5 Gears Of Your Startup Wagon

I have enrolled for a program at BITS called NVC – New Venture Creation – it is helping student start-up teams in setting up their ventures. It’s a brilliant initiative by some dedicated alumni and faculty at BITS and has really helped the students by providing them a launchpad into the real enterprise world. I am doing this course along with my team-mates for my idea on photowalks and non-professional photography – PhotoWalkrs. Sometime back, we were having a discussion in one of the classes regarding the 5 key ingredients for successful start-ups. After a brief discussion we finalized upon these ones – Leadership, Communication, Decision Making, Focus and  Team Work
Well, this part was easy because most of the members in the class were already working their start-up ideas and had some fair amount if experience in this field. But the tough part was to list the given 5 things in an order. We really had a long discussion on this aspect, giving each point its due, we discussed about all the 5 gears required to be in by any entrepreneur to kick-start his dream into reality. Here is my opinion about all the points and my order of the 5 gears. I call them gears, because none of them can be skipped in a real journey and though everyone spends a different amount of time at each gear but it all depends on whether one is cruising on a highway or is stuck in a traffic jam. Like a gear mechanism in any automobile, it is of utmost importance that each cog is meshing, thus each gear has its own role.
And yes, a lot my analogies are from the mechanical world, I guess I do have some traits of  a mechanical engineering as well!
Ill start with my order –
  1. Leadership
  2. Communication
  3. Decision Making
  4. Focus
  5. Team Work

and this is why is chose this list to be like what it is –

 

  • Leadership

A good definition comes from former Secretary of State Colin Powell who said:

You have achieved excellence as a leader when people will follow you anywhere if only out of curiosity

For our purposes, we can generalize this to be the measure of the quality of a leader: the quantity, quality and diversity of people who want to follow her. I read this on a very good article on techcrunch, which further said –

So what makes people want to follow a leader?  We look for 3 key traits:
  • The ability to articulate the vision – The Steve Jobs Attribute
  • The right kind of ambition – The Bill Campbell Attribute
  • The ability to achieve the vision – The Andy Grove Attribute
and we summarized it in the class as – Leaders emerge when the times are bad, everyone can see a direction in their good times, but only true leaders can see it in their bad times as well, thus others are bound to follow them. Thus, most of the people in the class also agreed that Leadership infact is the most important aspect for any start-up.
I have a tabletop weekly planner (yeah, I still have one, it was gifted to me!) , which has a quote for every week. One of my favorite quotes in that diary is by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, he says –

Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people

I guess, this is applicable in the corporate hierarchy as well, the CEOs and chairmen are the best visionaries, motivators and philosophers in the company, the managers are the ones who attend all the conferences, meetings and arrange every event for the company and the executives and engineers are the ones which are always gossiping about their bosses and co-workers !
Thus, companies need people who can rise above their fellow men, and can devote themselves to what they believe. After all it is much easier to follow, but very difficult to know what to follow.

 

  • Communication
What makes a difference between a Boss and a Leader is that the Boss just assigns the tasks every team member has to perform before the given deadline, but a real Leader understands the mindsets of his team members; he assigns the tasks to the designated person in a way that the person feels motivated to complete that task. Everyone is comfortable in viewing the picture through his/her own viewpoint, but it really takes a master to know how to frame a picture in someone else’s mind. This is also an essential task for any start-up because the team is generally very diverse in nature of skill-sets and consequently diverse in the mindsets as well, for instance the coders can never really seem to understand why it is necessary to have a good interface even if it reduces the efficiency and loading time of their webpage !
It is really difficult to manage a diverse team in a start-up because the team members generally know each other personally, so it is difficult to say no to each other’s opinions directly, and people generally negate things when they have moved on from idea stage to execution stage and thus it makes it difficult to update every time. This can be solved in 2 ways – either the organisation should be too big that there is no questioning of orders and just execution down the hierarchy line or the leader should have good rapport with everyone in the meeting room so that all discussions are held in the ideation stage itself.A team is of no value if the leader cannot allocate the work effectively to everyone according to their skill sets. Thus, its very important to have a leader which can get the work done from his team.

 

  • Decision Making

Decision Making is also one important thing for any leader, take me for example, I have finally taken a very crucial decision of not getting off my chair until i complete this post, although its 2 AM right now and its Diwali night ( tough decisions make tough leaders! right…)
Well I believe good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions. Thus, it is a good decision to unknowingly make bad decisions initially when the costs involved are small so that one can be prepared for bigger gambles. This applies for start-ups as well. I agree with Laura Parkin who has mentioned similar things at her blog here. Start-Ups generally make the mistakes of either making decisions very fast or very slow. I guess, with PhotoWalkrs, I have been somewhat slow in bringing a coder on-board or coding myself, thus we are still at a stage where we could have been a couple of months ago.There are no good or bad decisions, just their consequences which can be favorable or unfavorable sometimes, and this depends on many factors apart from the decision which led to them. Thus, a team is responsible for it’s decisions and has to tackle the bad ones while enjoying the good ones.

 

  • Focus

I guess the easiest thing in this world is to lose focus ! I mean this thing is so trivial that nobody even realizes it. Even Mozart says –

the shorter way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time

Start-Ups generally are made by people who are already doing some day job or are studying something which might be totally different to their start-up idea. Thus, it is a fairly reasonable to say that start-ups founders are out of focus when they are starting-up! It surely is a difficult thing for them to stay focused on one thing, because had they been that way, they would have not even started thinking about starting-up with their crazy idea ! Henry David Thoreau rightly said

one must not only aim right but also draw his bow with all his might

Thus, having the best team, right skills, conducive environment and effective leader is not enough until the team is focused on achieving what they had set to. Its very easy to give-up in middle but only after this tiresome journey, the final destination is achieved, and generally there is only one who claims the top prize. For start-ups to achieve true success, they have to have microscopic as well as telescopic vision. The leader should know when to shift the gears and when to change the speed. Start-ups have to face stiff competition from their day one, thus it can be very costly for any team if they lose focus even on any minute aspect, because every tiny cog is necessary to keep the main shaft in motion!

 

  • Team Work

Start-ups run on a simple mantra

None of us is as smart as all of us

Well, i guess everybody in the class had mentioned this point immediately after leadership, after all start-ups are built on relationships between the founders, bonding between the limited employees and networks between the company and its partners. It is of utmost importance that everyone in the team realizes his worth and each other’s worth as well. A good team is the biggest asset any company can have and i guess this is the only raw material anyone ever needs for a successful venture.

Having said all this, I would also like to say that since having a few exceptional men is better than having a decent crowd, because its just the few exceptional ones that a start-up needs to move forward. Thus, I’ve kept this as the last in the list of top 5.

Well, ill be glad to any more points to this list and make any modifications if suggested! Good luck to all those who are staring-up soon!


One Comments

  • Abhinav

    October 25, 2011

    Very good post. I would hands down say that the number 1 thing on your list should be talent, passion and dedication of the team and their ability to work together.

    Reply

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