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Archive for the category: Startup Business

Startup Scaling | Overcoming 5 Key Operational Challenges

startup scalingScaling a startup from zero to $100M is 10% strategy and 90% execution. You’d never know that from reading the Web, because the advice you’ll find online is 90% related to strategy and 10% related to execution. This is the second post in a series that explores the challenges of scaling a startup through rapid growth and presents some tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years to smooth out what is an inherently bumpy ride. The first post in this series entitled Startup Business Growing Pains | Staying Focused examined the challenge of maintaining strategic focus amongst the chaos of scaling a startup. This second post leaves the 10% of strategy behind to explore five key startup scaling challenges commonly encountered in the softer, messier 90% of execution.

Startup Scaling Challenge #1: Passing the Hat

A while back, I published this article entitled Startup Musing | One Hat is Not Enough where I make the case that startup executives need to be prepared to wear more than one functional hat to be successful. As you scale your startup, however, you must carefully oversee the process of passing those hats to new executives and managers that join the team. This looks easy on paper (just draw up the new org chart), but it can prove extremely challenging in practice. While it is easy to pass the hat in form, it may not be easy to pass the hat in substance when the on-boarding of the new hat owner is arduous, i.e., big learning curve, lot’s of important internal relationships, and so forth.

As long as the old hat-owner offers greater knowledge and effectiveness in the relevant functional area, everyone in the organization will gravitate to her for decisions and support, regardless of what the new org chart says. The problem can be further exacerbated if the old hat owner isn’t all that willing to pass the hat in the first place or if the old hat owner is too willing and runs away from the responsibility faster than the new executive can get up to speed. Poor hat passing can result in confusion, frustration, conflict, executive turnover and ultimately poor business performance.

Hat passing is tricky business that requires the buy-in all of all those affected, a solid foundation of respect between the two hat-passers, and a thoughtful approach to managing the transition. Without these fundamentals in place as you are scaling your startup, you may find that you are dropping more hats than you are passing.

Startup Scaling Challenge #2: The Solution of an Unknown Function

A corollary to the challenge of passing the hat is the introduction of a new business function whose role is unknown to those who must work with it. For example, most B2B SaaS startups begin with a CEO and a bunch of engineers, then they add sales and marketing Read more »

Startup Business Growing Pains | Staying Focused

startup business focus There are a few good things in life that you can never have too much of, and at a startup business that good thing is growth. However, we all know there is always a price to pay for overindulgence. To my way of thinking, the key to being a glutton is to balance your consumption with an equal amount of discipline. If you eat a lot, you gotta exercise a lot. This is the first post in a series that will explore some of the more common startup business growing pains and present strategies and tactics to manage them for maximum success.

A startup business is all about capitalizing on opportunity. When you’re growing, opportunities abound. The challenge is to focus on the right opportunities without getting distracted by all those other shiny objects. The challenge of focus pervades the entire startup business from the big strategic choices of product development and org design to everyday decision making and productivity. Moreover, focus must be balanced with flexibility, because startup businesses generally compete in rapidly evolving markets. Too narrow a focus for too long a time can be just as deadly as no focus at all.

Here are nine battle-tested tips for keeping your startup business focused and on the path to success.

Startup Business Focus Tip #1: Choose to Do a Few Things Very Well

It is the very heart of focus that you should strive to be great at few things, not mediocre at many. This principle is universal, applying to your core competitive advantage, your high level strategic goals, your tactical plans, your everyday priorities and your enduring cultural values. Complexity is the enemy of startup business success. The ability to crystallize the chaos into clear, simple goals and action plans is the essence of focus.

Startup Business Focus Tip #2: Align the Organization to Strategic Goals

There are many complex, competing concerns that go into designing an effective organization for a startup business: markets, products, processes, functions, geography, skill sets, and even personalities. But, the number one criteria is executive accountability for strategic goals.

startup business strategic alignment

Startup organizations with strong strategic alignment ensure accountability and focus.
Organizations with poor strategic alignment require lots of coordination on the part of the CEO
and encourage bureaucracy, finger-pointing and politics.

Those few things you choose to do at the highest level must get done cleanly and quickly, without excuses. There is no forgiveness for bureaucracy or finger-pointing in a startup business; you simply fail. Look at your strategic goals and look at your key executives and ask yourself this simple question: Read more »

SaaS Startup Strategy | Three SaaS Sales Models

Choosing the right go-to-market sales model for your SaaS startup can be a make it or break it decision. Choose right and you grow smoothly from seed funding to A round to B round and beyond. Choose wrong and you spend precious cycles chasing your tail as cash runs out. While most B2B SaaS startups that offer recurring revenue subscriptions gravitate toward a transactional sales model characterized by inbound marketing and inside sales, this is not always the case as pointed out in this recent article entitled the Debunking the SaaS Sales Model Myth by my esteemed colleague Jeff Kaplan. But, how do you go about choosing the right SaaS sales model for your particular SaaS startup?

saas sales model

Price and complexity define a strategic spectrum of sales approaches for SaaS startups
that gravitate strongly toward three distinct SaaS sales models:
self-service, transactional and enterprise.

Price is Paramount

What’s your average selling price? I don’t know any single statistic that provides more insight on a SaaS startup, or any business for that matter, than average selling price (ASP). Average selling price is the intersection of supply and demand and as such it measures external factors like customer value and competitiveness, while it constrains operational metrics like costs, volume and risk.

Your ASP places a ceiling on your customer acquisition cost, which in turn limits your SaaS sales model options. If your ASP is $500 annual recurring revenue (ARR), Read more »

Startup Musing | Getting $#!t Done on a Shoestring

There is always more work to do in a startup than there are people in the company or hours in the day to do it. Everyone has heard horror stories about endless twelve hour days, all nighters and death marches. Some startups fail not because the idea is bad, but because they just can’t seem to focus effectively on turning the idea into a profitable business. This is the second post in a series entitled Startup Musings that discusses managerial challenges unique to the startup executive. This post covers a few handy tips on how to make the most of the few resources you’ve got.

Choose What NOT To Do
When you’re small, and looking to get noticed in a much larger crowd, it is far better to do one thing exceptionally well, than to do a lot of things mediocrely. In a startup, this simple rule of thumb applies to the highest level of strategy all the way down to the lowest level of day-to-day activities. In a word, FOCUS! Given that there is always more to do than you possibly can, the most important organizational skill of the startup executive is the ability to look an idea square in the eye and say, “We don’t need to do that, because it won’t impact revenue, save money, or make us more competitive.” You’ll be surprised how quickly this little acid test will shorten your to-do list.

Sounds Like a Volunteer!
Getting focused is hard, but staying focused throughout the organization is even more difficult. Bringing a good idea to fruition is something like 5% strategy and 95% execution. Read more »

Attention CMOs! CMO Club Dinners & Bay Area Summit

For the past couple of years I’ve been active in an up-and-coming CMO-only professional group called The CMO Club. It’s simply one of the best marketing executive groups I’ve encountered, so I thought I would pass along the tip. It was started by Pete Krainik, a former CMO himself of M&M Mars, Avaya, and DoubleClick, with the intent of keeping it CMO-centric, vendor free and focused on high-value peer-to-peer sharing.

CMO Opinions on The CMO Club

Pete treks around the country hosting local CMO-only dinners with great conversations and guest speakers. There is a social networking site with increasingly good content and the dinner schedule, but the real action is interpersonal at the dinners and bi-annual leadership summits.
Read more »

Startup Business Musings | One Hat is Not Enough

The aspiration of most technology startups is to grow from virtually nothing to a billion dollar company. But, if you examine the typical billion dollar company you find something that looks very much like a factory. People are divided up into divisions, departments and job descriptions. And, crossing these boundaries are well defined processes and support systems that sew up the pieces into a business value chain that drives revenue. Lot’s of round pegs and round holes for them to fit into that in the best companies provide a vehicle for talented individuals to drive superior organizational performance and a safety net for weaker performers to ensure that things keep humming along no matter what. In other words: NOT a startup.

Getting from here to there is like growing a fully functioning human being with a brain, a heart, lungs, legs, arms, and fingers from a single, blank zygote. In nature, this miracle is accomplished through stem cells. Which according to Wikipedia are “characterized by the ability to renew themselves…differentiating into a diverse range of specialized cell types.” I think I would be hard pressed to come up with a better analogy of what it takes to be a successful startup executive. I say this for two reasons. First, it is the job of executive management to build the organization, processes, and jobs that will be the billion dollar company. Second, until you achieve the revenue growth that will allow you to pay for all these offices, people, and systems—-you must do it yourself.

One hat is not enough for successful startup executives. Startup executives must demonstrate breadth across functions and depth within roles. Read more »