StartFast Demo Day 2016 was amazing. Ask anyone who was there. I am so proud of all the teams (CloudGuide, LuxeRoute, ParqMi, AppVuze, and SongCat), interns, and accelerator staff. I'm grateful to be a part of these entrepreneurs' journeys. Now the teams will go on and I'd like to amplify some advice given them by Paul Singh, our Demo Day 2016 keynote speaker, "To make the transition from founder to CEO, you have to remember your three priorities are:
Don't run out of cash,
Figure out how to keep winning new business, and
Recruit the best people."
I agree with this advice and the order of priorities. But while not running out of cash is the first priority, assuring growth is the first job. If a startup can show growth in revenues, then cash can almost always be raised. If not, well then investors aren't going to be impressed.
For inspiration, 2016's StartFast founders should look to the companies that came through StartFast before. For example, SpinCar built a sales engine that drives 300% year over year growth. Wyzerr recruited a great team, took them through The Brandery, scored big accounts like Walmart and Unilever and raised $1.5MM in angel capital. SmartyPans partnered with Marquardt, ran a successful crowdfunding campaign, crossed the $100,000 revenue threshold, and put their pan in the hands of celebrity chefs around the world. Hear their stories in their own words below.
We wish all the teams great success going forward and will continue our mentorship of them. For more information about investing in the StartFast Venture Accelerator and our portfolio companies, please reach out to me (email@example.com) or Nasir (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Building a Predicable Revenue Sales Stack - Part IV
17 Reasons That You Have No Excuse Not to Triple Your Sales Now.This is the final installment on Building a Predicable Revenue Sales Stack blog series. In this series we'll discuss a bunch of specific tools and techniques for speeding up sales. First let's summarize what we learned how to do in the first three posts:
You must have a sales process, and to get one, start by describing the stages a lead goes through in becoming a customer - your sales funnel.
Next describe the objective criteria that defines which stages a lead is in - qualifying criteria. Use these to develop a process to move leads from one stage to another.
Manage your funnel using a CRM or other sales tool like HubSpot Sales, Pipedrive, ZohoCRM, SugarCRM, Salesforce.com. Measure each stage of the process and look for ways to optimize.
Build your lead funnel using Spears (direct outreach to likely customers), Nets (Marketing Campains), and Seeds (optimizing word-of-mouth referrals by building an amazing product with delightful customer service).
Ask yourself and your team, “What is stopping us from tripling our sales?”
"We don’t have enough leads entering the funnel," then:
then use list generation and spear-fish everyone on the list,
initiate and/or increase
engage lead-gen contractors,
improve your content marketing activities. Educational and helpful content is best.
improve your sites' SEO. Free tools like WebSiteGrader, and BrandYourself tell you how well your web site will perform in Google searches (SEO), and what can be improved to make it perform better.
"We have lots of web site visitors, but conversions are low," then: try a higher-touch approach (direct emailing, social media outreach and calling) to selling to find out what is keeping people from converting.
"Everyone is signing up for freemium or free trial, but few become paid users," then: chances are the issue is that you don't yet have great enough product/market fit. A startup just going to market has to pivot many times to find the right audience and the right product. Don't waste a lot of money on sales and marketing for a product that is not right. Do spend a little (enough) on advertising on each variant of your product to test whether you've got the right offer and the right target market. Direct customer interaction is crucial at this stage. It's the only way to find out your customers' worst pain points and sense of urgency in an area where you can provide a solution.
"We can’t get meetings with the key decision makers", then you are probably selling features and benefits instead of business value. Executives don't listen to product pitches. You have to be able to translate your product's benefits into business value by understanding how your product will be used and what its use will translate into in terms of your customers' increased sales, reduced costs, better customer engagement, or some other metric that matters to the key executive decision maker.
"We’re doing OK getting people to sign up as customers, but there is not enough growth in the account after the first sale," then you must tinker with your product's value proposition, pivoting as necessary until you find a winning combination.
Measure the conversion % of each stage of your marketing and sales funnel. Start with the weakest link. For example, are conversions from clicks through to your website less than 10%? Less than other conversion rates? Start here. Next are several suggestions to try to improve these conversions all the way through to revenue.
When optimizing your sales and marketing funnel, remember: All sales and marketing funnels have weak points. As soon as you remove one, the weak point will move to another place the funnel. Weak points often represent places where you hope your customer will take an action but they actually don't have adequate motivation to do so. Spend your time analyzing your customers' concerns and find ways to mitigate them.
Succeed in a niche first, then generalize. Pick a large niche market and make yourself indispensable to that specific group (e.g. Amazon first sold harder-to-find books to avid readers). After you've built a real business in your niche of choice you can expand into other markets.
Make sure you have a specific, personalized landing page for each and every marketing campaign. Studies show greatly increased conversions from landing pages designed to speak to the specific benefit for the exact user you're targeting in the campaign. Also, having a unique landing page makes it easier to track campaign performance for optimization.
Make your landing pages convert better. Try offering an e-book (you can get someone to write you one on Fiverr if you don't already have one to give away). If your offer is more complicated, or expensive, you'll need to give a LOT more information on the landing page. This is where an explainer video can come in very handy.
Mark your best-selling option as such with headings like "Best Value" or "Most Popular". This provides social proof to your buyer.
Turn No's into Yes's by down-selling. If a prospect gets all the way to the final close and says No, you've already made a pretty big investment in getting the lead that far. Ask why and write down all the objections. Sometimes you'll be able to convert a No to a Yes by offering a lower-priced option. Make the effort.
Test price-elasticity of demand to optimize revenue. Simply put, if you can raise prices without sacrificing growth, you're foolish not to. Find out through testing. Sometimes raising prices accelerates growth. Go figure!
Turn Yes's into "Yes and's." Upsell to optimize the revenue of each order. When someone is buying from you, see if you can sell them something extra to increase the size of the order.
Make sure your site is mobile-responsive. Make sure your site looks good and works well on mobile!
Put a phone number prominently on your site. You can get an 800-number cheaply from evoice.com or ringcentral.com. A phone number adds credibility. Very few customers will use actually it, but it helps conversions nonetheless.
Include reviews and testimonials from real customers. Include logos of prominent companies you've worked with.
Encourage customers to share their purchase on social media.
Anyone who doesn't buy right now, may still buy later. Use drip marketing with tools like Intercom.io., HubSpot or getDrip.com.
Find the right people using advanced search on LinkedIn. You can scrape these into a spreadsheet using the Chrome plugin Scraper, or use Profile Hopper to automate the process.
Search for decision-makers in target companies, and join LinkedIn discussions in your customers' groups. You can use Quora, Reddit and other platforms the same way.
Use data-mining tools like Jigsaw (Data.com), Rapportive, InfoUSA, Hoover's and Sales Genie.
Analog sales: Exchange business cards at networking events, speak at professional meetings, and keep your 10-second elevator pitch handy at all times.
That's a quick 17 things you can and should do to triple your sales. What then, you ask? Triple them again, I say!
Done all that?! Well then let's kick up the volume (literally) with these force-multipliers:
That's a quick 17 things you can and should do to triple your sales. What then, you ask? Triple them again, I say!
Building a Predicable Revenue Sales Stack - Part III
One thing I learned from W. Edwards Deming is that in all things, be hard on processes, not people. If you want sales, you must have a sales process. If you want more sales, then improve the process. In part I of this series, I suggested filling your funnel with deals through a combination of Spears, Nets, and Seeds. This is the beginning, and deserves a lot of time and attention.In part II of this series, I suggested that you define your sales funnel stages, the qualifying criteria assigning each deal a stage, and the process for moving deals from one stage to the next. If you execute on these two - filling the funnel with deals, and moving deals systematically towards closing - you're on your way to success. Having done that, you're ready for some automation.Beware! If you haven't got a process yet, you can't possibly benefit from automation. Go back to parts I and II and document your funnel processes before reading on. Sales Automation vs Salesforce AutomationLet's use technology to improve the sales process. This means you want to get more sales with the same number of people and hours in the day. Salesforce automation often focuses on managing your salespeople and holding them accountable. This is fine for larger organizations, but in a startup, you should focus on providing tools that help your salespeople close, not managing their activities. What we're looking for is a sales stack - a set of tools to empower people to work deals through your process to closing. Your sales stack will consist of a set of tools you use to keep track of deals, contacts, communications and next steps. The most basic would be a notebook, whiteboard, or excel spreadsheet. While these will keep you organized, they have serious limitations too numerous to list here and I urge you to move on. The most basic advance would be a collaborative version of notes, whiteboards or spreadsheets (e.g. Google Sheets), but that's only a tiny step forward.CRM or Customer Relationship Management software can be helpful to track deals, keep you organized and help you focus on the right deals and activities. While I recommend both Hubspot and Salesforce.com, they can be cumbersome to manage and too expensive for a startup. I've used ZohoCRM's freemium version, and it's usable, but I never fell in love. Right now I'm trying out Pipedrive, and while it's too early for a full-on recommendation, I does look pretty interesting. One of the most interesting things about it is the free course they offer: “Predictable Revenue Pipedrive Mastery Course” here. The CRM is the principle organizing piece of technology in sales and should be mastered before layering in other tech.Once your sales process is working and your CRM is implemented, there are a host of other sales and marketing productivity tools that you can implement to speed things up. I'm going to point to those in the next part in the series - Part IV. Before that, let's discuss funnel metrics. How do you know if your funnel is healthy? What do you do about it if it's not? How do you keep it healthy if it is?To know if you're funnel is healthy, you need some basic metrics. How many deals are in each stage? What percentage of deals from each stage will progress to the next this week? month? quarter? What's the average deal size? How many deals must you close to reach your sales goal each week? month? quarter? If you have these metrics, you can calculate what you must do to create and maintain a healthy funnel.Start with the goal - how many deals do I need to close to meet my sales goal? Then look at the number of deals in the funnel stage just above closing. Do I have enough deals in that stage to reach my goal, given that only a percentage of them will ever close, and only a subset of those will close in the time period? Now systematically work your way up the funnel. Do I have enough deals at the next stage up the chain to keep the process going, and so on.A weak funnel is predictive of a future problem with sales volume, which also predicts a future cashflow problem. If your funnel is weak at some stage, the rational CEO will cut expenses. The visionary CEO will spend more on sales and marketing to correct the funnel weakness. You can be rational and visionary by knowing exactly what to cut and what to expand. Analysis of your funnel metrics is a key discipline which can determine the life or death of a startup.When I meet a startup CEO looking for investment, one of the first things I ask about is the sales funnel and its health. If the CEO can present a coherent sales process and a healthy funnel, I know they're raising money for expansion. If they have no sales process or weak funnel metrics, I know to wait before investing. Why? Because my investment dollars are either going to fund a poor CEO's education and the losses that accrue while she's learning, or the expenses of searching for a better CEO when the Board realizes the problem. Either way, I'm going to be better off waiting.Analysis of funnel metrics gives the CEO the information needed to decide what to spend money on - filling the stages in the funnel that are weakest. Because the sales process takes time, funnel metrics and analysis lets us predict the future with some clarity and power.
Building a "Predictable Revenue" Sales Stack - Part II
Nothing happens until someone sells something. Building a "Predictable Revenue" sales stack is all about making the sales process repeatable and scalable. Repeatable means that you can do it over and over with regularity. A repeatable sales model is at the heart of having predictable revenue and a forecastable business. Scalable means that you can build greater and greater sales momentum as you add resources. A good sales stack has to support both repeatability and scalability. There are four steps in this process:
Map out your sales pipeline (or funnel).
Identify the qualifying criteria for each stage in the funnel.
Establish repeatable processes for moving prospects from one stage of the funnel to the next.
Identify key funnel metrics to manage and constantly look to optimize your process to improve them.
Companies that employ these steps will have better results faster than companies who don't. This is the second in a four-part series of posts. In this post, we'll learn about qualifying criteria.All your Spears, Nets and Seeds put prospective deals into your funnel. But where does each deal go? In which stage of the funnel? Is it a subjective exercise, assigning a funnel phase to a deal? It shouldn't be. Qualifying criteria are the definitions for each stage of the funnel so that we can objectively determine when a deal belongs in a certain stage.
The definitions, qualifying criteria, and funnel stages are up to you to decide what's right for your company. In our example we have seven stages:Funnel
Stage Qualifying Criteria1. Suspect A named company that is in the right industry2. Prospect (Research identified a need OR an inbound lead) AND we have at least one contact3. Contacted Our email or call was answered and the need is confirmed.4. Qualified The timing of the deal and decision process is known AND a budget exists5. Demo We've given a demo with positive feedback; customer preference is confirmed.6. Proposal We've submitted our proposal; identified the decision makers and mapped their positions7. Closed We've won the deal! Signed contract or received online payment information.As you can see, there is a short list of objective criteria for determining into which stage each deal must fall. This is powerful, but wait, there's more! The same list of qualifying criteria gives us a powerful process for moving deals through the funnel to closing. For example, what shall I do if I've just given the customer a product demo? Confirm their preference for our solution over others, of course. I need to do that to satisfy the qualifying criteria for the Demo stage. Otherwise, that deal has to stay in the Qualified stage until I do. You can see how easy it is to define a process to move a deal from Qualified to Demo Complete, for example:
Schedule customer demo.
Conduct customer demo.
Ask for questions and record objections.
Confirm customer preference for our solution.
Once these steps are done for a deal, we can move on to the proposal stage, which might have these steps:
Map decision makers
Confirm customer's requirements
Establish statement of work or deliverables (quantities, timing, etc)
Establish pricing proposal
Internal review and signoff on proposal
Submit to customer
Review proposal with customer and ask for questions and record objections with each decision maker.
This example process may not be exactly right for your company or product, but you get the idea. By having a process that's defined, you are able to establish a sales process. A process that works can be repeated, and scaled because you can train people to conduct it.In the next post, we'll talk about the funnel metrics and sales automation tools.
Building a "Predictable Revenue" Sales Stack - Part I
Sales is crucial. As I've said before, a business without sales is just a hobby. What are the key steps in building a sales stack?
Map out your sales pipeline (or funnel).
Identify the qualifying criteria for each stage in the funnel.
Establish repeatable processes for moving prospects from one stage of the funnel to the next.
Identify key funnel metrics to manage and constantly look to optimize your process to improve them.
Companies that employ these three steps will have better results faster than companies who don't. This will be the first in a four part series of posts.Mapping your sales pipeline or funnelThe sales funnel lists the set of states that a lead or prospect goes through on the way to becoming a customer. The words funnel, pipeline, and leaky bucket are all metaphors for visualizing sales as a process of refinement from raw lead, using defined methods called qualifying to yield new paying customers. Not all leads become customers, so the funnel is wide at the top and narrows as leads are qualified. The first step is to determine the stages your leads go through. For example:
There will be a list of leads in each stage of the funnel at any given time. The total number of deals in funnel, the average deal size, the time an average deal stays in the funnel and the number of deals that have advanced from one stage to the next since last week/month are all key funnel metrics. In addition, the % of deals in each funnel stage gives the manager an idea of the health of the overall funnel.One of my favorite books on sales is "Predictable Revenue" by Aaron Ross, who built the sales system for Salesforce.com. Aaron differentiates leads from three different sources or activities he calls: Spears, Nets, and Seeds. Spears describes generating leads from salespeople reaching out to specific targets in a very conscious directed way. This is an expensive method per sale, but perfect for startups looking to determine the identity of their ideal customers. It's also a great technique for companies selling high-ticket goods or services, particularly for key accounts. Nets are marketing activities that generate leads. Examples are internet advertising, content marketing, events, webinars, contests and other campaigns. Nets are great because they are scalable, but until they are informed by the results of spears, nets will often produce leads that are hard (if not impossible) to close. Lower quality leads.Seeds are those planted by delighting your customers. Their referrals are the highest quality leads because they come from unsolicited customer referrals. Your happy customers are the best salesmen of your products or services. The problem of course is that these leads are unpredictable, take a long time to generate and really can't be pushed. They do scale, but in their own time. A combination of all three types of leads will result in the most predictable revenue and growth, so a balanced approach is key.In the next post, we'll talk about the defining criteria for each stage in the funnel and defining the process for moving leads from one stage to the next.
Faster to Scale
I wrote the book, StartFast!, five years ago. It's still relevant, still getting five star reviews on Amazon, but I've learned so much more in the last five years. StartFast! covers the process of taking a business from idea to startup. I plan to write two more books to complete the StartFast! Trilogy. Faster to Scale! will be about hacking growth, revenue and profits. The third book will be called Investor Ready! and will cover the process of deciding whether your business is venture investable and if so, how to get ready for fund raising, how to conduct a raise, get through due diligence and close. I envision a boxed-set of all three books, intended to be the "bibles" of everyone who goes through our StartFast Venture Accelerator.I hope to write these next two books this fall and have them ready by year-end. This time, I'm going to market the books broadly. With the original StartFast!, I've probably given away more copies than Amazon has sold. Perhaps I'll crowd-fund these next two and the boxed-set. There are lots of blogs about crowdfunding a book (e.g. http://tommorkes.com/the-complete-guide-to-crowdfunding-your-book/) and lots of platforms to choose from (e.g. ChipIn, EquityNet, Pledgie, Sellaband, IndieGoGo, GiveForward, FundRazr, Kickstarter, RocketHub, Fundly, GoFundMe, Microventures and Fundageek). In fact, there are hundreds of crowdfunding sites and options well described with pros and cons on crowd101. I'll certainly apply the knowledge of experts like Jane Friedman. The purpose of crowd-funding is three-fold, to:
Gather an audience who is excited about the book's release,
Provide funds needed for the completion of the book and it's marketing,
Give the self-published book additional legitimacy.
Why are these new books needed? Beginning with Faster to Scale - Hacking Growth, Revenue and Profits to Quickly Attain Business Success, there are many books about growth hacking, but none so far which give the succinct, no-nonsense, step-by-step approach of StartFast!. Faster to Scale begins by helping the reader categorizing the kind of business they are building. Then, based on the type of business, offers a step-by-step approach for creating scale in that business quickly and in a capital-efficient manner.“Growth hacking is about running smart experiments to drive growth within your business." says Sean Ellis, "refocusing of the relationship between product and growth, where product creates the market potential and growth fulfills that potential. Building a culture of experimentation (and being accountable for the results of those experiments) is the most crucial element when building a company focused on growth. " Sound advise for which Faster to Scale provides the roadmap and action plan.Investor Ready is the third book. It succinctly and clearly lays out the steps for deciding if and how to fund your business, finding investors, building a winning pitch deck, surviving due diligence and closing. This book removes the mystery from the funding process. My intention in writing all three books is the same - to help entrepreneurs. I feel that these additional two books are sorely needed as more and more entrepreneurs look to move forward. If you want to see the lessons at work, please schedule a visit to StartFast, or ask to meet with one of our graduates. If you think these books are a good idea and agree that I should launch a crowd-funding campaign to get them written and published, please subscribe to this blog as your "vote of confidence."
The big surprise this week was Britain's vote to exit from the European Union. Which will be the next domino to fall? How soon until total world-wide economic collapse? Stocks tumbled, the Pound tumbled and pundits joined the hue and cry with various prognostications of doom, Trump and general Sturm und Drang.How should startups view the fallout about Brexit? Well, to quote another German phrase, Macht Nichts. Start ups are here to challenge the status quo. Dare I say it? To disrupt (or "radically alter or destroy the structure of") the status quo. Big moves in politics, or business, or the economy shouldn't perturb a startup one bit.Case in point, the Great Recession. During the financial crisis of 2008, I was helping turn around a startup called PacketExchange. Over the next three years, we raised venture capital, moved into the media and entertainment market, competed with the big telecoms, and got acquired at a positive valuation. What would we have done differently if the economy wasn't in meltdown? I don't know, but I really can't imagine it would have gone much better.Earlier than that, some readers may be old enough to remember the Dot Bomb tech stock market crash of 2000. That year I exited my third company and cofounded a fourth. Would our valuation have been higher if we'd sold a year or two earlier? Like all hypothetical questions, it's a moot point because we didn't have a buyer a year or two earlier.Here's my point, the news is the news. There's always something happening in the world, the climate, the economy. As a startup founder, your job is to stay focused. Look for the new opportunity offered because of the latest meltdown, but don't take your eye off the ball. As always, the primary things to concern yourself with are:
Ignore the distractions of the 24 hour news cycle and the need to feed it new sensational stories. Stay focused and you'll win.
You want to change the world - make it a better place. That's why you're in business (I hope). You want your business to succeed. You want investors to give you a check. You want this to happen soon - at least before you run out of cash and can no longer go on as a business.
"The IRS has a word for businesses that never make money - a hobby."
To have a real business (as opposed to a hobby), you must have some revenue. To get investor interest, you must have revenue growth. I can already hear the objections, "What about Company X? They're worth billions and nobody knows how they make money."When I was a kid, I played basketball and studied. There were kids that played basketball and never studied because, "NBA Player X makes millions and he never studied," implying that I was a chump and they were going to be a tycoon by focusing on basketball. The exception, whether you cite early Facebook, early Google, early Twitter, or whatever, DOESN'T APPLY TO YOU. You have a better chance of funding your company by buying a lottery ticket than believing that you're "the next Zuck."But what about the Lean Startup movement? Don't I need to do Customer Development before I can get revenue? If you're asking that question, then we have a semantics problem.
"A 'Customer' is someone who pays you."
Here are some lies you might be telling yourself and others: "We have over 1,000 customers, and 5 paying customers." "Paying customers" is redundant and "non-paying customers" is an oxymoron. Non-paying parties may be users, but they are not customers. They might be on a free trial - then they're prospects, not customers, not-even "trial customers" unless the trial is paid. Customers pay you for some value that you deliver. Period.Hacking is a methodology for optimizing something by running a set of smart experiments, learning from the data gathered and then running the next set of experiments. It is a scientific and creative process, and it's the most effective method we have ever developed for optimizing any aspect of a business. Growth hacking is this method applied to marketing. There are billions of people that are not aware of your product. You must run a plethora of campaigns to gain their awareness. Some of these campaigns will work better than others. By comparing the data, you can develop better and better awareness campaigns.Next you must get those aware of you to "sign up," or "activate," or "create an account," which means to convince them to let you know who they are. To do this you run a lot of activation campaigns, compare them and optimize them. Next, you need to engage these newly activated users in the hope of retaining them (get them to come back, to use your service or product over and over). To do this, you run lots of retention campaigns. You hope that your retained users like your company enough to recommend it to others. You run referral campaigns to optimize referral rates. Finally, your user agrees to buy something, subscribe to something, purchase something. Now, and only if and when revenue happens, you have a customer.Once you have a customer (even just 1 customer), you can begin customer development. By comparing the data of how that customer went through the states of awareness, acquisition, retention, referral and revenue, you can start to get a picture what works and what doesn't. Then you can optimize your campaigns - all or them - for revenue. Until you have a customer, the best you can do is a local optimization, and that can be a trap! If all you can see is awareness and activation, you might be fooled into optimizing your campaigns to attract people who will NEVER BUY FROM YOU. That local maximum is an attractive nuisance and getting trapped there will kill your business.Revenue hacking is a specific case of growth hacking which focuses on the entire funnel. Once you're focused on gaining customers and growing revenues, you may find that your campaigns change dramatically because now you're focused on what really matters to the group of people (customers) who buy your product or service. You can interview them, survey them, group them together, build personas for the groups, and begin to really understand the profile of your company's ideal customers. Your campaigns will be more intelligent, coming from a more holistic viewpoint, and more effective than before.You'll find that you can drive growth through the application of these campaigns - growth in revenue - and that you're able to optimize revenue growth. Now (and only now) you have something of interest to investors. It starts with the first customer. It doesn't matter how you get the first few customers as much as it matters that you have customers. Then you can begin to learn what you'll need to do to satisfy them, and get more.If you're not 100% focused on getting customers, you're hobby hacking, and talking to investors will only be a waste of your time and theirs. Want to change the world - make it a better place? Stop hobby hacking and start revenue hacking.
5 Ways to Add More Hours to the Day
From time to time we all complain of not having enough hours in the day. At StartFast, founders are challenged to do more faster, while also adding in mentor and investor meetings. They're all wishing there were more hours in the day. Here are five practical pro-tips for adding more hours to the day so you can get more done.
Ready, Fire, Aim!
Sleep Mo Betta
1. Time DilationEinstein theorized and others proved that time is relative. When you're waiting in the dentist's office, time passes ever so slowly. Top athletes (and accident victims!) report that in intense moments, time slows for them. Can we develop the mental discipline of a Novak Djokovic and slow down time so we can get more done each day? Yes. Researchers reporting in the journal Conscious Cognition cite the benefits of meditation in everyday life and performance - improved attention, working memory capacity, reading comprehension and time perception. Time slows for meditators versus control groups. By focusing attention on the present moment (and the task at hand), meditators get more done in an interval of time - say an hour - and experience the hour as longer than non-meditators. Meditation practice as little as 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening can initiate this effect. Long-term, the benefits accumulate.2. Ready, Fire, Aim!The StartFast methodology for building a business is quite empirical. We take every idea or opinion as a hypothesis, test it, and then use feedback data from the market to decide. Rather than deliberating over what to do and spending days, weeks or months planning, refining and deliberating. We run a series of quick, easy tests to give us data to drive correct decisions. Sometimes our hypotheses are confirmed and we can move forward confidently. Other times, the data shows us a non-intuitive outcome. We haven't wasted time following an intuition that turns out to be wrong.3. Drop 25%Borrowing an idea on time management from Steve Covey (who purportedly borrowed it from President Eisenhower) can save you tons of time and free up hours in each day for meaningful progress. Make a list of everything you have to do, then assign each item to one of the quadrants below. Notice that all the items in quadrant four (perhaps 25% of your to-do list), you can just drop, freeing up your schedule and reducing your anxiety.4. DelegateNow look at quadrant 3. Perhaps another 25% of your to-do list, you can find someone else to do, or push back on the need for doing the task in the first place. Of course you have to have someone to delegate to! So it's of vital importance to recruit, hire, partner and inspire others to work with you. That leaves quadrant 1 and 2 items for you to resolve. I recommend that you do quadrant 1 items immediately. Touch them once. Don't put them on your calendar, just do them one at a time until that list is empty. Then you can focus on doing or scheduling the items in quadrant two.5. Sleep Mo BettaThere is tremendous scientific evidence that getting sufficient sleep each night makes us more productive, happier and healthier. As it turns out, the typical "startup" diet and behavior is the exact opposite of what we should be doing to promote better sleep and thus more productivity during the day.Counter-productive "startup" behaviors - Don't:
Drink Red Bull or other "energy drinks"
Drink diet soda or caffeinated coffee
Eat candy and other junk foods
Sleep with your smartphone or other device next to the bed
Productivity-enhancing behaviors - Do:
Eat a healthy diet with lots of leafy greens.
Drink lots of water - just water. Stop at least an hour before bed.
Meditate in the evening before bed and in the morning upon awakening.
Get some physical exercise every day (not right before bed).
Keep your bedroom dark and leave your devices in another room.
If you apply these 5 pro-tips, you'll find you're getting a lot more done in less time, and you'll have more hours in the day. I've been using these techniques myself for over 20 years and I keep getting more and more productive and happier each and every year. Enjoy!
The StartFast Venture Accelerator is a "mentorship-based accelerator" program. There is a lot of confusion about what mentorship is, and a lot of confusion about what an accelerator is. StartFast has built a very specific program to enable high-growth companies to make a year's worth of progress in just 3 months. We ask each company to create SMART goals to make this real. SMART usually stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. The problems are Achievable, Realistic. To make a year's worth of progress in 3 months, we replace these works with Aspirational and Radical. In our program, companies achieve radical improvements in the specific metrics the company aspires to achieve. That's what we mean by a venture "accelerator."One of the techniques we use to create radical improvements is mentorship. It's important to understand what mentorship is, and how it works in the StartFast program.Back in 2011, David Cohen and Brad Feld (founders of TechStars) and Jon Bradford came up with the Mentor Manifesto. We've modified it slightly from the original to reflect our core values more closely.The StartFast Mentor Manifesto
Expect nothing in return (mentoring is explicitly uncompensated)
Hold information in confidence.
Clearly commit to mentor or do not. Either is fine.
No hidden agendas. A mentor's motivation should be to help the entrepreneur. The experience is its own reward.
Adopt at least one company every single year. Experience counts.
Be responsive. Speak from your experience.
Be Socratic (ask leading questions), not prescriptive.
Guide, don’t control. Teams must make their own decisions. Guide but never tell them what to do. Understand that it’s their company, not yours.
Your opinion is a hypothesis to be tested, not a fact.
The best mentor relationships are two-way. Be prepared to learn.
Admit what you don’t know.
Accept and communicate with other mentors that get involved.
Provide specific actionable guidance, don’t be vague.
Be willing to show founders examples and how to do new things.
Be challenging/robust but never destructive.
Have empathy. Remember that startups are hard.
None of the foregoing are easy in practice. Mentors usually have so much more experience and context than founders, that it's easy to fall into the trap of telling rather than listening and asking questions. Being a great mentor happens over time, with lots of experience and practice.Part of our commitment as a program is to develop great mentors, and that means introducing new mentors from time to time. New mentors (like first-time founders) make a lot of the same mistakes. Here are a few of the most common rookie-mentor mistakes to be avoided:
Trying to pin the company down too soon. High-growth startups must experiment with business models, target markets, and product positioning until they find their niche. This process is foreign and often confusing to mentors used to larger companies with established markets.
Prognostication. "You guys are going to end up _____________." A mentor who thinks she can predict the future of a startup hasn't mentored enough of them. And yet even experienced mentors fall into this trap from time to time. Be helpful and optimistic. Ask the company to get data to back up their point of view. Your opinion of the future is just that - an opinion. If the data shows that you were right, then the founders can see that for themselves.
Following the mentor manifesto and avoiding these pitfalls can make for a great, rewarding and transformative (for both mentor and founder) experience. In the context of the StartFast program, we combine a large number of new and experienced mentors to make sure that the founders receive a cross-section of many points of view, ideas, resources and introductions.Founders must choose among all of these inputs. The term "Mentor Whiplash" describes the effect of all these opinions on the founders. This process serves to decondition their minds, loosen their egoic hold on prejudices and narrow viewpoints, so that they can choose the path forward from a higher, more free state of awareness.As the managers of the program, we must provide the context necessary for the founders to undergo this personal growth process at a rapid pace. Invariably, some founders are unable to fully let go and let the process take its course. They may be swayed by a charismatic (or highly negative) mentor and pivot in the direction of the last advice they heard. These premature pivots are, at best, a waste of time. At worst, such a premature pivot can kill the company. I've seen it happen. More importantly, the biggest opportunity lost is the development of a more mature founding team operating at a higher level of executive function. Another pitfall we see is the devolution of the team into various "cofounder issues" which is a euphemism for in-fighting / internecine battles that are the refuge of founders not ready to transform. A few teams will fall into these traps.For those founders that are ready, the accelerator is a crucible in which the great leaders of new high-growth companies are forged . Those that make the transition successfully, exit the accelerator program with an expanded understanding of who they are and how they can and will change the world for the better, and the confidence to move forward without wasted time and effort. They leave armed with a methodology for decision-making based upon data and a strong sense of their abilities to lead. There is nothing I've experienced that quite matches that of mentoring in such a process.