7 steps to startup success

Tomorrow is day 1 for Techstars Boulder 2012, and I’m sitting here this evening putting together the orientation presentation.  My final slide is called the Techstars Survival Guide, and it consists of only a few bullet points.  It strikes me as I finished the slide that they’re not just bullet points to survive Techstars, but on how to radically increase your chances in any startup.  So let me share them with you.

1.  Be intellectually honest.  It basically means you have to know yourself, know what you’re good at and what you suck at.  By identifying what you suck at – you can easily surround yourself with those who have strengths in your areas of weakness.  Being intellectually honest means being open to feedback, even when that feedback is negative.  I’m a firm believer that successful entrepreneurs leverage their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses by hiring the right people.

2.  Deep engagement with mentors.  This is true even for startups not associated with an accelerator like Techstars.  Find mentors, experienced entrepreneurs and leaders who have knowledge in what you’re doing.  By engaging with mentors, you can avoid easy-to-make mistakes.  But the key is to engage with mentors deeply.  Empirical observations suggest that founders who are good at this tend to do much better with their companies than founders who don’t.

3.  Find the truth.  Startups are risky business.  But if you want to radically decrease the chances of failure, engage in lean startup methodologies.  It isn’t about your idea anymore, it’s about what customers are willing to pay for.  I don’t care how good your hunch is, get to the truth by getting feedback from customers early and often.

4.  Prototype rapidly (or my favorite – code badass shit).  Don’t spend months and months building.  Know what a minimum viable product is, build it fast, and get it out there to start generating feedback.  This will help you get to the truth more quickly.

5.  Synthesize data & decide quickly. Many Techstars founders get analysis paralysis as they try to synthesize the sheer volume of feedback they get.  Get data, decide, act.  If you’re wrong, fine, just fix it.  If you struggle to decide, you waste valuable time and it becomes harder to fix a wrong decision (notice I didn’t say bad decision).

6.  Develop a rhythm.  Almost everything we do can benefit from a rhythm.  (I’m still learning this trick).  Everything from code releases, to blogging/tweeting, to email updates to mentors, to staff meetings.  Developing a rhythm will keep you in sync and ensure you don’t forget important stuff.

7.  Do the right stuff, fast.  We’ve all heard the analogy of the jar filled with the big rocks.  Is it full?  Of course.  But then you add smaller pebbles.  Now its full?  Not quite, you can still add sand.  Finally, it’s full… until you pour in water.  The key here is to know the difference between busyness and productivity.  Keep your eye on the big rocks – moving those items forward.  Don’t let the minutiae bog you down (I personally struggle with this one).

Feel free to add tips if you think I’m missing something.