top tips for tip-top tycoons

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Having started my own company in the pre-VC/dotcom boom and then being fortunate enough to being involved with a couple of start-ups thereafter, I’ve been lucky in seeing how circumstances and ambitions can change and develop over time. Here’s some food for thought that the current crop of founding entrepreneurs may perhaps find of value:

Don’t do everything yourself. Going solo and operating on your ‘jack-jones’ can succeed but it’s way more difficult than you’d first believe. Even such lauded individuals as Bill Hates, Steve No-Job & Bring out the Branson had co-founding partners in the crucial early years. Get a team around you that compensates for your inadequacies, and let each one get on with it. Give them enough rop…er, responsibility and bear in mind the old adage that ‘partnerships are made in heaven and lived in hell’. I also found a creative accountant and a cool-headed legal eagle are worth their weight.

Patience is indeed a virtue but not an excuse for inaction. There are loads of relevant proverbs to wheel out at this point in time such as ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, ‘you can’t win a race at the first corner but you can lose it’ and ‘Act in Hastings, repent in Leicester’ and all have a valid point to make in that businesses take time to develop, grow and succeed. Consequently, you need to be in it for the long-haul. Furthermore, be prepared to evolve, or ‘pivot’ as the modern parlance would have it. In music terms a band has to pay its dues before Madison Square Garden comes a knocking. Mind, you snooze, you lose so don’t procrastinate and keep writing those hits.

Evangelise the idea by all means and do shout about it from every available rooftop but ignore the nitty-gritty of day-to-day operations at your peril. Ideas are great but execution is king as it’s how you’re actually going to make your money. The team should reflect this and the predictive growth & operational plans need to be in place soon as, or before.

Obsessing about the competition will give you sleepless nights, a crick in the neck and precious little else. Yes, your earth-shattering light-bulb moment will of course blow the competition out of the water (not) but most start-ups wrongly focus on creating some ‘clear-water’ between them and all the current players. Worry about your USPs and your business and let the competition worry about theirs. The vast majority of early-stage organisations go to the wall due to their lack of real, live, paying customers. Focus exclusively on revenue, cash-flow and costs. Maximise one, minimise the other and manage the one in the middle.

Raising capital is great but remember it’s only the start. Getting the VC cash in the bank is a great achievement and evidence the venture has legs (probably…) but the business ain’t yet a winner. That comes way down the line with a focus on everything detailed above. But do allow yourself a wee dram when this happens, you’re in business after all.