grows. That way, your business won’t fall into the trap of gradually slowing down as it grows and scales. That speed, energy and drive comes from the Founder – it’s all tied up with passion and emotional commitment.
Last and by no means is focus – this is one of my favourites. It is also perhaps the most challenging.
This quote says it all:
“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape”
Few founders seem to intuitively get it, including myself. We all think we can do it all and many of us are naturally attracted to the next shiny thing. But focus is so key as it makes your life simpler and it massively helps your team. In short, focus will make you much more likely to execute successfully and faster than your competition.
One of the hardest things is not to decide what to do, but to decide what not to do.
Follow Richard on twitter: @richard_anson