View All Posts

What do I need to know if we're going to succeed as a company?

When you’re growing a startup, it’s crucial to learn where you excel and where you suck. A personal example of the latter is finance. I can logically and mathematically comprehend it all—I get it. But because it overwhelms me and I’m not as educated in this area as I could be, I knew I needed to bring someone in to advise both myself and the team.

I've known Tyrone Ross for quite some time and the first time we ever spoke was on the track of Metuchen High School. I was struggling with my hurdles and told me to essentially step back, take a few minutes, and then try again. Fast forward fifteen years later and he and I were speaking about his joining our team at Iris Health in this capacity, he immediately said, “What are five things I need to know if we’re going to succeed?”

This became arguably the greatest and most necessary Q&A I’ve ever answered as a compass for both myself and teams I’ve helped build. It gave me a different kind of clarity, and forced me to see the fears and lessons I’d had inside my head, but was unable to reference or articulate.

Success is different for everyone. Not every startup will be a unicorn, and not every product will or should be a startup. Some companies will become profitable within a year but never reach a billion dollars in ARR, while others will go on to IPO. You as a founder need to define what the success of the product, and in turn the company, looks like.

It’s not the perfect recipe, but it’s damn close, and the food tastes good. So I figured I’d share. Some answers are fleshed out so it's more clear versus what he and I discussed, but still very raw in terms of thought. I didn't change much for the sake of the post...

1. There is a 99% chance this will fail.

Even by doing all of these things and more, there’s no guarantee. Success in any industry is based on luck (under the pretense that you view luck in this case as hard work + opportunity colliding). A number of ingredients must come together—state of a market, the right PR, the right customers and connections, beautiful design and development, and most of all, a product that users want and need. These elements and more must all collide at the right time in order for it to be successful.

2. Move at an efficient speed.

By this I mean, move fast and only break things you can afford to fix. Even if you have millions in the bank, until you are profitable or IPO you don’t have the time or resources to fall very far behind on a recurring basis. Put checks and balances in place to catch faulty processes and ensure that even if you don't, you're able to adjust your sails accordingly to recover.

3. Know your strengths and weaknesses.

Where do you struggle as a leader or team? What are you really good at? We need to avoid pride clouding judgement, or holding us back. Find people from different backgrounds with different experiences and talents who will impact the product and team culture positively. Help mold them into leaders and great product folk, and let them do the same for you. A big part of this will be ensuring your personal life is sound; this is just as important as your work. I'm a big proponent of balance; work hard, use the restroom, get shit done. But everything, from travel to new hobbies, will enable you to bring more to the table. Plus, you’ll live longer. Bonus.

4. Build on top, not across.

Always have a true north that keeps you focused. You need to take a strong stance on the mission, and ensure the decisions you make build on top of that foundation. Building across for the sake of it, or because 2 out of 10,000 people have asked for a feature, will result in feature creep. A mission-driven company builds an opinionated product that creates character. People fall in love with and buy into character.

5. We must always remain an experience driven product.

  • People over profit. Don’t sacrifice customer experience to collect revenue.
  • Do not focus more on technology or design or sales.
  • No silos in the organization means no silo in the experience.

Everything must align; from the voice of the brand, the typography you choose, how fast it solves the problem and how clear the copy is for everyone reading.

Again, these are by no means the startup commandments, but these have served all of the teams I’ve worked on quite well. Each founder’s journey is different; the wants, needs and missions are different, and the things that fuel us stem much further back than the small fraction of the time in our lives we spend here in business. The lessons we learn, in turn, are all byproducts of the successes and failures before that.

If you had to pick though, what would you say your Top 5 that are necessary to what you deem success? You can find me on Twitter @imcatnoone talking shop.

And if you want to get my posts on design, startups, product building, and more in your inbox, sign up for my newsletter. I don't spam, or I'd delete me, too.