Thursday, January 12, 2006

An Enterprenuer's Day in Early Stages of a Startup

I am focusing here, on the uncertainity of a typical day at the very early stages of a startup. Some of my posts here are also influenced by the enterprenuers I come across in the startups I am involved as an advisor.

We all know tactical ways to get our job done, whatever our job functions, pick what applies to you as you read this:

- Engg and Product Development - Designing the scope, specs,development cycle, assigning and measuring the right resources for the job, getting the development environment setup ..
- Marketing -Developing a marketing plan, understanding the key customer, what problem we solve, coming with brands and brand extensions, making product marketing material - sites, collatrals,planning a marketing a launch, decisions on the products mix, PR, ads,market research, working with agencies,hiring the key resources, metrics of progress, communication to different constituencies ...
-Sales and Support - Developing a Sales plan, understanding who the real customer is, why they buy, building out the sales forces, managing sales people, tracking A, B and C level of prospects and making projections for each quarter, contracts, negotitions, networking events ...
-Business Operations - Finance, Accounting, Making plans, hiring right people, tracking the right metrics, keeping books clean, tracking real costs and revenues, ...

For a startup theres the added function of Venture Financial Cycles, and the Communication aspect of interacting with investors and market influencers. I'll write about that seperately.

Given all this, a typical day should be straight forward.Yes? Not really.
Thats the fun of a startup or an enterprenurial company environment. I have experiened that in Coola, my startup and also every time I started out building a new Internet product organization in different large companies I worked.

The exciting and challenging part of a typical day is where to start, what to do.
Its more glaring in a startup or enterprenurial environment as we avoid redundant or unproductive tasks and seek out activities that lead to our goals be it raising money, launching product, or scaling team or expanding customer base or staring at all of them at once.

My advisor Piyush Patel, who was then CEO of Cabletron, told me once piece of advice. It worked well for me as I am a planning person.
He said, make a plan with some timelines right from the start, even before you raise money, or actually build the company. I followed that in Coola and do till today.

The plan can be high-level but with real dates. Making the plan will help us think through how to get there. The dates wil help us feel good about what progress we have made. I have looked back at some crazy ambitious plans of early Coola days and laughed at them at my own naivete. But the important thing its that helped as steps of a ladder to help us take the next step.

I am a big believer of networking, again with integrity, respecting the other person's boundaries. So, I have had days when I started my Coola plan before funding saying "Find who can help in understanding funding", "Learn to do ...". I adpated it as time went on to say "Build a prototype", "Get a joining promise from core team" etc as I started my investor rounds.

The point I want to make is about how unstructured our days can be. It can give us lot of room for creativity, or let us go through a day scrambling for a success point to feel good about. Realistically, I've had most days start with the challenge and end up with one small success giving hope for the next day.

In my case with Coola, we moved from a Web Service company to a Software company targeting different set of customers. So this uncertainity was not only in early days, it stayed with me and helped us identify our Enterprise product "mobile EAI Server" and the first of paying customers. So I see this as a typical day of an enterprenuer with different set of options to choose from as the startup grows through stages of getting funded, launching product, scaling management team, expanding to next level etc.


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An entrepreneur is a person who has possession of a new enterprise

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