Startup Life

3 Things That All Great Startups Have

Written By January 23rd, 2012 | Category: Startup Life | 25 Comments

Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs

Having met with hundreds of entrepreneurs and invested in 15+ others as an angel investor, I’ve started to see patterns as to what great startups and founders have in common. In my mind, these three are the most important.

High-level

  • They would put their head through a wall, for their idea, if that meant success.
  • They don’t shy away from things that others would be scared to tackle.
  • They are, and continue to be, their biggest user
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Have questions you wish you could ask the pro’s? Well, today is your day. I reached out to some of my favorite entrepreneurs and startup advisors to see if they had time to take some calls. Feel free to reach out to them directly. The only thing I ask:

  1. Have a focused and specific question
  2. Keep your calls under 10 minutes

Be sure to share this post with your startup friends … I’m not sure how long they’ll be available.

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Love Coffee

… then don’t sell your company.

As an Entrepreneur we wake up everyday to solve problems that we see in the world. We solve those problems by creating an environment that excites us. We hire the smartest people we can find, build the most amazing products/solutions for these problems, for customers (hopefully like us) that we absolutely love. This is what makes us happy. We certainly don’t do it for the money, because for the average startup, there’s no money to be made. If you sell your company, it’s likely one – if not all of – these things won’t be true.

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Editor’s note: This post is by guest contributor Jeff K. Ward (@jeffio). Jeff is a father, husband, author, founder of YikeSite and co-founder of Intigi. He blogs over at jeff.io.

Here are some tips that I feel may be of value to other startup founders who also have a spouse, kids, and family responsibilities and are trying to manage it all.

To put the following into context: I’m 31, have 2 boys (2 and 6 years old) and have been married for 10 years. I work from home, run a consulting business (web-design/web-apps), 2 startups and a bunch of side projects.

1. Your #1 Investor Is Your Spouse


(Photo: Patrik Giardino)

My wife is truly the rockstar in our business. She is my #1 advisor, supporter, investor and fan. Having a super supportive spouse is the key to my success and that’s why I treat her like gold. Especially if your spouse is the primary caregiver of your children, you need to make sure they get breaks and the support that they need. If you ’re killing it to get your business off the ground, you need to know that your spouse has got it locked down on the homefront so you can focus on growing your business.

2. Stability Is Important


(Photo: John Knill)

People attempt an online business for many reasons. It’s important to remember that even on a shoestring budget, there are many expenses you will incur starting out, especially if you’re a non-technical person and need to outsource design and development work. Bootstrapping a startup with revenue from client work is an approach that has worked well for me.

I couldn’t have launched my startup without having the consulting revenue from my “day job” to fund the initial launch. In one sense, my past clients were my early investors — only they didn’t get shares or sit on my board.

The key here is to have income coming in before you decide to quit your day job (if that’s the path you choose to take) and pursue your startup full-time. It’s difficult to anticipate when your business will take off, if it ever does. Starting a business is risky enough, you don’t want to add financial instability to the mix, especially when you’ve got a family to support. I would recommend quitting your day job when your side income is comparable to your 9-5 income, and you want to take your business to the next level. That is the more stable route and will make it easier for your spouse to be in full support.

3. Find A Compatible Co-Founder


(Photo: Jeffrey Zaruba)

I’ve built startups both with and without co-founders and from my experience, having the support of someone else in the trenches with you in invaluable. You’re in a challenging situation starting a business while managing your day job and family responsibilities so it’s motivating to have another person with whom you can hack and hustle and share the successes (no matter how small).

Having a co-founder is especially helpful when you have a limited number of hours in a day that you can devote to your business and you can use the additional manpower, inspiration and focus. I know that when I’m accountable to another person I get things done faster.

It goes without saying that you should choose your co-founder wisely. Their skills and strengths should complement your own and there needs to be very open lines of communication. In my case, it was also important to find someone that that appreciates the challenges of balancing work and family.

4. Use Your Time Deficit To Your Advantage


(Photo: Martin Gommel)

The fact is that as a family man, I have less time to work on my business than a 22 year old who doesn’t have a spouse and kids. I have embraced these constraints knowing that I had only a few hours per day on average to work on my online business. Most of my time is spent planning at this stage and I think about what key features need to be built, and how to test this with customer feedback and user testing. I then build a minimal viable product for that feature and release it for additional user testing. Make sure there’s proven demand for a product/feature before you build it and constantly test new features to see if users actually find them helpful. Leverage your time constraints to build less software that is more valuable to your customers.

5. Automate As Much as Possible


(Photo: Hans-Peter Merten)

When I first launched YikeSite I had to do everything manually: New accounts, upgrades, downgrades, e-mail follow-up, and so on. Since I’ve built the billing system and automated a lot of these common tasks, YikeSite has become a robust app that grows each month with very little input from me.

I built a lot from the ground up in Rails however now there are services like Recurly (billing), Push Mail (push notifications) and Mailchimp (e-mail follow up) that makes this much easier to automate and get started.

For things that require my attention (support, bugs, major upgrades/downgrades, etc.) I set up a notification system that comes directly to my phone via e-mail to SMS. Automating tasks and setting up auto-reminders and notifications frees up my time, and gives me peace of mind knowing that things aren’t slipping through the cracks.

6. Align Business & Family Values

Writing down your values is as important as writing down your goals. Personal values, family values and business values should all be in support of each other. For example, I value spending time with my kids. I value my wife’s happiness, I value financial stability, and I value being able to work on cool stuff and feel challenged doing it. In practice what this means for me is that the kinds of businesses I start are congruent with the lifestyle I want to lead. The benefit of an online business is that I can work and collaborate with others remotely (more on that below) while earning income passively. This ultimately allows me to spend more time with my family.

7. Work From Home


(Photo: Sharie Kennedy)

First of all, working from home saves money on office space. Second, it saves time commuting (which I’ve done and it sucked). But mostly it allows me to spend as much time as possible with my kids. The times I may have been commuting each day add up to extra hours I can devote to work and family. Most days I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with my family, am able to take my oldest to school, and pretty darn every night I read stories to my kids. Most days I also work extra hours in the evening. All of this is made easier by working from home. If you’re working crazy hours on your startup, you don’t want to waste time commuting.

Not to say there’s not always challenges, here’s a video of day 1 working from home and some fun distractions from my son 🙂

8. Don’t Pull All-nighters


(Photo: Paul Bradbury)

The nights that I happen to break this rule also seem to be the same nights that my kid will come down with a cold or flu and I’m up all night with them. True story: as I was putting the final touches on this article, I was interrupted by a vomiting toddler.

All-nighters lead to an extremely sucky next day (or two) of terrible productivity. Lack of sleep also makes you prone to falling sick, which is never good. As long as I’m in bed by a decent hour, I can usually deal with whatever the night throws at me, and be (reasonably) productive the next day. Maybe this will change when my kids get older but for the little ones – in school – the winter month evenings can be unpredictable. Long story short, unless you have to ship something to a client by 7am the next morning, pack it in at a reasonable hour and restart fresh the next day. A fresh mind works wonders.

There’s a full article on all-nighters in my book and blog.

More On Startups & Family

Check me out on twitter @jeffio because I share a lot of resources and opinions about this kind of stuff there too. Shameless plug, but I’m co-founder at Intigi and I’m using it to curate resources around startups & family life.

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