Achieving Clarity

Originally published on Medium.

Building a startup can be fraught with a lack of clarity. From having the initial excitement around an idea that thrusts a founder into execution, to managing a large team performing disparate tasks, it is easy to lack clarity and the sense of purpose and cohesion that comes with it.

A lack of clarity can result in trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. It can result in a product that is useless. It can result in a strategy that is inadequate. It can result in employees with no sense of responsibility.Ultimately, it can lead to failure.

Of course, uncertainty is inherent — and even healthy — when building a startup. But uncertainties should be identified, understood, and monitored. That happens with clarity.

Clarity can best be achieved by documenting, in writing, perspectives on the following:

  • Problem. What unaddressed pain point is the startup solving? What do users/customers want on issues big and small? What research and experiments back up these claims?
  • Product. What is the startup’s offering to solve this problem? How does the offering work? What are its features and why are they necessary?
  • Strategy. What short- to long-term tactics will the startup pursue that form a cohesive plan and will result in growth? How are these tactics prioritized? What metrics and milestones need be to achieved, and by when?
  • Responsibilities. What skill sets are needed to execute the strategy? What is each person responsible for? Is there unnecessary overlap?

In documenting these perspectives, be thorough. Spot gaps and flesh them out. If something is unavoidably uncertain or if you are making an assumption, highlight it as such and monitor it in practice. But don’t be too prescriptive so as to dictate the actions of employees. Also be honest. With brutal and brave skepticism, forgo a feature, an employee or a business entirely if justified by clarity.

Once documented, these perspectives should be shared with and ratified before your team. Their sense of clarity is as important as yours.

As your company evolves, your documented perspectives should as well. They should be living, breathing reactions to the environment in which your company exists.

With true clarity and a strong team, a startup is unstoppable.

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For further reading on this topic, check out Fred Wilson’s What Are We Doing? and Alex Iskold’s The Culture of Writing Things Down.

We don’t care that you “hustle”

Originally published on Medium.

We don’t care how early you woke up or late you went to sleep

We don’t care that you arrived first or left last.

We don’t care that you worked over the weekend or holiday.

We don’t care about your pre and post work meetings.

We don’t care that you “hustle.”

We all do. And we have been for thousands of years. We just don’t boast about it or require a pat on the back.

Stop talking about how special you think you are. Just focus on results.

startup pioneers

Originally published on Medium.

Startups are often championed as “disruptive” and “groundbreaking.” Founders are exalted as “innovative” and “visionary.” And venture capitalists are glorified as “prolific” and “prophetic.”

They sometimes deserve these labels. Envisioning and executing something new, while taking great risk, entails boldness. But in all of this splendor, an important group is left by the wayside: each startup’s community.

The early adopters that listen to what startups have to say, and that take a chance on their fledgling products, possess the same boldness as those building and funding the startups themselves. Any founder that has experienced the magical moment of securing a first user, customer or partner — after being countlessly rejected, and despite solving a pain point — can attest to this. This boldness even exists in people that join a startup’s community that’s no longer in its infancy. The high-effort acts of abandoning an incumbent, changing behavior, and continuing to use a product, are sacred and should be revered by startups.

Through our startup, Quire, we allow top, venture-backed companies to invite their communities to invest, enabling them to become actual co-owners of these businesses. It’s meta to this post, but we believe that users, customers and partners should be able to own a part of the companies that they helped create. Some founders balk at this idea. But there are others who listened, and took a chance on our product. In doing so, they’ve spearheaded the practice of community ownership that we originally envisioned, and they make our startup possible.

As you build your startup, or read about others in the press, never forget about the communities behind them. They are the true startup pioneers. Without them, we wouldn’t exist.

Full Stack Operator

Originally published on Medium.

Sound strategy and effective execution are critical as companies develop. Unknowns and an urgency for progress require it.

Great startups meet these demands by having a key player on the team: a full stack operator. A full stack operator is someone who can execute across non-technical disciplines, from conception through implementation.

  • They advance the startup’s substance, making an impact through strategy, UI/UX, marketing, community, policy, business development, and other non-technical disciplines.
  • They deeply understand the company’s mission, allowing them to execute with little direction.
  • They are thoughtful and perceptive, providing them with a holistic execution approach.
  • They are bold, creative and tasteful, enabling them to produce ambitious and respected work.
  • They have executional range, making them adept at spearheading business functions and strategic initiatives one day, and crafting copy and support emails the next.
  • And they have competence and good judgment, permitting teammates to trust them and grant them autonomy.

Full stack operators are as vital to a startup’s success as their developer counterparts. Make sure you have one.

I Joined Alphaworks

Over the past ten years, founders increased their focus on the VC community. And VCs earned it. VCs replaced their impenetrable veil with concerted efforts to connect with companies and to help them at their earliest stages. Incubators popped up all over the world. Content proliferated. Firms hired community managers. Approachable Angels and Micro-VCs emerged in throngs. And the bilateral adoption of investment portals has made for a more efficient marketplace.

While a vibrant ecosystem arose that strengthened the bonds between startups and VCs, each startup's individual community has fallen by the wayside. And by "community," I mean a startup's users, customers, partners and fans. Startups have gotten great at serving their communities through product—applying lean startup principles and endless optimization—but there hasn't been a concerted attempt at fostering deeper connections; connections that go beyond the ways in which a user interacts with the startup's product. This is unfortunate because users are people, and they are capable of much more than clicks. They can develop deep emotions about a company—its founders, its story, its vision—and these emotions can be expressed through long-term loyalty and patronship. Such an outcome is much more impactful than what can be achieved from the startup's relationship with the VC community.

But how can we foster deeper connections between startups and their communities? This is the question that Alphaworks seeks to answer, and I am incredibly excited to share that I joined the team. At its core, Alphaworks lets startups raise funding from their communities, but you can expect a lot more from us in the future as we explore and champion the idea of "community ownership."  

I closely followed the startup ecosystem's evolution over the past few years. I even tried to accelerate it through TechStars, Startup{ery, @BrandedVC and other projects. I believe that Alphaworks is the most ambitious effort to come around in a while, and that it can be as pivotal to a startup's success as its participation in a top incubator, or its funding by a top VC firm. 

We're just getting started on this mission, so get in touch if you're interested in learning more or even joining the team (yes, we're hiring!).