Jim Harrer

STARTUPS, TURNAROUNDS, APPDEV, AGILE & LIFE...

5 Best Practices of a Startup Leader

I’ve been around the block a few times as a technology leader. I’ve been fortunate to start a company, bootstrap it to profitability, skipping the VC rounds, taking it public on the NASDAQ exchange and then having a successful exit – this was over a 14 year span. I learned to manage, I learned the importance of leading by example. Since then, I’ve done another startup and performed three corporate turnarounds, all feeding my intense desire to learn how to build financially sound and insanely happy and productive companies. I thought I had heard and seen it all. Boy was I wrong.

13831827 sThis past year I have been working with 10 startup companies. Some through our accelerator here in Bend, Oregon, others through a recent Startup Weekend we held in Bend and the rest through my consulting practice. Not all startups are created equal. Some start with one person, others with more. Some start with a techie developing a killer mobile application, the other a mom with an idea on how to reduce her child’s asthma attacks and that’s it.

Working with these companies I’ve had the chance to see what has worked and where they’ve stumbled. I’ve been able to start understanding the Best Practices of a Startup Leader. The first thing you should note in my title is, I chose the word “Leader” over manager or founder. I strongly believe you lead people, and you manage things. Startups are about people, not the things. The things are artifacts of the production from the team. Production drops when people fail to lead.

If you’re thinking of founding a startup, or if you’re a founder of a startup, here are some of the Best Practices I’ve observed from the founders I’ve worked with:

1. They’re passionate.

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VentureBox–A business accelerator in Bend, Oregon.

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VentureBox is a business accelerator in Bend, Oregon, where I live. Each accelerator is a little different, so let me give you some background.

Business accelerators are different than business incubators (which focus on product ideas) primarily because all of our founders already have a business concept and a basic “pitch” of what their business is and what problem it solves.   Last December (2011) we started with 37 businesses applying to VentureBox and through our vetting process we selected 7.  Most are all in the “Early Concept”, pre-revenue stage.  We have  high-tech web based SaaS products, a mobile app and one physical product in medical devices.  The VentureBox class meets every Wednesday from 3-8pm for a class and workshop.  Each week we teach, then have a workshop on what they just learned and apply it to their business concept.  Then they go home with homework and goals for the week.

The course runs for 12 weeks and concludes with an investor day where Angel Investors get to meet the companies and hear their pitch. The cost for each company to attend the course is $1,500  plus 2% founder equity. The business community in Bend, Oregon, was kind enough to step up and sponsor each of the 7 companies so none of the Founders had any out of pocket expenses to participant in the program.

VentureBox’s executive director is Jim Boeddeker (JimBo) who I met after the Bend Venture Conference last October. He is a servant leader, and coach, over a pool of past founders and local business leaders who make up the Mentor team. Not an easy job managing all of us type A personalities, but he makes it look easy.  The Mentor team is experienced and deep. It’s made up of Founders, Subject Matter Experts, creative and talented individuals who have a passion for startups.

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