This post is sort of a note to myself. As we’re in the first months of existence of our startup inBedme, and as a first time startup CEO I find myself often thinking about what the #### I should be doing these first few months to make it happen. I have been talking to several mentors, advisors, fellow entrepreneurs, researching, and putting my observation skills to good use. With that I came up with a sort of basic list of the main things a CEO (in this case me) should do the first few months of the startup (in this case a consumer web startup). [so warning made: don't do this at home because it comes from an unproven CEO].
1. Set up the vision of the company
Draw a mental (or paper) map of where the company is going to go, what is the market you’re tapping into, how you’re gonna get there, what’s the problem you’re solving, who’re your customers, your competitors, your acquirers, what are the key challenges you’ll face, what are the key team members you’ll need, what are the values behind the mission, how you’re gonna change the world forever. Prepare yourself to communicate this vision to the world. Tell a compelling story.
2. Enlist a team and engage them with the big vision
Recruit a highly skilled team to cover all the main key areas of the company at this stage. Get them excited with the big vision, convincing them that is worth joining you at such an early stage. Make them partners of the company. Make sure they understand the company’s roadmap and their role/mission. Put them to work. Hire fast, and fire fast.
3. Design the Product
Envision the product. Design the product. Define the key parts of your product. Think about what is going to make people love the product. Give the product personality and a soul. Play with your competitors’ products and learn from them. Keep in mind the user. Even if you are not technically prepared to actually build the product, have an obsession with the product and its design (remember Steve Jobs quote “design is not how it looks, it’s how it works”). Make sure that a MVP (minimum viable product) is built fast. Apply the Lean Startup methodology.
4. Deal with all the legal stuff
Get an awesome lawyer, and negotiate with them good terms. Make sure you protect the IP of the company and that there is not any issue uncovered: start 100% clean. Incorporate the company and get prepared all the agreements you will need. Make sure your lawyer teaches you and defends you more than your grandma does.
5. Get good backers
Get mentors, advisors, accelerators, godfathers and any sort of authoritative figure that will help you with advice, intros and validation in front of others. Convince them with your passion, and put them to work for you. Learn from them and from any source of knowledge available.
6. Establish Key Partnerships
You need key partnerships to help you gain time in terms of reach, distribution, technology, etc. Partnerships with big established companies also give you credibility. As the CEO, you should go and establish these partnerships selling the big vision of the company to the potential partners.
Raise money so that the company gets the necessary resources to actually play the game and has enough time to figure out what the f•ck your product actually is, and get market/product fit. Do a killer 6 slides deck. Shake your network, increase your network aggressively. ABP (Always Be Pitching). Get an anchor investor. Build momentum. Avoid bullsh•t investors. Control your emotions. Close, get the cash and move forward (with out any sort of celebration, there is nothing to celebrate). Keep fundraising.
8. Evangelize and connect
Get out and tell everybody about the company. Attend events and conferences that make sense, connect with other entrepreneurs, participate in competitions. Get Press. Connect with the bloggers, with the community of potential customers, with potential partners, with the competitors, with anybody in the industry. Do shameless self-promotion (but with taste). Harness social media. Build a brand. A brand is about values.
9. Get the initial traction
Get the first 5,000 users. Yes, you the CEO should find the first few thousand users, even if you have to spam the sh•t out of all your friends and acquaintances. Obsess with traction. Design the dashboard with the key metrics (the real key metrics and the vanity metrics too [you'll need them for the press and for some investors]) and get really obsessed with the progress of these metrics, check out the dashboard daily. Optimize the landing page, A/B test everything, learn from the feedbacks, iterate, change the product accordingly. Move faster. Be bold. Don’t sleep.
10. One more thing: Say No.
Focusing is about saying no. Say no to anything that can take time out of your calendar that doesn’t actually add real value to the company. Even those tempting things. Even if you p•ss people off. Say no to any feature that is not core in the product right now. Say no to any expense that doesn’t directly increase the valuation of the company. Say no to any activity that is not essential at this very moment.
Dream Big. Or go home.