Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lesson #6 - A Startup is not a Corporation

Now that you are heading down the highway, looking out the window - its easy to day dream about everything that can be done on the way to the destination. Staring into the green pastures, and watching the tress fly by can be intoxicating and make even the most focused lose sight of what is important.

The first thing you realize when you start a company, is that it is nothing like company. You can pretend that you are running a "corporation", and go through the cycles of buying name plates, letterhead and give everyone titles, but in reality, running a startup is more like running with the bulls in Pamplona.

When running a "corporation" - a person can hide between middle-management, delegate important tasks, and disappear in bureaucracy when everyone is too busy meeting about the new logo change. In a startup, you focus on the essentials or die. You run with the bulls, or they run over you.

Here are the essentials:

1. Run fast, and don't look back - When running with the bulls, you need to focus on what's ahead - you can't afford to slow down, or risk tripping on someone. When running a startup, you need to make decisions quick - and they need to be great decisions. This is probably the hardest part of being part of a fast moving startup - is trusting your instinct.

2. Protect your Ass - When you know a bull is behind you and it has foot-long horns ready to stab you from behind - you need to protect yourself. In a startup - this is probably the most important thing you do. Not only do you need to protect your interests (personal and business) - but you need to protect the company's interests. A Startup is extremely vulnerable to people looking to steal ideas, demand more than they are worth in pay and stock, and more importantly find a way to kick you out.

3. Don't get distracted - As you are running through the streets, certainly you will hear screams of people being thrown and rundown. You may see some easy way out - an alleyway that looks appealing to hide in and getaway from the rumbling noise of bulls trampling behind - but don't. There are many distractions when running a startup - and due to the long nights, exhausting days and constant pressure - it is easy to get distracted. By keeping focused, and executing what is critical, and not wasting time on minutiae is critical. People live off minutiae in corporations - in a startup - minutiae is a virus.

4. Embrace the pressure - In a high-pressure environment, sometimes it can build up and begin to trigger real angst in an office. In a corporate environment, due to "political correctness" - pressure, turns into frustration and it builds up inside everyone. There is no outlet. In a startup, its pandemonium - like Pamplona - people screaming, running over each other - forgetting peoples feelings. A startup needs to operate the same way - Pressure needs to be embraced, and a culture needs to be created to allow people to laugh about failure and laugh about the stress. Imaging running with the bulls, and everyone politely walking through the streets, saying excuse me, and sensitive to each persons feelings - I think the bulls would win.

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