5 Lessons from This Eminent VC Will Change the Way You Think about Running a Startup

Last month, while I was checking my LinkedIn homepage, a great piece of advice suddenly caught my attention. It was a lesson on time management for startup founders and was shared by one of India’s esteemed venture capitalist, Shekhar Kirani.

Shekhar is a partner at Accel, a leading early and growth-stage venture capital firm. The company has invested in some of the brightest companies, including Facebook, Slack, Dropbox, Flipkart, and Spotify, to name a few.

I was curious to learn more and so checked out his social profiles and came across with more pieces of gem about the startup culture, startup life, startup hiring and more. And, believe you me, those lessons simply crushed my thinking of running or working in a startup. Read on to learn..

Lesson #1 – Time Management (My Favorite!)

One of the key resources founders have is time. During early days of the startup, founders do everything by themselves and ignore value of time. But, as business grows, they continue to use their time as if it is “free”. They tend to spend time on things that has no impact to the company.

Three Small Clock Towers In Front Of A Office

Founders should consider investing time in activities that have “compounding” effect. For every hour they spend, the company gets value out of that hour for weeks rather than just an hour.

Eg: fixing a bug v/s establishing a system for fixing bugs. They also should prioritize on those activities that they are supposed to do v/s others. When they start treating time as money, you will see startups grow!

Lesson #2  – Startup Life

I get this question from my network about moving from corporate to startup or from startup back to corporate world. I think they are quite different and if one spends in one culture, the other culture gets harder.

If you spend enough time at a successful startup and grown inside the startup, it is very hard to move to corporate and be happy.

In startups, decisions are made in days instead of months. If you are good, it becomes very obvious to everyone that you are good and your confidence goes through the roof. In fact, startups get the best out of you as you learn and apply. Success in corporate requires different skills.

Lesson #3 – Startup Culture

One of the biggest mistakes we do is assigning tasks/work item to groups of people instead of single person. This is one of the biggest source of confusion in a startup.

The ownership should be with one person. This person can be at any level, including being individual contributor. Once the ownership is assigned she/he can work with others and get help, but, total responsibility for delivery lies with that person.

When they achieve their task, give 100% credit to them. The easiest way to create unmotivated employees is to allow hijacking of credit by management. If you hear “we did it” – it is already on a slippery slope. If you hear “I” from mgmt – it is over.

Get every new joinee to read all support request/responses support calls and even sales calls. Get them customer context.

Lesson #4 – Startup Hiring

Startup hiring is hard. As founders, you should be great storytellers. You need to tell your heartfelt story of why your startup is important. And why the problem you are solving is worth solving.

New recruits need to feel your story and get motivated by the same. If they are not aligned, you don’t get the best out of them. Also, they leave and move on. Mission or cause oriented hiring is the best method to build the initial team (first 20).

We're Hiring

If you are attracting talent purely on salary/equity, you will fail in creating a world-class culture and higher chance of startup failure. Dig deep on why you started what you started and get your story right!!

Hire who can relate to what startup is doing. Don’t hire purely for skills. Work has to touch their heart. Hiring is hard.

Lesson #5 – Startup Thinking

a) Pick your passionate idea in a large market ($xB).

b) . Assume money is not the constraint ($xxM).

c) Remove all other constraints in your mind.

d) Think what will it take to acquire, service, and delight customers.

e) Think of what will it take to dominate the market.

f) Optimize more on world domination rather than survival.

Thinking Boy Glaring At A Candle

Now, start applying constraints, including the money to raise. You will have a better strategy than any other method. Try!

More Lessons

  • Summary: startups must produce high revenue growth and good profit margin. Rest is all noisy talk among founders, investors, advisors…
  • Those who know how to build a great product, learn about marketing. Those who know distribution, learn about how to build a great product.
  • Large market with 100s of funded startups, how can a startup get noticed? Disrupt with 2x features at 1/2 the price with liberal freemium.
  • CEOs of startups must portray clarity in expectations. If your marching orders are wavering the whole org stalls and nothing moves forward.
  • When exemplary founders tryout a startup in a weak market, market wins and founders lose. Do broad and deep homework on market and idea.
  • All those startups who are going through spend analysis, try “zero-based budgeting”. You will re-allocate team and money where it matters.
  • Startups that don’t prioritize to recruit top talent after funding – guaranteed slow death. Invest at least 20% of your time in recruiting.
  • Before you raise, make sure market size is big. Do your homework. Do a mini MBA.
  • Startups, founders, cool office, title, product, engineering -> all commodity. Customer love, deep engagement, and revenue – what matters!
  • Framework based founders:
    – dig deep on future needs of customers
    – dig deep on current holes in competing products
    – dig in and replace
  • Experimental mindset founders:
    – go after growing green-field markets
    – less competition
    – enough time for proving
    – and build moats.
  • Only rule for management team building –  hire people better than you.

US Military Officials doing teamwork

  • Word-of-mouth: doesn’t work, when founders can’t describe their product in a simple, but, heart-touching way for others to parrot it.
  • Founders should write a simple narrative on what their product does, why it is needed, why now, and how they plan to win in the market.
  • Startups as they scale, must hire Chief Improvement Officer (CIO). CIOs who can push for speed of execution and communication. As startups scale, founders must spend time on sales and support calls as well as with individual contributors. Useful dose of reality.

Wrapping Up

Well, that is all for now. Somehow, I missed following him earlier on social media channels, but I would not miss the chance again and followed him immediately. Learn from my mistakes and do not waste a single second before following him as well. Here is his LinkedIn and Twitter profile.

So, what do you think about the lessons shared? Do you have any input to add to a particular lesson? I would love to hear your ideas and insights.

Featured image credit: Shekhar Kirani

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