Killing Things at Startups

My friend Auren has a good post on a very important responsibility for entrepreneurs:  the expedient killing of stuff that is not bringing value.  He summarizes the issue:

Being able to kill things early is essential to the long-term
growth and success of any company. But recognizing that you should be
searching for things to kill is the first step to building a better
company.

As your company grows, you’ll have more things – both big and small
– that either weigh down growth or are not core to long-term success.
The companies that work proactively to get rid of these issues and
devote resources to the areas that matter are the ones that will be
able to remain nimble, innovative, and win.

This is also interesting to me as a VC.  Usually, we are not in a position to make the killing decisions at our portfolio companies.  So, our job is to prod our entrepreneur partners in their constant pruning of their organizations, and provide the necessary encouragement for them to take action.

Startup Insight

Readers of my blog know I am a big Paul Graham fan.  I like him because he is, smart, honest and on the side of the entrepreneur.

His most recent essay, on his insights on what a startup is really like, is one of his most brilliant.  I especially like the part where he talks about the relationshp between founders, colleagues and the companies:

Several people used that word "married." It's a far more intense
relationship than you usually see between coworkers—partly because
the stresses are so much greater, and partly because at first the
founders are the whole company. So this relationship has to be
built of top quality materials and carefully maintained. It's the
basis of everything.


Just as the relationship between cofounders is more intense than
it usually is between coworkers, so is the relationship between the
founders and the company. Running a startup is not like having a
job or being a student, because it never stops. This is so foreign
to most people's experience that they don't get it till it happens.

Yesterday, I was discussing this exact same issue with a Turkish entrepreneur.  I can not agree more with Paul.

Minimum Viable Products

I'm a big fan of Eric Ries's MVP notion.  I firmly believe that it's exceedingly rare that a startup or a product fails because it's missing that nth feature.

Feature creep is tempting in the early stages when the product is the one area of a business that the founders have close to full control on.  And since founders tend to be very passionate and hard working, they feel that adding that one extra feature will differentiate their product and help them in going to market.

Optimizing features by applying the Pareto Principle will lead to a more effective use of resources.  Nivi has a great recent post on this topic with some great ideas and examples.  My favorites:

“If Apple can launch a smartphone without Find or Cut-and-Paste, what can you cut out of your product requirements?” – Sramana Mitra

“The first version of Gmail was literally written in a day.”

Paul Buchheit

A Players

423px-Michael_Jordan
The success of any startup, in my opinion, hinges on the quality of the team.  This is a statement I can make very comfortably.  The trick is gauging the quality.  That's usually tough, especially since, as a VC, we get to have relatively little time to spend with the team.  So I find myself looking for clues in spotting a great team.

My friend Auren has a great post on the common traits of A players.  To summarize, A players tend to:

  • Be Relentlessly Resourceful
  • Work Around Rules Encourage Mediocrity – So you have to avoid those who try to box them in through these types of rules
  • Good at Getting Back to People 
  • Show up Early vs Late
  • Be Founders of Something
  • Follow-up
  • Work harder and smarter

Of course, this is not meant to be exhaustive or exclusive.  But, I view my job to be centered around spotting the right talent, more than anything else.  And I know Auren is very good at attracting great players around him. So I think this list is very helpful.

European Tech Tour – Web & Mobility Summit

ETT_Logo_Home This year I am on the selection committee for the ETT Web & Mobility Summit.  My focus will be mainly on the startups from Turkey and the region and I am looking forward to helping some of the great companies that have emerged from our geography get more European exposure.

If you are an entrepreneur, I strongly suggest applying to present at the summit.

I also have a guest blog, in Turkish, on Webrazzi on the topic.