Every job you have yields key take-aways and learnings for your next job, which ultimately becomes the basis of a career. Some of these are by trial and error, some are by market circumstances, some are by execution ups and downs, some are just what they are. It's no different when you start a company. Here are some things I'll do differently the next time I start a company (granted some of these may not be right for you or the next guy, but for me in particular they'll be important):
Product: Must be a pain pill or a steroid, but certainly not a vitamin. You pee vitamins out most of the time. It can't have a variable cost structure that directly correlates to every action. It can't be something that every time you explain, you have to rationalize with major market trends. It must be obvious and descriptive in one line. The product must have instant gratification and continuous engagement. Usage should happen, not be pushed.
Marketing: Marketing spend would ideally be left to brand building and PR. Best to not have a fixed cost for every new customer. Ideally your product has an addictive element such that market spend is minimal.
Finance: Outsource it as long as you can. No need to have any non-strategic G&A types around. They ask too many questions anyway, and miss the forrest for the trees in many cases. If it's outsourced, it's diligent and everybody's ass is covered.
Business Development/Sales: I'm the guy for this, so I can't waste time trying to get anyone to "offload" me. A CEO in a start up ought to wear the hat of at least two key functions.
Operations: Rent it, don't own it. Don't even manage it if possible. Keep the burn ultra low and the company ultra lean. Take note from folks like Auttomatic who have a virtual company and work circles around their competition. Take note from folks like Socializr who keep lean enough to really nurture their product rather than force feed the marketplace.
Team: I will build to order rather than build for optics. So often current and future investors, partners, press, etc, have a superficial perception of the management team. Big names, big logos....big headaches. Seriously. If you're not careful, you'll have a VP of everything. While some might intuitively consider that strength, there's another perspective... The big VPs are expensive to find, pay, manage, keep and extract value. They tend to build silos and do anything to defend their territory. A little healthy tension is positive, but that's not what happens. Before too long these expensive big shots are not only negatively impacting your burn and taking up your time groussing about each other, but they are contributing to a culture that may be what you had in mind. Their teams rally together which is good, but it becomes an us vs. them thing across the board. ONLY HIRE PEOPLE YOU REALLY NEED, AND DON'T APPLY TOO MUCH STRUCTURE UNTIL THE BUSINESS CALLS FOR IT. (MUST BE DILIGENT ABOUT THIS).
Funding: If you've been fund raising for 5 months and seen half of Sand Hill Rd, stop, fold that tent and pitch a new one. You don't want money from the firms that were on the bottom of your xls list; otherwise you'll always be building for them and not the business.
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