Learning to be deliberate
Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic.
Today, I get the honor and privilege to be the first author of a "Founder Friday" post for SPN. The list of potential topics is amazingly long, and in thinking about what I would write for this first post, I realized I could likely wax on about any number of topics related to starting, building and growing companies. Hiring? Definitely. Pivoting? For sure. Raising money? Totally.
So, in the interest of just picking one, I'll go with one that is close to my mind these days in each of the organizations I'm involved with (SPN, Layeredi, and Tripleseat): Goal Setting (i.e. Being Deliberate).
I often speak to groups of students, and tell them the story of how Brightmix started. Like many young, aspiring entrepreneurs, we had it in our minds that we wanted to start a company, but really had zero idea of what that meant. To give you a sense for it, our one-page first business plan (titled "Ye Olde Business Plan") included the following "goals":
Long Term Goals
- Hire interns to do coding monkey work
- Attain 300k/year in revenue after 3 years?
- Attain 500k/year in revenue after 5 years?
- Attain 1mil/year in revenue after 10 years?
- Sell company for m4d cash
- Retire to the tropics and drive BMW's, yay!
No "m4d cash" is not a typo. This was essentially the extent of the planning and goal setting that we did for Brightmix. Granted we didn't know any better – and frankly we hated our jobs so much it didn’t really matter to us – but the point remains.
Now in spite of this lack of planning we managed to grow the business fairly well. We prided ourselves in doing great work. He hired some great people. We built strong partnerships and relationships with individuals and companies that provided great funnels of business. By and large, we got to work on super interesting projects.
The problem is this: At no point were we ever deliberate about growth. At no point did we seek out new business actively. At no point did we make clear goals and set out to attain them. We pretty much waited for the phone to ring (which thankfully it did).
I look back on that experience now, and see very clearly how to lay a path forward for a consulting company like Brightmix. Who are we selling to? How do we reach them? Proactively go after them. From there you can measure your effectiveness, etc., and from there you can lay out specific, deliberate objectives and measure the health of the organization against them. It’s clear to me now, but back then I didn’t have the foggiest of ideas on how.
So what's a young founder to do? It seems to me there are two ways to deal with it: learn by doing, or learn from someone else. We learned by doing, at the expense of several years of our lives. I don’t treat it as wasted time, but I see now that we could have reached out to any number of folks to help us figure it out.
I wish back then we had the support network of entrepreneurs that exists today. Whether it's programs like PIPELINE or other mentorship-based groups, or more organic networks like Silicon Prairie News, there are people all around that have experienced what first-time founders are going through, and they're willing to help. Realizing you're not on an island is an important first step.
Many great organizations are fine without a clear path. I envy them. Some companies just print money for no reason other than great market timing or positioning. However, I truly believe that the best companies set a clear course of action, and are very deliberate, and set clear goals about what they're selling, who they're selling to, and how they'll sell more of it.
Credits: Photo of Dusty Davidson by Malone & Company.
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Thanks to our Founder Friday series sponsor, Heartland Technology Alliance, a nonprofit working as an advocate for innovation and competition in technology and communications across much of the Silicon Prairie and throughout the Upper Midwest.