Recruit by objective

Too many startups are still looking towards other startups and their org charts, when they recruit to expand their teams.

While there is of course something to be said about having someone on point to fill the various operational roles in the startup and ensure smooth operations, navigating by org chart is typically a pretty poor way of ensuring that you reach your overall objectives.

What you should be looking to do instead is to staff by objective;

Figure out what the key objectives for your startup is and ensure that you have the right people with the right skills and experience in place to make a success out of them. If that entails restructuring your team and who’s in it, maybe that’s a thought worth having.

When you try to recruit, figure out who you need to have in the team, and who would be nice to have. Recruit the must haves to form the core, and supplement these with contractors or freelancers, who can make an important contribution for a while until they are on to other projects.

That way you can get the best from both worlds, and you won’t get stuck being dragged along by an irrelevant org chart.

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Keep winning

When looking at B2B startups, it’s super easy to get impressed by a well-executed growth model that brings new customers in in droves. Of course it is; sales is an art and can be a super tricky one at that, so every time a startup succeeds in closing a deal, it’s reason to celebrate.

But what I personally like to celebrate more is their ability to keep their customers happy by ensuring a high retention and thus a super low churn.

That – to me – is the most powerful indicator of a startup delivering real value to customers by successfully solving a problem, the customer has.

When I meet with startups there are always convincing narratives about how to find and attract new customers and close the deal. But with startups who already have their first product in market, I often find that the story becomes slightly less convincing, when we talk about retention and churn.

Sometimes the story about retention becomes so weird or non-logical that I just assume that the startup in question has a real problem in that department, and they are more than reluctant to share that with me. That – in all honesty – is a huge flag.

Having to work hard on retaining your customers is hard work and honest work. Because even though you may have a great product, lots of other startups or big corporations are out to get your customers with everything from a slightly better product to one that is just a lot cheaper (and perhaps even loss making) than what you have to offer.

You need to have a plan for keeping retention high, and you need to execute on it like your life depended on it. To some extent it does; at least the prospects of your startup ever becoming a viable business.

You need to show that you understand what’s going on, and that you understand what you need to do to keep your customers engaged, happy and finding the best value in your product. And you need to always optimize that approach to ensure that your win didn’t only happen once, when you closed the deal, but that by keeping the customer, you essentially have what it takes to keep on winning.

When you have that, it’s truly worth celebrating.

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Bad market feedback

One of the hardest things for many startups is dealing with bad market feedback; the sense that what you have been trying to bring to the world just isn’t being that well received at all.

It is the flipside of doing market testing and validation. While obviously the right thing to do, we always go into a test in the hope that results will be good and support our hypothesis. Yet, many times it just won’t happen.

What to do then?

Obviously the answer is not not to do any testing. That’s just stupid; it won’t make the bad feedback go away – it will just present itself way later when you have put a lot more energy and ressources into a product that ultimately might be failing.

The answer of course is to (1) learn to deal with bad market feedback and (2) think about how you deal with particular feedback based on what it is that you’re testing.

The best way to deal with bad market feedback is to remember that the market and the customers are always right. If you get bad feedback it is a sign that something in what you’re doing is off; the wrong approach, the wrong customer segment, maybe even the wrong product.

You get the feedback, internalize it, redo and come back much stronger. And you understand and accept that there are no points for insisting you’re right and the market is wrong. None.

On the second point, you can grade how you do testing and work with bad market feedback. While it of course sucks to get very bad feedback for your product as such, getting bad market feedback for an outlier idea or approach is actually really, really valuable.

Let’s assume that you have been playing with an idea of getting a sub-set of your feature set earlier to market in order to start generating revenue. It’s not entirely ‘on strategy’ when you look at your vision, but you want to start generating revenue as soon as possible.

Should you do that? Or should you stay the original course?

Test it.

If you get bad market feedback from testing that outlier approach, you will have learned that (a) clearly your idea is not going to be a runaway hit and (b) maybe the opportunity you saw to get an early product out and essentially diversify is a bad one and will only take away focus and ressources from your main effort. If that is the case, you will be happy that the bad market feedback has helped you and your team dodge a future bullet.

So, in summary, bad market feedback can be extremely good and valuable feedback, as it can help you focus on what’s really important and utilize your ressources in the best possible way. So make sure you don’t get distracted on a personal level and take it in as a defeat that leaves you stuck in f***.

It’s not.

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The right experiments

When you’re experimenting with new technologies and new ways of doing things, make sure that you get the order of sequence right.

Don’t fall into the trap of experimenting based on what is easiest from a technology point-of-view. While it may seem like a great idea and a good way to get started and move ahead with speed, the big risk is that you’ll be working with solutions looking for a problem rather than the other way around.

Instead look at the problem, you need to fix. And then start to consider what needs to be true from a technology point-of-view before you can start fixing the problem and bringing an actual solution to market for customers to give feedback on. That will dramatically increase your chances of getting out there with a real solution.

Will it take longer time? Yes. Will it me more cumbersome? Probably. But it’s the best way to go in order for you to ensure that you get real value and not just fun out of your experiments.

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Cash value of communication

Often times I meet people who question the value of a focused, operational communications strategy. The argument is that there are plenty of other more important jobs to get done before looking coherently at communications.

Allow me as a former communications professional to take a step back and look at the kind of value, great communication can unlock for a startup. I will do so over a couple of posts here, and today I will be looking at one of the really easy ones to measure:

Sales.

Normally, when we think of sales, we think it of it as an effort to get our offer in front of the right people in order for them to make a decision on whether they want to buy our solution or not. The more we work diligently with sales, the better we will be at getting it in front of the right people, the more hot leads will be created, the better conversation rates will be and – ultimately – the more we will sell.

Ok.

So what role does communications play in that? Let’s look at it from a structured operational perspective:

Let’s assume you have your OKRs in place. You know what your objectives for the upcoming quarter(s) are, and you have identified the measurable key results that will support you in understanding what kind of progress you’re making towards reaching those goals.

If we look at sales, the objective could be to launch a new product successfully, and a key result could easily be to get 200 new hot leads and book 50 first sales meetings.

Ok. Where does communication come into play here?

Easy.

When you look at the job of getting 200 new leads, you need to figure out where to find them but – more importantly – WHAT to tell them in order to get them interested, so they become a hot new lead, you can work with.

In order to know what to tell them, you need to have a clearly crafted value proposition and a wording of it that resonates with the intended target audience, so you can optimize your conversion.

That’s all about communication and getting the actual words right.

Furthermore, in order to be on the radar of your future customers, when you try to convert them into hot leads, you need to have created awareness and a presence about your startup, your brand and, most importantly, your product(s). And you need to have done so in a way that is available and convincing in a way that sits well with your future customers.

That’s all about communication, too.

Finally, when you have the sales meetings, you need to ensure that the people you meet get hooked enough to buy. They need to be convinced by those final killer arguments for why your product is the solution to their problem, and doing so in a scalable way requires not only a solid structure but also – again – the most effective words.

Surprise, that’s communication too.

All in all a focus on great end effective communications is a powerful an extremely valuable driver for driving sales. It’s not just a marketing job – and yes, marketing is communications too. And communications is not only about PR and looking good on SoMe.

So do yourself a favor and prioritize your communications efforts in your startup. Doing it right can – almost – be translated to money in the bank.

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The power of disagreement

Being in disagreement sucks. Not only is it a sure way of ensuring you defocus from what you should ideally be working on. It also can be completely draining of energy. And depending on how the disagreement plays out, it can be downright nasty and make you want to head for the exit.

But there is actually real power in disagreement. If you are able to unleash it.

When we violently disagree on something, it is an opportunity to broaden our own horizons and get creative about new ways of looking at the world and new solutions to existing problems.

Looked at it that way being in disagreement can be the biggest catalyst of positive change in your team and your business. It can provide that ‘Heu-re-ka’ moment you all need to move on in a better direction.

But it requires something. It requires removing your ego from the equation and not be tempted to view disagreement as a personal matter that has more to do with you as a person and your relationship(s) with the one(s) critiquing you. If you fall in that trap, you’re immediately on the slide towards the dark side.

Instead you should be asking yourself: “What can I learn from this?” and “Where’s the bigger and important point in what the other one is arguing?” and then work onwards from that.

Now, in fairness, it’s super hard to do. Especially if you have great pride and integrity, and you’re passionate about what you work with. That sets you up pretty well for taking a slap to the face very personal.

But try to steer clear of it and focus on the opportunity. It will most likely be way better for your business, your team, your relationships with team members. And yourself, of course.

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3 tips for setting OKRs

Today marks the beginning of the last quarter of the calendar year 2021. For many that’s an opportunity to assess previous objectives and set up new ones for the new quarter using the OKR method made famous by Google.

That’s all great. But what many find is that OKRs can actually be quite tricky to set up in a truly meaningful way. So let me offer 3 tips for how you can get more our of OKRs.

First of all, think of OKRs as essentially a Christmas tree that cascades down through your organization. You start by identifying one big hairy goal (=objective) for the entire company and 3-4 key results that supports the goal in the sense that you will know that when you achieve these results, you will most likely have achieved or at the very least moved a lot closer to achieving your objective.

Second, take those key results and turn them into new objectives further down the organization. And let them create their own key results that supports reaching those objectives. And so on and so on until finally everybody through the org will have objectives and key results against them that cascades back to the very top. That will ensure that everybody is working towards the same hairy goal.

Finally, when defining your objectives start with a problem. No matter where you sit in the organization, you will have a clear idea about which problems you need to tackle in order to achieve your overall objective. Take those problems and turn them into objectives.

Doing that will simply help to ensure that you’re working on something that not only drives the company in the right direction but also works to overcome some of the problems you need to solve.

And remember: Objectives are qualitative and by definition not measurable. Key results are quantitative and ALWAYS measurable.

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It takes a full team

One of the great misconceptions in working to build a startup from scratch is that you need only be great at one thing – typically product development – and then you can wing and learn the rest.

Why do I think it’s a wrong approach?

First of all, you’re essentially working on a wrong assumption about what’s needed to become really successful. Because just as innovation, product development and delivery takes skill and experience, so do the ‘boring’ business parts.

In essence it may actually be more difficult to build a business than develop a product; when you’re developing a product you can get very far with your own skills (provided they’re good enough), but when you move out into the market, the whole world goes into flux, the interdependencies are huge and the risk as well. And it just takes a pretty steady set of hands to work that infinite space.

Second, you risk spending your time, energy and ressources on the wrong things. If you’re a stellar developer, you should be focusing on development. Full stop. You should now water down and defocus your unfair advantage by taking on tasks, you don’t feel confident in and – lets face it – basically care very little about.

You should leave all those things to people who have the same qualities as yourself – but within the business/market facing aspects of your startup.

In summary, the key message here is that it ALWAYS takes a full team to succeed. And since you cannot by everywhere and bring your A game to every aspect of getting a successful business up and running, make sure that you get A players in all positions and show them faith and trust that they’re capable people who knows what’s needed to be successful.

That’s the best way for you to maximize your chances of success.

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