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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Why everyone should experience a startup weekend.

Why everyone should experience a startup weekend.

I had the opportunity to attend a startup weekend here in my hometown of Bend, Oregon. In 54 hours, I watched 30 ideas, turn into 7 concepts that developed 7 companies including 7 websites, facebook pages and twitter feeds.  Each team conducted interviews with potential customers and defined their first release backlog for their Minimal Viable Product (MVP), embracing the Lean Startup principles discussed by author Eric Ries. Each team also created business models to help them understand their potential revenue opportunities, cost of goods sold, SG&A and profit potentials.  On Sunday night at 6pm, just 48 hours later, these new companies presented their five minute pitch deck to a group of judges.  One company had secured it's first paying customer, and another company was invited into a local World Market to test their homemade Venezuelan chocolates in the store. These teams gained an amazing amount of traction over the weekend. In this blog post, I plan to share some of the lessons learned from the weekend and how they can be applied to your startup.

I had heard of Startup Weekends being held in other cities, but I didn't give it a lot of thought.  Honestly, the idea of spending my entire weekend coaching teams didn't sound like a lot of fun.  Boy was I wrong.  Not only was it a ton of fun, it was insightful, rewarding and energizing. Let me explain...

Startup Weekend Bend OregonWhat is Startup Weekend you ask?

Startup Weekend is a global network of passionate leaders and entrepreneurs on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, teams and communities to turn a pitch into a startup. These are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers, business strategist and past Founders (acting as coaches), come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups.

Some people assume Startup Weekend is a tech driven event solely for software programmers, like a hack-a-thon, they're not. Startup Weekend draws a wider audience with broader skills: sales, marketing, business development managers, finance, UX/UI, web, CSS, data architects, past founders and current CEOs, CFOs, VCs and a handful of experienced Angel investors.  Add these skills early on, when the MVP is being defined, changes the  typical focus on "product development" to "customer development", asking some tough questions, early. Like, "Who is our customer, what is their persona, and how much would they pay to have this product or service?"  Add in the 54 hour time box around the event, you also bake in a real sense of urgency to move quickly into customer discovery.

What happened at Startup Weekend – Bend, Oregon.

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