There’s an informative list of (57) ’lessons learned’ from a startup here. The insights are divided into 9 categories. Here’s some examples from each (see article for all 57):
Fire people that are difficult, unproductive, unreliable, have no product sense, or aren’t pragmatic. Do it quickly.
Most investor advice is very good for optimizing and scaling a working business. Listen to it.
Most investor advice isn’t very good for building a magical product. Nobody can help you build a magical product — that’s your job.
Educating a market that doesn’t want your product is a losing battle. Stick to your ideals and vision, but respect trends. If you believe the world needs iambic pentameter poetry, sell hip hop, not sonnets.
Build a product people want to buy in spite of rough edges, not because there are no rough edges. The former is pleasant and highly paid, the latter is unpleasant and takes forever.
Don’t guess. Measure.
Sales fix everything. You can screw up everything else and get through it if your product sells well.
Beware of long projects. If you can’t fit it into a sprint, don’t build it.
8. Company administration
Take the time to find a good, inexpensive lawyer. It will make a difference.
9. Personal well-being
Every once in a while, get away. Go hiking, visit family in another city, go dancing, play chess, tennis, anything. It will make you more effective and make the people around you happier.
In spite of the financial situation, friends continue to develop startups, which is quite inspiring. The examples above indicate how tricky it can be.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” – Steve Jobs
In this context, as well as having a ‘to do/done’ list it can also be illuminating to have a ‘decided not to do’ list – see here.
I’ve recently done a 6 month review and I’m quite surprised at the number of mini-projects I’ve started and then stopped, for a variety of reasons. Thinking this through has been quite enlightening. However it’s not as easy as you might think and you do have to be honest: just what made me say no and should I have said no earlier?
Thinking about it, I can’t remember the last time that someone said they were proactively adopting a temporary solution to a problem!
I guess the wording ‘temporary solution’ has negative connotations as people may wish the problem to ‘go away’ so you can then focus on other matters rather than having to come back to it time and again.
Of course, all solutions are in reality temporary, it just depends on the time scale you’re considering.
However it’s an interesting way of thinking about things, as it implies you (and others) are deciding to constantly learn from experience.
In a post on the HBR Blog Network, Bregman advertises the following benefits for seeing every solution as temporary (more info in article):
- It becomes easier to commit to.
- It becomes easier (and faster) to implement.
- It becomes easier to get others involved.
- It becomes easier to pay for.
- It becomes easier to let go when appropriate.
And proposes the following guidelines
Distinguish between a commitment to an outcome – like marriage, staying sober, being healthy, having a profitable organization – and a commitment to the tools you use to fulfill/achieve that outcome. The tools can be fleeting while the outcome can be permanent.
Understand the value you’re getting and why. Then decide on the evidence that will indicate it’s no longer providing that value. That way you’ll know when it’s time to move on.
Decide when you’re going to reassess. It doesn’t help to constantly second-guess yourself. That makes it impossible to follow through; you’ll give up in a moment of weakness only to regret it later. Instead, decide when you’re going to reassess, and commit fully until then.
It sounds promising, so I’m going to employ this approach for the next few months to see where it gets me!
Before transferring to the business sector, I spent the first twenty years of my career as a physicist in academia (see eg here). Because of this I retain a strong interest in developments in this and related fields. There are often tantalising connections.
In this context, there’s an interesting article in +Plus magazine on thinking about the financial system through the eyes of mathematical biology:
Financial mathematics received a lot of bad press in the aftermath of the crunch and many believe that it was the popularity of mathematical models – often borrowed from physics — that put the financial system at risk. But now models borrowed from biology are helping us understand how this risk might be reduced.
In particular, models can help us understand how the structure of a network influences disease transmission. For instance, during an HIV/AIDS outbreak, a person with lots of partners will spread more infection than one with few. If the network is assortative — with individuals with lots of partners interacting mainly with others who have lots of partners — the infection will spread quickly initially but soon burn out. However, if the network is disassortative — with high-risk people mixing with low risk individuals — the epidemic will be slower, but result in more cases. Unfortunately the financial network appears to be disassortative, which means any problems are likely to spread widely.
See also here.
Picture credit: here.
I had a beer and chat with my friend David Gurteen the other night and we got on to the topic of business books and what were good examples.
We both seemed to like physically small, to-the-point books (that you could just about slip into your pocket).
Tom Peters ‘The Brand You 50: Reinventing Work‘ is a good example.
Other similar compact books I like and use are:
- The Decision Book: Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking
- Management Tips: From Harvard Business Review
- Dance First. Think Later: 618 Rules to Live by (fun quotes)
These books are not for learning about a subject but rather reminding the reader of key points in an interesting manner. Of course, every book is compact from a digital point of view but I still think there’s something to having a physical copy to dip into.
It’s interesting how their attractive design aligns so well with their use. Size matters, and (in this case) small is best!