If you want to make a great first impression on a startup investor or an advisor like me, don’t try to convince me or show me how busy you are. For some reason, too many aspiring entrepreneurs I know seem to focus on “actions” rather than “results.” Based on my experience, survival and success are both about doing the right things, and not about doing everything.
I’m sure you all know someone who always seems to be overworked, but often comes up short on the delivery side. These are not the entrepreneurs that I want to support, since I’m well aware that running a startup is far more complex, albeit more satisfying, than most conventional roles in established enterprises.
Here are some key principles that I recommend to keep you on a track to maximum business results in the shortest period of time, in the unstructured world of startups:
Don’t do “easy” tasks before “challenging” ones. You may see this as a quick way to shorten your task list, but it usually means that important things don’t get done on time. Good entrepreneurs learn to delegate the easy tasks, and spend their time on critical ones, including honing your business plan, strategic direction, and growth initiatives.
For example, you may feel you are saving money by doing all your own administrative work and monitoring social media feedback. Yet if that leaves you with no documented business plan or unclear strategy, most investors and even customers will walk away.
Prioritize your tasks ahead of helping others with theirs. I’m a total believer in servant leadership and mentoring others, but nobody wins when you are in charge as an entrepreneur, and the business fails because you didn’t do your job. Most often, smart scheduling and delegation is more effective help than instantly dropping your own work.<
I once worked with a cohort who prided himself on his effectiveness in helping other members of the team, even though his efforts often led to late or non-delivery on his own assignments. As a result, he missed opportunities, and the whole organization suffered.
Use technology and tools, but don’t let them sink you. As an entrepreneur starting a new business, you have a lot to learn. There are complex processes, like filing a patent, and financial tools that may be new to you, including Excel and Quickbooks. It’s important to get help with these tools, rather than struggle for days using them the wrong way.<
These days, it’s easy to find comprehensive videos and online courses on the Internet to get you up to speed, but I find many entrepreneurs who are too independent and proud to look or ask for help. Don’t forget the wealth of “gig” experts for outsourcing at a low cost.
Commit to business excellence, but reject perfectionism. Building an innovative startup is normally an iterative process, so don’t plan on making everything perfect the first time. Remember the concept of minimum viable product (MVP), which is designed to test viability and interest before you burn through too much of your energy and resources.
I find that many of the most passionate and committed entrepreneurs are also perfectionists, and they often hurt their own case by being unduly focused on detailed product plans, long presentations, and covering every possible contingency.
Take care of your health, and keep your life in balance. I understand that every entrepreneur is highly motivated, but passion alone isn’t a substitute for proper eating, sleeping, and change-of-pace activities. Your productivity can be severely compromised by lack of balance, making you ineffective in managing key tasks and people around you.
In my experience as an angel investor, it was an accepted axiom that we invested in people, even more than the product. I can remember several pitches where the entrepreneur looked and acted out of balance, thus terminating their funding opportunity.
Remember, as an entrepreneur you don’t get paid (or funded) by how many hours you work. The reality is often the opposite. If you can convince an investor, and customers, that your value proposition is intuitively obvious, and your justification work was easy, then people will be quick to support you and get on your bandwagon.
That’s why successful entrepreneurs, including Richard Branson and Elon Musk always look and act like they are having fun, and always talk about their accomplishments rather than all the painful work. But behind the scenes, you can bet they know and use the techniques listed here for getting maximum results in record time.
*** First published on Inc.com on 04/13/2020 ***