If I could have had the chance to send an email back in time to ourselves all those month ago in Nov 2014, what would be in my own Start-up Primer?
Continued from Our Startup Primer to Ourselves (part 1).
The Bootstrap Diet == Cashflow Stress + Sleepless Nights
Bootstrapping is a valid alternative to 3rd party funding. Doing projects for others, sending out invoices is a good way to build up your company funds (so you can put yourself in a position to build your own product ideas, for instance). But here’s something they don’t tell you: getting paid for invoices is a notorious pain in the arse for small businesses in Ireland. It was in the boom, it was in the bust, it is still now. You'll spend significant amounts of your time issuing invoices, sending reminders and making calls and reconciling with your bank accounts. Oh, and there’s the sleepless nights when you’re wondering if you’ll have enough money for the bills next month!
Careful of the startup sirens - there be guilt dragons
The start-up world is fantastic. Dublin in particular is a hub of great people, ideas, energy and, fun (and a brilliant Commissioner). But that very energy has a potential downside: you'll frequently feel guilty that you don't go to more meet-ups. Or don't have loads of followers. And you don't seem to know as many people as that other guy. Or that you're not messaging in that Slack chat as much as that girl. Don't. As long as you can tell yourself that you're busy working on stuff that's important to you and your company, then don't feel like you're missing out. Just remind yourself: if that guy is tweeting so much (and he isn't a social media manager), then he’s probably not doing any actual work!!
Your time is worth it
You'll prove your long held belief that working for yourself allows you to run your own day. OUT is the 9-6 inflexible working day; IN is a day that suits your life commitments. Sure you'll work hard, sure you'll often work into the small hours of the morning. But that'll be offset by allowing you to take a morning every now and then to get your messages done. Or picking up your kids from school. Or working from home. Or taking back your weekends!
Regular retrospectives >> continuously improve your business
At the end of a project or every couple of months, dedicate time to a full internal retrospective. You already know retrospectives are a powerful tool - you've been using them in your agile software teams for years - but you'll find they work just as well for non-software matters (company and business development, etc.). Use them. And don't let the lack of stickies and a whiteboard hold you up - cards, blutac and kitchen presses just work as well!
Fantastic online tools save you time
This is probably worth a blog post in itself but make use of the many fantastic and scalable collaboration tools out there to make your work move as smoothly as possible. Don't reinvent the wheel. Bullet for invoice and wage management. We use Trello for project and program management. Google apps for business for our email and collaboration docs. Codeship and CircleCI for deployment work. AWS for our hosting and ops needs. Really important: take the time to read the instruction guides and learn to use them correctly - then you’ll get full bang for your buck.
Publish a regular blog or wiki
You may have a jaundiced view of blogging and couldn’t be arsed - "they're really just marketing tools, aren't they?" - but blog stuff and do it regularly, at least once a fortnight. You likely feel like you don't have a lot to say to the world so, tell you what, don't write it for others, write it to yourself and to your team-mates. Make it relevant to your recent experiences in business or software projects. The act of writing the blog is the real benefit, not the blog itself. Knowing stuff is one thing, articulating it to others is a whole different game. Writing a blog forces you to organise your thoughts, reflect on them and turn them into a coherent format which will make it a hell of a lot easier to chat about them in any conversation. It's practice for talking.
"The Deal’s not done, till the money's in the bank"
A long held rule of thumb that proves itself again and again. Be joyful when somebody shows interest in your work, accept compliments and acknowledgements of your ideas, have a little fist pump when you sign contracts or heads of terms+. But don't go celebrating anything until money has actually changed hands. That's the only transaction that matters. That's why a lot of software companies like ourselves expect money upfront before starting work for a client or partner.