It’s easy to give advice when you’ve already built a company. The hard stuff is at the beginning. If you have a good idea and you’ve turned that into a real product that does something unique and valuable, that’s where the real work starts. You can probably toss out most of what you’ve heard. There’s no shortcut, but there is some advice that could majorly change your path. Take it from me, I’m still learning all of these, too.
1. Hustle Your Face Off
To get initial customers, you just have to hustle in every way, all the time. Connect. Reach out to your network and to their networks and their networks’ networks. Send cold messages. Find the companies that will get value from what you do and bang on their door. Get introductions, get meetings and get more meetings from those meetings. Offer advice. Deliver some value, somehow, and don’t let up until you get that company that’s willing to give your product a try.
2. Put Value In Front Of Revenue
Don’t distract yourself by pondering sales and marketing strategies. That stuff is for the investor crowd — you can achieve scale after you get traction. Getting your first customer is a different thing. If you have a product that will move the needle, show that. Your value prop should be, “Don’t believe a word I say. Let me prove it.” The pitch can come later. At the onset, charge them nothing; demonstrate the value by convincing them to use your product for free in some limited way. Get laser focused on helping them deploy and use it successfully. Keep proving it and keep scaling the usage. Show your customer the value on their terms, by their metrics. Once you’ve done that, you can charge them what it’s worth, because you’ll know what that is — and so will they.
3. Don’t Wait For Talent To Come To You
It’s a CEO’s job to build a world-class team and to keep them motivated and engaged, but talent goes where they find the best jobs. You need to build a company that attracts talent; you need to be the place that’s best for them to work. Despite what other recruiters might do, this should not be an inbound exercise. If you are waiting for the right people to apply for a job at your company, you’ve already lost. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get the wrong people. You need to figure out who has the right profile for your company and is a phenomenal performer, then go talk to that person. We don’t care if they are “looking.” Let your current employees help with referrals; they know who the good ones are. If they enjoy working for you, they will let others know and become “organic” evangelists.
4. Frustration Zero — See The Success On The Other Side
If you get frustrated easily, a startup is not for you. Obstacles and setbacks will come up all the time. Problems are a way of life in the startup world. You can’t get hung up and slowed down by that stuff. You need to look at problems and see the success on the other side. Some frustration is inevitable, but focus on problem-solving logistics or you’ll be constantly distracted by the unimportant stuff.
In fact, you almost need to develop an excitement for problems because you know that solving them is the vehicle that gets you where you need to be. So at Wunderkind, we strive to get into a frustration-zero state: We welcome problems as symbols of future success. Learn to be happy now about what you know you will resolve in the future.
5. Reactive Zero — Forget About Your Inbox
A leader that reacts to everything accomplishes nothing. Being reactive to all the emails, texts, direct messages and meetings can kill your company. These distractions trap you in the current moment. Most of us are so bogged down that we have trouble looking more than a month ahead. Six months is rare, and if you can think two years out, you’re ahead of most everybody.
A CEO needs to look ahead in order to stay ahead. Every company is different, but at Wunderkind we stay focused on who our customers are, who will they be a year or two years from now and how we can bring them more value. That’s what we think about, and what we spend our time on.
Don’t be a slave to your inbox or to relentless meetings — reject all of it. Don’t do anything that pulls you away from what matters most — the high-leverage, high-impact stuff. Push yourself to occupy a two-years-from-now present. The success of your company depends on it.