Things I've Learned: Part 1

There's tons of advice out there for people interested in getting involved in startups. I've shared a set of my own lessons, even some from my days as a freelancing college student, in the hopes someone else finds them inspiring.

1. Find your champions

My girlfriend actually gave me this idea, and it's really resonated with me. By "finding your champions," I mean you should find someone who will be vocal about your successes and accomplishments. Doing great work is hard enough, so let someone else do your marketing. Spend some time finding a coworker, industry colleague or even a customer who will sing your individual praises. I don't endorse playing the corporate "game," but it seems like most great companies possess "thought leadership." The more you and your colleagues are recognized, the better you'll appear to the outside world. The best place to start is from within the company. Pull each other up the "clout" ladder as you traverse it as a team.

2. People will buy your vision

There are two caveats to this rule: 1) it has to be what they want, and 2) you have to believe you can do it. Selling your company vision is totally possible (we did a lot of it at Performable), but both you and your customer need absolute confidence in your ability to execute. When you sell a customer based on what your product will be, your customer becomes an honorary investor. Not everyone is qualified to hustle your company's vision, especially if they don't know what it is. The vision should be second nature for a CEO, but getting employee number 10+ to know it by heart—so well that they daydream about it—crosses more disciplines than traditional communication (like culture, finance, location, etc.). In addition, you need to know every bit about your product so you can accurately tell customers what's possible today, tomorrow and n-years down the line. Even if you're the world's best hustler, sell your vision sparingly. If you sell it too much and don't deliver, you'll have to answer to a lot of angry people.

3. Know your role

Everyone has a particular skill or focus. Even companies with less than 10 employees describe their team members as "the backend guy," or "she mostly does sales," etc. As much as is reasonable, let that specialist do what they do best with autonomy. Let the salesperson sell, let the developer build, and, most importantly, let the designer design. When a developer starts designing and a product person starts programming, you end up with an ugly, hacky product. Know your role: offer feedback, but let the experts do what they do best. Most people aren't comfortable "pushing back" on management, and those that are comfortable waste time gathering the data needed to defend their position. If you're in management, the best thing you can do is spend calories instilling the vision. If a designer/developer/salesperson/etc. knows where they're headed, they'll figure out how to build the vehicle needed to get there.