To lay the foundations for future success, the are some key boxes all startups need to tick in the early growth stages, regardless of the nature of their business.
Having participated in Y Combinator’s seed accelerator program, my co-founders and I gained some fantastic insights that helped put our edtech startup GO1 the right track right from day one. Reflecting on our experiences with GO1, I have identified the five key areas every start-up should consider to ensure their success:
1. Finding the Right People
It’s absolutely essential to have the right people around you: smart people who can solve problems. These might not even be the founding team but those critical early hires who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get things done. Having a great team is arguably just as important as having a great business idea.
2. Have a common vision
For a start-up to succeed, your team needs to share a common purpose that will get them (and you) out of bed every single morning. As founders at GO1.com, we have always shared the same vision that education and learning is how we are going to change the world.
3. Avoid analysis paralysis
As founders, we can often “overthink” things, which ends up wasting time. Instead, I often try to urge myself to do more and overthink less. We need to be out there doing things, not just speaking about them. Founders should trust their gut instinct and work to either prove or disprove a hypothesis. My background is as a doctor, so I’m accustomed to the scientific method: you have a hypothesis, try to disprove it, try to break it, if it breaks – fix it. After all, you’re not going in blind. As a founder, it is highly likely you know your area better than most which is how you identified the opportunity in the first place. You may not know everything and that’s okay.
4. Nothing happens until a sale is made
In almost any business, you don’t have a business until someone is willing to hand over money for your product or service. Until that point, no matter how good your idea is, without sales, you don’t have a business- just an idea. People talk about an MVP (minimum viable product) being something someone can use. I look at it as something someone will buy.
5. Know your numbers
One thing we aim to do at GO1.com is know our unit economics very well. As founders, we need to understand the numbers in our business like the back of our hand: conversion rates, the number of sales/expected revenue per salesperson, the number of customers a customer success manager can manage, the number of phone calls they can manage in a day and so on. So if you plan to grow, you need to know your numbers. In turn, you will then know what levers to pull to grow. Whether you ask an investor for $1m or $10m, the first question they’ll ask you is; how do you intend to spend the money? If you can explain down to the dollar how you intend to use the money, then you’re in a much better position to get the support you require.
Other tips and tricks
When it comes to growth-hacks and shortcuts, it’s important to remember that these all ultimately aim to help achieve one clear goal: success at speed. The term “growth-hack” gets used in the start-up world for tips and tricks to grow quicker and scale faster, but what is the ultimate shortcut to get to where you want to be more quickly?
For me, the biggest shortcut starts with finding people who have been there and done that. In almost every start up I’ve spoken to, we all reach a stage where as founders, we can’t do it all ourselves. As the old adage goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. Instead of trying to figure it out yourself, find people who have already done it and use them as part of your arsenal to grow and scale. Founders should be hiring developers who can develop better than them, sales people who can sell better than them and customer success managers who are better at customer success than they are. The founder’s prerogative is to be good at directing people and bringing everyone together, not doing it all themselves.
It’s also important to note that the people you need in the early stages of your business may be different to those you need as you begin to scale. As an example, in most organisations, you won’t need a full-time product manager when you start out, but there will be a point where you will need that dedicated specialist with the skillsets, experience and expertise to help scale your product and business. In a sales team, the ability to take a company from zero to a million dollars is different from the ability go from $1m to $5m, or $5m to $100m.
With this in mind however, we often find hiring is less about getting rid of existing staff and more so about bringing new people into the fold to help enhance the skills of the existing team. For myself people form the backbone of any great company. At GO1.com, as a learning company, we are continually aim to grow our skillsets and capabilities. I want to continue work with people with more experience than I have. I want to learn from them and leverage their experience to grow.
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About the author
Vu Tran is a co-founder of edutech start-up GO1.com, which hopes to improve the world through helping companies grow talent and provide better staff training.