Resolution to not have Resolutions

Author Peri Kadaster (previous posts)

“So this is the new year, and I don’t feel any different”
– Death Cab for Cutie

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t have anything against them, it’s just I think if I’ve decided it’s better for me to do something differently, then I feel like I should do it, agnostic of date. But some of my friends swear by them (at least they do in January and February, I don’t hear much about them after that….).

In short – I find resolutions temporary, and artificial. That being said, it’s an incredibly important exercise to periodically stop and take stock of the principles and best practices you strive for, and see if your company’s activities are aligned with those, or at least heading in that direction.

So let’s skip the resolutions, and hop straight to the to-do list. A refreshed on some basic activities for start-ups to think about embracing – and maintaining – in the new year.

– Pick up the phone. Slack is great, email sometimes better, but many of us don’t love talking on the phone. And when we do – we feel it needs to be scheduled, calendared, formalized. Every once in a while, it’s quicker and more effective to pick up the phone. It may be to ask a question, or for a general catch-up. Use the phone sparingly, but do use it. This isn’t just for your sales team – it could be your developers talking about product pipeline ideas with tech vendors, or the CEO reaching out to an investor to give a quick update. Especially so you can…

– Raise funds before you need them. Depending where you are – in terms of geography, fundraising stage, strength of network, etc. – fundraising realistically is a multi-month effort that takes up a significant amount of the CEO’s time. So picking the timeframe to engage in this process is critical – ideally just after hitting a customer or technology milestone. But another criteria for when to make that time investment (and it is really an investment) should be based on remaining runway. Both from an option value perspective but also from a negotiating leverage, working against your own timeline as opposed to racing against your burnrate works out better for a valuation (and for your sanity). But at the end of the day…

– Remember – it’s not over until the money is in the bank. I’ve experienced the agreement to be acquired by a company, being announced to my new role in the acquirer’s team, etc. – and the Friday before our Monday signing, the company told us they would not be acquiring us. Since then I’ve worked on numerous acquisitions on both sides of the table, and keeping this in mind – that the deal is not done until the money has hit in the back account – has given me much better perspective and reasoning in the process. Deals are not struck between excel models, but between people. That’s why you should focus on what you can control – how you can….

– Build a culture for success. This is a big enough topic for a book, let alone one bullet point in a blog post, but it’s necessary to note. Growth-stage companies’ cultures are now a topic even on the front page newspapers – sometimes for good reasons (e.g., happiest place to work!) and sometimes for bad (e.g., toxic culture for women or minorities). In every example, the culture starts from the top down. But conversely, any one person can impact the culture as well. Be cognizant of that, especially once you scale from 10 to 20 people or 20 to 200 people. Which is why it’s critical to….

– Hire the right people, even if it’s opportunistically. I’ve worked with people who may be technically not the best expert in their domain, but who have an attitude – upbeat even during stress, team player, intellectually curious, excellent communicator – that surpassed the “higher-ranked” expert. It’s not always easy to gauge all of this during an interview – that’s why if your budget allows it, be open to the idea of hiring opportunistically. In a startup your most important asset is your people, so when you find someone who would be excellent, odds are very good they’ll be able to create a role for themselves. Another idea is to hire people first on a contract-basis before full-time – an increasingly common practice no longer just in San Francisco but also in Turkey. It’s like “dating before you get married,” and an excellent way to identify if there is a poor fit (or worse, potential risks for the business). That way there’s a set checkpoint to…

– Fire the right people, even if it’s painful. Almost every single time I’ve seen founders fire someone, especially from the ‘core’ team, it is always an incredibly painful decision-making process. Small teams become like a family, and CEOs feel responsibility for the wellbeing of their teams. But interestingly, I’ve never heard a founder regret that decision once it’s made. In fact the usual response is a feeling of relief – “why didn’t we do that sooner?” Hiring people is relatively easy, firing is harder – but it does make a bigger statement about an organization’s culture, values, and performance, to the team, investors and others. Because you will always do right if you listen to your conscience, and if you…

– Listen to your customer. Your customer is everything – even though odds are very high you may lose your earliest adopters, understanding them and finding ways to hear from them is critical to having a successful product – and a successful startup. Find ways to get user feedback, both prompted and unprompted. And learn more about not just how they engage with your particular product, but about how they perceive and interact with the world more broadly – there are countless insights to be gathered that may help find ways of creating an even better solution for them. It may not be sufficient, but it is necessary.

Resolve not to make these resolutions, and instead maintain these as part of the daily fiber of your team. These are just a few of countless anecdotes – what are some of your (non-)resolutions?

09 January 2018