My Best Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs and Tech Startups

Opinion

What an incredible time to be a tech startup! The opportunities out there are just tremendous. Digital payments, wearable technology, mobile healthcare, virtual reality and gamification, predictive analytics, and green tech—these are just a few of the startup areas that are expected to be big this year, according to venture capitalists and industry experts.

“Full stack startups” and “dis-intermediation” are the new buzzwords, as companies like Uber and Airbnb revolutionize the way business is done, and demonstrate how it is possible to cut out the middlemen.

Meanwhile, the “Internet of Things” is taking the world by storm, opening up new doors for entrepreneurs and organizations to develop software that can connect products and devices to the Web.

Education technology is also gaining more traction, creating new opportunities to improve education and learning experiences, and teach people new skills through the use of technology.

If you’re an aspiring tech entrepreneur, now is a great time to take the plunge. But before you do, here are a few pieces of advice, observations, and lessons learned from my own career and current role as CEO of MetricStream.

Your Team Matters Most

Many investors will tell you they invest in teams first, and that the business and market aspects follow in priority. Why is that? A company will change and evolve while it grows, and as market dynamics dictate.  An “A” team will figure out how to be successful. A “B” team may not. Startups want to attract and retain a workforce that is qualified, smart, motivated, and innovative—those attributes are all important. Here are four primary hiring criteria that you should consider in the early days of building your company, which are in addition to a candidate possessing the necessary skills and experience:

1. Strong Athletes
A strong athlete has the building blocks in place to be able to play most any sport they put their mind to, given an understanding of the rules, and a little practice. When building a team, you need people who are like strong athletes—they have the necessary foundational skills and attributes, but they are also quick learners, versatile and highly adaptable. These kinds of people can perform well in a number of different roles. The needs and focus areas of a growing business are constantly changing, and being able to move experienced and talented people into different roles gives you lots of options internally, without having to rely on recruiting externally to fill a position. In fact, some roles are better filled by your existing talent, which also minimizes any learning curve, especially when it comes to getting a new candidate up to speed on how the company works.

2. Cultural Fit
Each company has its own culture. Culture comprises core beliefs, values, behaviors, and most simply stated—how things get done. If a candidate doesn’t match the culture of your company, odds are he or she won’t last long. Years ago, I sat on the board of an organization, and we hired a president who had all the skills and experience needed to be successful in the job. He was well regarded with an excellent pedigree. However, we missed the culture aspect of our evaluation. He lasted less than a year.

3. Startup Mentality
Most startups are starved for resources and are racing against time to be the first to innovate, or first to market, or first to achieve a critical milestone necessary for funding. Startup employees have to be very resourceful, scrappy, and creative as a result. It is important to hire people who have operated and thrived in this environment. There is so much work to be done with limited time and resources, which means that each member of the team has to have the passion and desire to do what is necessary to succeed. The concept of a 9:00am – 5:00pm job just doesn’t exist in a startup.

4. Diversity
Don’t hire team members that are a carbon copy of yourself. Innovation is the lifeblood of a startup.  When you bring people together from varying backgrounds, it creates a fertile ground for innovation, developing out-of-the box ideas, and finding creative solutions to complex challenges. Building a diverse “A” team right from the start will significantly improve your odds in building a thriving company.

Time Is Not Your Friend

Much has been said about the first-mover advantage. EBay was first to market with an online consumer auction process, and all latecomers thereafter with similar offerings have struggled to survive. For every first-mover that has succeeded, there are many who have failed to take off or succeed long-term—be it MySpace, Sixdegrees.com, or Overture.

So what really decides a first-mover’s fate? Two factors, according to a study in the Harvard Business Review: (a) the pace at which the technology of the product in question is evolving, and (b) the pace at which the market for that product is expanding.

Consider your product. Are there are many other technology innovations similar to what you are offering? Is demand for your product … Next Page »

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Shellye Archambeau is CEO of MetricStream, a Palo Alto, CA-based company offering governance, risk, compliance, and quality management solutions to enterprises in the pharmaceutical, medical device, high tech manufacturing, energy, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, food and beverage, and automotive industries. Follow @metricstream

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  • Great stuff Shellye. Interesting point about the first mover advantage – I’ve read a lot of material recently on how ‘first mover advantage’ misses the point. What matters is having the ‘last mover advantage’ i.e. being the company that prevents all meaningful future competition.

    Reason being, the first mover usually has to do all of the work in terms of research, legislation, problem solving – whereas the second / third mover can ride the coat tails of that work and improve on it.

    We recently launched http://brokernotes.co, which is certainly not the first of its kind, but by seeing what has / hasn’t worked for previous similar projects we’ve been able to cut years off of testing out different marketing channels. Not to say either approach is better, but it’s interesting food for thought.