Startup Q&A | Tips

Q&A for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

1. I have a great idea. I would like to translate this idea into a business and build my startup. What are the fundamental steps I need to take to build further on this idea?

The first step to transition an idea into a business is to perform a risk analysis and assess the market-fit of your idea. You will then have to build a value proposition that will define the core value your business to your target customers.

Once you are sure of the potential of your idea, build a prototype of your product (or perform a dry run of your solution). Remember to carry out a dip study within your market segment to fine tune your approach. Move on then to build on a business plan.

A critical determiner of success and failure in business is, of course, finance. Plan your funds to help you last until at least your first sale or project. You are then ready to build your dream startup.

2. How do I know how much money I would need for funding my idea?

If your idea survives the risk analysis, you can be confident that the scope of risk of your idea is minimal and can be overcome easily. This is your first step towards planning your funding.

Your next step will then be to work on a prototype and dip study so you can further clearly assess the requirement of the initial fund requirement.

If your prototype or dip study clicks, you will then need to work on a detailed business plan. The results of your risk analysis, prototype creation, dip study, and business plan will give you a clear indication of the amount you would require to fund your idea.

I strongly recommend the bootstrap approach, which uses the minimal funding  option to stretch your financial resources and control your entrepreneurial expenses.

3. Before I plan to launch my venture, how do I arrive at a decision on the following two questions :

  • What kind of partner do I require to make my entrepreneurial venture successful
  • How do I go about finding and connecting with the ideal entrepreneurial partner?

After clearing your first fundamental step successfully (that is, performing a risk analysis to build a robust value proposition, refer answer to question 1), your next critical step before launching the prototype and seed investing is to identify the right working partners for your entrepreneurial venture.

The following pointers will certainly help you in identifying your entrepreneurial partner who will share your passion and complement your skill sets to achieve your entrepreneurial goals:

  1. Build an organizational design for your entrepreneurial venture, and based on this design, define the roles that you need t fill in immediately.
  2. Map your strengths to roles that you can assign to yourself. It’s for the rest of the roles that you need partners, consultants, or senior employees. Then determine the roles for which you will need the support of a partner.
  3. Build job or partner profile descriptions for the responsibilities you envision your partner to fulfill in your venture.
  4. Build a matrix for competence and behavior that you are looking for.
  5. Build a presentation of on vision, mission, and goals of your venture so you are clear in presenting your entrepreneurial dreams and the road map.
  6. Build a term document with an approach to partnership that you are comfortable to discuss before entering into any formal agreement. Clarity is the name of the game at this stage.
  7. Build a list of partner prospects who are known closely to you, else start networking to identify the right partner. Partnerships involve taking equal risks, facing rough weather as a team, and taking game-changing decisions together. Hence, your first priority while seeking entrepreneurial partners is to approach known people whom you may have worked with earlier or whom you know personally.
4. Can’t I just go about following my gut feel while selecting a partner or Is it important to map the skill sets I am looking for before I start my search for the ideal entrepreneurial partner?

Selecting a partner for your entrepreneurial venture is one of the most critical decisions you will be taking to realize your goal. A great partnership can help you achieve tremendous success, but an incompetent partnership can be disastrous. Personality conflicts, differences of opinion, contrary leadership styles, and differences in the approach to running a business can easily pull down your carefully built entrepreneurial plan. Hence, I recommend using a logical approach.  Rationalize the gut feel rather than blindly trusting on it before taking the final decision on any partnership. This approach is the ideal route to take to actualize your dream venture in style. Dreams become reality only when emotions are channelized logically and productively. Irrational gut-based decisions without logical inputs could lead to issues at a later date.

Q&A for New Startups

1Why is it important to have a promoter’s shareholder agreement for a startup?

Majority of startups are born with the idea of a team of inspired people. At this stage, the passion for creating a difference through your product or service often overlooks one of the fundamental essentials of entrepreneurship – the Promoter’s Agreement (not Articles of Agreement [AoA]). Such an agreement specifically defines every promoter’s participation in a startup in terms of funds, responsibility, exit formalities, and so on. The lack of such a secure agreement often presents a million undesirable circumstances during the turn of role events or in the case of any challenging situation while running the operations of your entrepreneurial venture. In the absence of this agreement, the situation might even escalate to descaling, split, or closure of the startup.

2. As a startup, our org structure is fluid. So we need to build a stringent org structure for our startup and what are the operational and financial implications of the same?

An organizational structure is critical for all startups that aim at scaling up and building their business. The organizational structure connects with the vision of your company and how you plans to achieve the vision. Hence, the need for an org structure or design is undisputable.

Not having an org design makes your start up susceptible to non-scalability, primarily owing to a sense of micromanagement and unclear roles. Starting early on firming up the org structure reduces the risk of operational inefficiency.

3. Does Sarathy help us with the Promoter’s Agreement and in org Design?

Yes, Sarathy can help you with structuring your company’s visions and promoters’ aspirations into an agreement. Please do fill and submit the form on our website – www.vasukumar.com

4. How do I implement an organizational structure in an already functional startup?

You will need to take the following steps to structure the organization in your already functional startup.

  • All the co-founders need to agree a common objective of organizational design and its importance for meeting the startup’s goals.
  • Co-founders also need to agree on the proposed outcomes of the design before implementing the same across the organization.
  • Once these two points are achieved, it is quite easy to then implement the organizational structure across the company along with clear matrices of goals, performance, awards, and rewards.
5. Can we start doing this on our own?

Yes, you could always try working on the organizational structure on your own, but this activity being a core people issue, I always advise first-time entrepreneurs to take guidance from a trusted consultant. Take the support of the consultant in defining the framework and layout the organizational design and in rolling it out across the organization with little to no adverse impact on any of the working relationships among co-founders and key employees.


Startup Tips

1. Time – as important as your capital in your entrepreneurial journey 

The relevance of time in life has been highlighted for ever so long; however, time is equally important in your entrepreneurial journey. Time is an investment, just like money, so if you are not paying attention to how long it takes to move from one stage to another, then you’ll land up delivering too little too late.

2. Simplification is sometimes the toughest job

Simplifying your idea; your business model; or your marketing strategy is critical if you want to reach your entrepreneurial goals. No, simplifying your approach will not make your initiative weak, but it clarifies and streamlines your entire initiative. Richard Branson’s pointer about simplicity is definitely a great example to follow, “Make your ideas fit on the back of an envelope”.

3. Make stress your buddy in growth

The entrepreneurial lifestyle often sounds like a storyline of an exciting movie, especially the success stories. But what most of us know but not really discuss is the extent of stress that entrepreneurs handle from a day-to-day basis. Even Elon Musk described his great life as a collection of “great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress.” So the only way out is to expect and manage stress effectively by changing your mind about stress and use it as your buddy. This TED Talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend/transcript?language=en) can give you some great perspectives.)

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4. A rock solid plan is the foundation of a great entrepreneurial journey

A popular saying goes, “If you don’t know exactly where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?”Now, that’s truly the power of a great plan. If you don’t have a good plan, you can’t manage your time effectively. So set your top priorities — both on a daily- and long-term basis — and then focus on getting these priorities cleared. However, be prepared for deviations and failures. Yes, there can definitely be “change of plans”, but to get there you first need to “have a strong plan”.

5. Have a great idea – just start; don’t waste time perfecting the idea!Have a great idea – just start; don’t waste time perfecting the idea!

Stop thinking and start doing! A great idea, a plan that solves an immediate need of the market, and your confidence is pretty much most of what you need to get started. Of course, you’ll need to test whether this indeed is a great idea and not just a figment of your imagination, but beyond that avoid the tendency to sharpen and fine tune before you get started because then you will never even cross the starting point of the race.

6. Empower your employees with the right information and capabilities

Most startups have cohesive teams rather than an elaborate network of employees. More importantly, most of your initial employees will eventually shape up to become your entrepreneurial partners. Hence, empower your employees and build a transparent culture with trust at the backbone for success. The very recognition that they are your core strength will do wonders for your business.

7. Daily routine for effective time management: Start the day with the hardest task

How about starting your day by clearing the most challenging task. Our mind often has the tendency to procrastinate the toughest activity till the end of the day and then worsen it with all the stress. Why not counter this stressful approach by meeting it head on, the first thing in the morning? I’ve tried this approach – what helps is the rush of energy and focus you have in the morning before your focus is distracted with other tasks that need your attention.

8. Calendaring your workday and sticking to your time!

All of us are great at planning our day, but what’s sad is that it never goes as per plan. But how about calendaring at least a couple of days in a week? Start will warning your partners, colleagues, friends, and family about the chosen two days. Work on a timetable, scheduling all your day’s activities from meeting to eating and stick to the plan. And stick to your plan – did you schedule 30 minutes for a meeting and at the end of 30 minutes, are you just half way through? Well, stop and move on to the next scheduled activity! Sounds weird? Yes it will – for the first few days. But within a few weeks you will be able to not just keep to your scheduled time but also plan the schedule effectively. And the best news? You can get work done much faster!

9. Multitasking is no longer a skill set

One of the most misunderstood concept from the last decade has been the pseudo skill set termed multitasking. Many studies seem to be proving that multitasking actually takes away the focus from the task at hand leading to delays, inaccurate results, and dissatisfactory performance. But the entrepreneurial world is full of scope for multitasking. With so many tasks that scream for attention, what can you really do to get work done? Start with prioritizing and then move on to delegating tasks that can be better done by another person. This mode of work also requires moving away from the “me” “me” “me” mode of micromanagement and also finding the right team of experts.

10. Co-creation – a great way to build your customer community and expand the pool of ideas

The concept of co-creation has been around for long. Be it customer communities coming up with the new Lays flavor or the Lego Ideas, co-creation has brought the customer close to the entrepreneur, building trust and goodwill and providing an opportunity to spread your brand beyond the boundaries of your usual reach. If your concept is unique, grabs the attention of your customers, and delivers benefits to them, then you can definitely look at co-creation as an approach to encourage engagement with your audience.

11. Remove administrative burden from your entrepreneurial initiatives

In your entrepreneurial venture, every second counts; hence it is critical that you spend each moment on relevant work rather than administrative paperwork. But how can you avoid such uncontrolled loops of paperwork that leaves you no time for the urgent activities – think automation or think of hiring administrative assistants who can take up these roles.

12. Create intraprenuers for a successful entrepreneurial initiative

Today’s work culture is all about creativity, innovation, and independent thinking. In today’s age of gig economy, your employees treasure autonomous work environments that help them work toward a common goal much more than a rigid and clockwork workspace. However, you fear attitude and complete diversion from the original plan when you transition into this form of work. So the key is to ensure that everyone is on the same page and are inspired to work toward a common goal.

13. Look for options to automate

Working hard has now taken a back seat. What matters the most in the entrepreneurial world is smart work, figuring out how best and effectively you can get work done. So take a step back and look at your processes – listen to your employees and partners. Assess your customers’ comments. Collate all the points that need rework and assess of you can find means of automating at least 60% of these tasks – if the answer is yes, you are on your way to success. Find simple yet effective means to automate. Automation saves time, increases accuracy, and helps you focus on activities that requires human intervention.

14. Making time for networking to expand your market reach

While your entrepreneurial journey is pretty much a focused journey, you must take time off for networking – especially with peers and colleagues in your area of expertise and in support areas. Entrepreneurship is not a one-expert show – it requires a team of experts and many helping hands and brains. So networking can help you keep abreast of the latest in your field, build connect with people who can influence your market space, and help you develop your business. Similarly, your contribution to helping out others in the network can also help you gain a strong foothold.

15. Never stop learning

With change being the perennial constant, it’s ever more critical to continue to learn, every day and every moment. You really do not want to pursue a bright idea that’s outdated! So stay up-to-date and you never know, the brightest brainstorm might kick just when you are digesting the latest innovation in your field. Read up on the latest, join discussion groups, take part in webinars, and of course the many opportunities to share thoughts on conferences and niche groups.

16. Employee growth much more important than your own

Gone are the days of yearly performance assessment – now it’s all about managing your employees’ talent, ensuring that they receive real-time 360-degree feedback, nurturing their capabilities so they can grow to meet their own goals. Enabling your employees’ growth is hence more important to you that probably your own entrepreneurial dreams. Trust me, this approach will get you not just the goodwill of your employees but also a strong team of inspired partners who will work toward your organizational dreams.

17. Be stubborn about not quitting

Failures are the toughest testing times for any entrepreneur. No matter how many articles, books, and speeches you hear about embracing failures, the actual event can bite you hard and deep and leave a painful scar. Sometimes, you think that it’s far better to pack your bags and go back to the safety of your earlier job. Sometimes, you need to stop, yes. But you will know when that time arrives, but most often, you will need to just stand up, take a step back, check the damage done, but most important, assess the lesson learned. If you realize that the lesson is more important than the pain, get up, make amends, never make the mistake again, close all loopholes and march ahead.

18. Let it go! 

Any startup feels much better because you are in control of almost every aspect of your initiative, but as you expand you feel that you are losing control because you have so many details to take care of. Since you are your most trusted expert, you will not give up. So you pile on pending work on your table and eventually fail. The next best option is to hire experts for the jobs you think can be delegated. But here too your tendency for micro-managing can ruin the expert’s confidence and your work relationship. So just make the best hiring decisions, explain the expectations, clarify the work, and let it go. The key here are trust and understanding. If you have explained the expectations clearly, set up monitoring mechanisms effectively, and made a wise choice while selecting your expert, then you will have no worries.

19. De-Clutter your entrepreneurial venture

Clutter brings confusion, mess, and all the negative energies. The same is true for clutter in any entrepreneurial venture. So reassess your entrepreneurial venture – what in here is not helping at all – any employee who is not making any contribution, a customer who demands a lot of attention but is not bringing you any dividends, or a process that is causing excessive work without any benefits. Remove all these from your entrepreneurial system and simplify your path.

20. Never allow small diversions deviate your attention from the big picture

Clutter brings confusion, mess, and all the negative energies. The same is true for clutter in any entrepreneurial venture. So reassess your entrepreneurial venture – what in here is not helping at all – any employee who is not making any contribution, a customer who demands a lot of attention but is not bringing you any dividends, or a process that is causing excessive work without any benefits. Remove all these from your entrepreneurial system and simplify your path.

21. Invest on networking and new ideas

Your entrepreneurial focus must definitely be on your goals and on resolving day-to-day and critical issues and needs. However, don’t miss out on creating enough opportunities to proactively expand your network of connections and influence. Ensure that you make time to network with other business leaders and entrepreneurs, stay up to date on the latest developments in your field, be part of events and workshops in your field, and interact with your team to pick up interesting initiatives that have the potential of taking your entrepreneurial initiative to the next level. This proactive approach will help you and your team stay inspired and ahead of competition.

22. Assess attitude when you hire

A usual argument while hiring for your startup is to just look for skill set and knowledge because you really need someone to get the work done. But the most critical attribute you should look for in your initial hires is attitude. If the candidate is not willing to be flexible in work approach, not a team player, without the passion of being associated with a goal-focused organization, you are potentially making a “rough-times-ahead” decision. Yes, skill set and capability are important, but attitude is critical. Sometimes, you can fine-tune the candidate’s skill sets after a hire, but you cannot do anything with a person having a completely wrong attitude. This can also be toxic to the rest of your team.

23. Use data smartly

Always track how well you are performing against your goals. This requires making use of the humungous data your organization generates at every step, say from productivity to sales numbers. Just having these numbers is not enough, you need to derive insights, patterns, and forecasts from these data to understand how well you are performing and where the gap is. Act on the information derived to make operational improvements. Else you will just be walking down a blind alley.

24. Transparency across the board

Clarity is critical for any startup hence make sure that you and all the stakeholders have complete visibility of every process, tool, and operational procedure. The intention is definitely not to micromanage but to have a clear view of what is happening on the floor. In the absence of such transparency, you run the risk of making inferences from misleading performance and operational reports, applying bandage solutions to the symptoms rather than getting to the root of issues, and reinventing the wheel by investing on solutions that already exist elsewhere in the process.

25. Depend on process and tools and not on individuals

One of the most dangerous mistakes many small businesses make is to play God. Never get caught by the quicksand approach of micromanagement or depending on an individual to run your business. Take a step back and assess your business. What if you or any critical stakeholder decides to take a step back or go on a few days’ vacation? Will your entire operations freeze, be lost, or take wrong turns? If the answer is yes, then you will have to change the way you work. Use standard work procedures, tools, smart training kit, easy reference materials, and the flexibility to take the right decisions. The market is full of technology that you can use to quickly check in critical performance parameters from anywhere anytime.

26. Watch the cash 

A first win in your entrepreneurial journey can sometimes shift the balance of your focus toward investing more on your product development, research, employees, or marketing initiatives. You will have a tendency to forget your budget and splurge a little. But when running a small business, never take your eye off your budget. Take all decisions based on the cash flow – yes, taking risk is the name of the business game, but play the game sensibly.

27. Priority check

One of the toughest challenges for any entrepreneur is to juggle all the multiple responsibilities. You will eventually land up with an entire list of incomplete responsibilities, missed deadlines, and broken promises if you do not prioritize. Yes, you will miss the deadlines on some, and you might not be able to get a few done on your own. So the first step is to prioritize. Take up those responsibilities that are pivotal for your business and will make a huge impact. Delegate and oversee the others or push the deadline on a few others that you would want to complete yourself.

28. Take a step back

As a startup we are always busy trying to grow and attending to the details that we often forget to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Hence make sure that you take periodic sabbaticals from your day-to-day work, to look at how you are progressing – from a business point of view. Revisit your goals, your journey, your operational data, your clients, your business relationships, your business model, and your plans. Plan for an offsite with your critical stakeholders and assess your journey honestly. You’ll be surprised at what you uncover.

29. Not all the bright ideas are for you

The worst trap you can fall into is to get into the “I want it all” mode. Yes, there are a million bright tools, business models, approaches, and ideas you can implement for your organization. But you really need to sieve out those bright trends and solutions that are not for you. While you definitely need to adopt smart approaches that benefit your business, you have to avoid the danger of deviations from your goal and distracting your team from a focused approach. Hence, always assess any bright, new idea from the point of view of your business.

30. Practice asking the right questions

While delegating some of your responsibilities will help you stay out of the micromanagement trap, a lot of blind delegation with zero follow-up will land you in trouble. On the other hand too many questions will make your team feel choked and restrained. So make sure you ask the right questions that help you give a sense of how the team is working and how effective their approach is. Also map to critical team and project parameters that you can view on your dashboard on a daily basis so you get a clear sense of how you business is performing.

31. Automate routine and repetitive

As much as possible automate routine and repetitive steps in your process. Use and tweak available freeware and reasonably priced tools in the market that help you with project management and achieving operational efficient. This approach not just frees up your available time, but also delivers to you accurate and well-packaged data-driven insights that alerts you in case of any concerns. So now you can actually focus on growing your business rather than spend your energy on managing day-to-day activities, which have a better alternative.

32. Invest in emotional quotient

It’s not just the know how, intelligence, and the details of your area of expertise that matters to succeed in your business. When you work with a team to build your business, you must equally hone your emotional quotient. This term means that you must make the time and take the effort to understand and mange your team’s emotions, which will definitely be frayed more often than not in a startup environment. The challenges of getting work done, dealing with rejections, overcoming client feedback, and meeting tight deadlines can take its toll on your team’s emotional well-being. In such a situation make sure that you have the emotional maturity to focus on boosting their confidence and not just focus on numbers, your disappointments, and your challenges.

33. Focus equally on the activities

While your vision is what drives your business, your employees and team, you must understand that for your employees, it’s the tasks that matter more. Hence, ensure that your broad goals are always divided into clear, measurable, and understandable activities for your employees, who have the skill set, attitude, drive, and tools to achieve task-level goals. Else most of your journey toward your vision will be lost in translation.

34. Be transparent to your team

Ensure that everyone on your team understand your business and your goals. Make the approach inclusive so that everyone can contribute. Be transparent to your team and be open about every aspect of your entrepreneurial initiative – from performance expectations to financials. Be flexible enough to include their suggestions and view points too. This approach will foster employee engagement and a dedicated workforce.

35. Happy and inspired employees

Sometimes, money is not all that your team is looking for – they seek ownership, the flexibility to function toward their goals, and avenues to channelize their passion to contribute to your business goals. So if you create a barrier-free and interactive environment at work that will inspire them to do well, you are looking at a dedicated team of partners rather than just employees.

36. Track time 

It’s not just your finances that you must measure, since time is a equally important resource for your entrepreneurial venture. Ensure that you bring efficiency to every element of your business right from the time you and your team spend at meetings to the time spent at completing critical tasks. Review your workflows to determine the Herbies and see if these can be automated or improvised so the entire process moves faster. Track the performer who might be slowing down the entire initiative and see if you need to deliver more support. Time is definitely as important as money since this too can drain your energy and opportunities before you can control it.

37. The devil is in the detail 

The biggest pitfall that threatens most small businesses are the hidden details. It could be a critical cause you missed in an agreement with the client, an important detail you missed in your partnership deed, or an essential competency that you missed mapping before hiring. While your goal and business plan grabs all your attention, you need to be equally focused on every intricate detail of every process, agreement, pitch, or plan you make, especially at the initial stages of your business.

38. Motivate your team 

While you may not have the finance to plan elaborate office trips and parties, do make it a point to motivate your team with even small, yet meaningful gestures. It could be as small as celebrating birthdays together to acknowledging wins by an impromptu party. A critical essential for small teams at the startup stage is the feeling of working together toward a common goal. So building a sense of belonging is as important as establishing performance goals.

39. Get every stakeholder to understand your brand 

Your brand is your identity – your values, principles, vision, and purpose. Hence your brand’s identity must reflect in every single detail of your business – from the interiors to the taglines or style of communication in emails. If simplicity is what your brand stands for – ensure that every innovation, email communication, brochure, and pitch you make focuses on making life simple.

40. Be communicative and empathetic 

While your focus is on working toward your business goals and vision, your employees’ focus will certainly be on their career and the money that comes to their banks at the start of every month. Understand this gap with every communication you make with your team. Understand how you can infuse confidence in your team and inspire them to work toward your business’ goals without making them feel herded or forced. Ensure that your employees don’t just get to read impersonal notifications and documentations about their role and the businesses’ focus. Be there on the floor to interact with them and get them on board.