Tech startups present unique challenges
In many industries, starting a company is a risk, but there exists a roadmap for success. Interior designers can look to established firms, authors can read endlessly about success, and so forth. But tech startups are often inventing things or opening up new niches that didn’t exist just a few short years ago, so there isn’t always a predictor for success (and let’s be honest, there’s a lot of failure in the tech world).
But let’s say you’re considering joining or launching a startup as the business person – you know you need to understand basic accounting and own your product road map, but what other practical skills are required of you (or the person you’ll hire to do it for you)?
“At the very early stages, all founders have to be focused on figuring out what problem they’re solving, validating the importance (pain) of the problem, driving customer development and adjusting accordingly,” summarizes Bejamin Yoskovitz, Founding Partner at Year One Labs and VP of Product at Codified. Bingo.
But you want more meat than that, right? Of course you do. Other practical skills include being effective at fundraising and recruiting people with drive, but Ryo Chiba, Co-Founder at TintUp.com says empathy is the most critical skill required. How do they use this skill at their tech startup? Chiba encourages others to do the following:
- Give your cell number to customers and encourage them to use it.
- Add customers to your instant messaging (GChat, Skype, etc.).
- Send well-crafted surveys to clients.
- Be an empathetic team (ex: open communication between teams, transparent compensation).
First hand account of what it takes
Tim Gasper has been at Infochimps since its early days and is now the Head of Product, which is impressive given that the shelf life of a team member at a tech startup seems to be that of a gadfly. Gasper has helped the brand to succeed quite well and become a household name in the tech world and now the business world.
In his own words below, Gasper offers eight areas he’s spent his time getting really good at:
- Community outreach by emailing, tweeting, and commenting bloggers and other influencers. Network with people at local or industry events and through one-on-one meetings.
- Customer development by talking with your customers/users constantly, watching them use the product, and cultivating a dedicated team of early adopters. Then communicating what you learn to developers and getting them deeply involved in customer development efforts. Read and re-read Steve Blank’s “The Four Steps to the Epiphany.”
- Analytics and Measurement – this is closely related to customer development. Early on it’s hard to know what is working and what isn’t – especially regarding product/market fit. So figure out what metrics matter to your company’s customer traction, track them vigorously, and translate that data into actionable insights. Facts and figures don’t lie.
- Investor outreach by contacting potential investors, tracking finances, developing financial projections, creating an awesome pitch deck, and delivering that pitch over the phone or in person.
- Business development by exploring revenue options and building partnerships with companies that can mutually benefit with you.
- Marketing and PR via copywriting, blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, press releases, and pitching bloggers and journalists.
- General operations by keeping track of contracts, receipts, and other documents or info. Fill out the apps and paperwork for funding, events, stuff you have to give to your lawyers, etc.
- Quality assurance – if this is software, you must have someone using the product regularly and thoroughly. Since you are in the trenches doing customer development anyways, it makes sense that you could report and track bugs along the way.