Each week, Startup Edition poses a single question to a group of bloggers from the startup community. This week’s question is “How do you turn your idea into a startup?” Karen’s answer? Don’t assume you can just hire a “sheryl” to do all the hard work.
by Karen Catlin
[dropcap bg=”#ba82e0″ color=”#ffffff”]A[/dropcap]few months ago, I introduced two of my friends to each other, both of whom are named Joe. Ever since, they’ve been working on a startup idea, doing the usual market research, talking with potential customers, designing wire frames, and so on. I caught up with the two Joe’s over lunch recently, and our conversation touched on a number of topics, including operational plans for their future company.
I was delighted they were already thinking of operations. It was in sharp contrast to something I heard from a prominent venture capitalist earlier this spring, who said there was a new phrase being used by the startup community: we’ll just hire a sheryl. That’s right: many early stage startups who VCs for funding have not yet figured out how to turn their idea into a successful business; they assume they’ll be able to hire someone as smart and capable as Sheryl Sandberg to do all the boring stuff, all the heavy lifting to make the company successful.
While I believe this VC meant this as a compliment to Ms. Sandberg that her first name has become a noun, synonymous with a critical role in a tech company, I took it as a sign of arrogance. Founders should never assume they can just hire someone to make their company successful. They’ll need to do more than just come up with the business idea, the prototype, and funding pitch; they’ll need to roll up their sleeves and do a lot of the grunt work. They’re going to have to scrub the proverbial toilets, and maybe even a real toilet or two.
What operational responsibilities should an early-stage startup team be thinking about? Depending on the product and the business model, the list might include:
- Business development: What partners are critical to the success of your product? Who is going to manage and nurture these relationships?
- Customer acquisition: Once your founding team has exhausted their list of contacts, how will you attract more customers? How much are you willing to pay for each one?
- Customer support: How will customers contact you when they have problems? Who will respond to them?
- Technology: How will you deploy your product? Will your initial implementation scale as you acquire new customers?
- Metrics: What are your key metrics for measuring the success of your product? Who will analyze and report on this data?
- Legal: What contracts will you need? Who will oversee the relationship with the law firm?
So, as you develop your initial product offering, make sure you know how you are going to be operationally effective. And your plan should not be “we’ll just hire a sheryl.”
NOTE: This post is part of Startup Edition, weekly wisdom from founders, hackers, and designers who answer a single question each week. Click here to see other answers to this week’s question: “How do you turn your idea into a startup?”