Execution in a bootstrappers world
Execution in the startup world, is in a nutshell, putting your plan in to action. Within a bootstrapped startup, we have to begin to execute our plan from day one, not once we get funded.
I often come across entrepreneurs that enjoy the starting, but struggle once the new shiny thing becomes less so. So they may enjoy product design, and maybe a bit of high level strategy, but once it comes time to put their heads down and do the hard things, they quickly lose interest and move on to the next ‘big thing’. Now there is nothing wrong with this, if it’s what you’re passionate about, and that’s where it stops for you and you can make this work, that’s great.
After working in my first startup I got the bug, I always had something I was building outside of my day job, I built social sites before it really existed outside of MSN chat rooms, I built a comparison site when there was only one big player, and a host of other online and offline ventures. I enjoyed the process of creating and building. I wasn’t a coder, so I learnt HTML, CSS and then PHP and MySQL. I would code through the night, then go to my day job, come home and spend time with my Wife and new son, then start again. But once the thing was launched, and it wasn’t an overnight success, I would get distracted and start on something else. One of my sites was building an audience, the founder at my startup/day job saw an opportunity to combine my two concepts, to create a service that gave cash back to my customers on my comparison site, I already had the code from my gift site, but I was bored by then and moved on, now cash back sites are big hits. Strangely enough in my last startup which I sold in 2012, one of the shareholders said to me, I had the ability to finish what I had started, and that was a very hard thing to find in people.
Love what you do. Before we execute our plan, we need to ensure we are passionate about what we are about to do. Bootstrapping a business is very hard with some monumental lows, if you’re doing it for the money, rather than the love of creating something and sharing it with the world, you may struggle to get through these lows. Its not necessary to do something we particularly love, but it is necessary to love what we do and be passionate about what we’re brining to the world. You could be producing widgets that you have no interest in, but you should be passionate about the wrap around, the customer support, the brand, the service, the experience and all that goes with it.
Set goals. We have to set goals if only to know where we’re going. Without goals we float around in a dream state. Its an age old story, but it is always relevant. When a passenger jet takes off, it has a destination. There are many ways to get to the destination, but by knowing where they are going, the pilot can make decisions based on that end goal.
Make a plan. Just as goals are important, so too is a plan for how we are going to get there. A business plan should be our guide, something to reference to clarify our vision and goals. It does not mean a concrete plan, it needs to be flexible enough to be changed, but strong enough to help us focus.
Be an evangelist. We must be evangelists of our product/business/service rather than simply sales guys. We need to believe that what we offer is of great value and will improve the lives of the people we are evangelising to. Once we are simply selling to our prospects, I believe we have already lost. In all my sales jobs before becoming an entrepreneur, whenever I felt like I was simply selling to hit my commission target, I knew it was time to move on. I once accepted a job with a huge sign on bonus, I drove to the other end of the country for my first day, as I put my hand on the door to their corporate offices, I knew it was a mistake. I got back in my car, drove home and paid them back their sign on bonus. We were newly married and really needed the cash, but I could not bring myself to sell services I didn’t believe in for a company that was known in the industry for being crooked. I then went on to take a much lower paid job for my first startup, which to this day was my most enjoyable job as an employee.
Do the work. You must do the work. There are no overnight successes that didn’t have years of daylight before it. It takes hard hard work to build a business. The easy work rarely has an impact on our success. I’ve seen founders literally handed amazing products and even customers that want their product, only to fail because they either couldn’t, or wouldn’t put in the work. I’ve also seen founders start a business, and still ask me after 2 years why they have no customers, and these weren’t product companies that first had to build the product, these were service companies that had a service to offer from day one. They worked long hours in the office, but they didn’t do the work that matters. To define work that matters I usually ask myself if it scares me, is it risky, could I fail. If the answer is yes, then I’m good.
Believe. This is something I’ve learnt recently, we have to truly believe in what we are doing. This is not passion or faith or focus. This is truly believing, that what we have created, is the best in the world and that it deserves to be in the world. If we don’t believe in our own business, then how can we ask others to.