Despite any illusions to the contrary, life as an entrepreneur ain’t easy. Launching and successfully scaling a company is one of the most difficult things you can do — it requires a combination of innate skill and instinct, coupled with the ability to apply what in many cases are some extremely hard-earned lessons learned. But while being an entrepreneur often requires blazing new trails, that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.
In his latest book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, entrepreneur-turned-VC Brad Feld talks about the importance of mentoring, and stresses the impact sharing experiences can have on entrepreneurs who are able to tap into and feed off each other’s talent, creativity, and support.
In this two-part video series (recorded previously with OpenView Labs), he offers ten entrepreneurial skills and insights he’s identified over the years that have helped shape not only his career, but the careers of the entrepreneurs he’s mentored and worked with through both the Foundry Group and startup accelerator TechStars. Watch the videos below and see how you can apply them to your own path.
The Idea Behind “Do More Faster”
Scaling a business, especially a startup, needs to be done with speed. Doing more with less is the name of the game, and time is no exception. On the door CEO David Cohen’s TechStars office is a sign that reads “Do more faster.” It’s a mantra that’s reverberated throughout the accelerator and its startups, and it’s become a tradition to physically slap the sign, acknowledging its importance.
“The idea of doing more, faster is something that applies to all startups,” says Feld. “You just have to get a lot of stuff done.”
The pace at startups is often at a million miles per hour, which can be both a benefit and a challenge. They can be founded overnight, but they can also fade out just as quickly. Release planning is one area where companies really need to focus on doing more, faster, says Feld. Therefore, business need to aim for quick iterations whenever possible.
Usage Is Like Oxygen for Ideas
Usage is an indispensable component of software development. Without it, companies lack a true sense of their product prior to – and after – launch. By getting the product out to customers in early stages companies can get a more well-defined understanding of the product’s kinks. And that can be crucial when it’s necessary to make adjustments to the product and recalibrate the company’s trajectory.
Although Feld didn’t coin the quote, “Usage is like oxygen for ideas,” he strongly believes in its relevance. What it essentially means, he explains, is that usage is a fundamental requirement for ideas to thrive, and it needs to be obtained as quickly as possible.
“[With] all great products, especially web-based products today, entrepreneurs learn by actually building something very, very small,” he says. “Minimum viable product is [about] getting it out there, getting user feedback, and iterating very aggressively.”
Key Benefits to Prototyping
Pesky development problems are best addressed during the prototyping phase, before they can cripple a product. When you’re knee-deep in the process of creating the first version of a product and you’re encountering roadblocks, your troubleshooting should involve creating a prototype to resolve your problems. By doing this, you’re releasing your software to users while getting continual feedback.
Instead of struggling with never-ending release dates, you can apply the prototyping method to address problems directly and quickly, and by incorporating user feedback you can create an improved and refined product.
Prototyping is an efficient tool when it comes to quality assurance, Feld explains in this short video. Utilize it.
Quality Over Quantity
How many features are you building into your product? If your attention has shifted to adding quantity chances are you’re dialing back on quality, and that’s a recipe for one thing: dissatisfied customers.
In this short video, Feld explains how TechStars alum Andy Smith, co-founder of the fitness social network Daily Burn, avoided that fate by keeping the company’s focus on the end user.
“Instead of having every last feature they could possibly have, they focused on doing the features in their product way better, much, much better than anyone else,” Feld says. “They built a very, very loyal and fanatical following which grew very significantly. And they continued to be very selective about what they added onto the product. Whenever they did it they made sure they did better than anyone else.”
Having well-developed features not only provides your users with a great first impression of your company, it’s also a great way to reduce the amount of time and money you could otherwise be sinking into customer support.
Avoiding Tunnel Vision
Few, if any, business journeys follow a straight line. Companies and products rarely correspond exactly to their founders’ original visions. That’s because until a product is in your users’ hands, it’s impossible to fully predict how they’ll respond — just as it’s equally impossible to predict what market challenges and opportunities will present themselves down the road.
The key, Feld explains in this video, is to actively keep your eyes peeled for opportunities, and to be open enough in your approach to take them when they’re presented. Or, as Bijan Sabet, general partner at Spark Capital, puts it, make sure you always have a big enough view of what you’re trying to do.
It’s important to be adaptive and avoid tunnel vision at all costs. Keep in mind you’re not operating in a vacuum. Consistently reevaluate your market strategy and be ready to pivot on a dime if the timing is right.
Click here for Part II, featuring more entrepreneurial skills and insights from Brad Feld on co-founder conflicts, mentorship, and more.
Brad Feld is one of the managing directors at Foundry Group, a venture capital firm that invests in early stage software/Internet companies throughout the United States. He is also the co-founder of TechStars, a mentor-driven accelerator, author of several books and blogs, and a marathon runner.