Kick Starting a Company
— By Vasiliy Ivanov, CEO of KeepSolid.
“Startup” has been a popular word for years. Influenced by obsessive ideas spreading on the internet, and lacking clear understanding of business components, young guys clutch at their ideas and already consider themselves to be businessmen. How do you feel about this? Please share your opinion in the comments.
The pros of this approach that I see:
- It develops entrepreneurial thinking, lets you think in market-oriented categories. This is not my idea, but I fully agree with it – only people who have independently created their own business are able to teach others anything.
- Guys pay their dues without doing it at the expense of another company.
- Colleagues’ sense of responsibility increases – that is, if we are speaking about a start-up with purposeful participants, of course. There are not many participants in a typical startup team, but the amount of roles to be taken is quite large. Each member of the team has to assume the responsibilities of several roles. By the way, it is at this stage that future observant businessmen can determine with whom they want to go further, and who should leave.
- The freedom of action.
- Satisfaction with work. No employer can offer a better job than an entrepreneur to himself.
- Attempts to quit the current job for the sake of a startup lead to missed deadlines of the current employer.
- High chance of failure. Would you agree that not all can create a company just because not everyone has a certain set of qualities required for this? I do not mean that this set of qualities is better or worse than others, but it either is, or it is not. It’s like very few entrepreneurs are able to become, for example, surgeons.
- The threat of growth hindrance. When a novice entrepreneur creates his product, he performs many roles and begins to get used to it. In addition, he begins to get used to the constant feel of self-righteousness, and this prevents from recruiting employees who strengthen the company or the entrepreneur himself.
- Social and professional responsibility. Often I am unable to explain others how much responsibility I feel when taking daily decisions. Now the company employs over 100 people. It is efficiently 100 families, each of which is partially or completely financed by a family member working in KeepSolid. Sometimes it is not easy to make a choice when you understand the consequences.
- Stability. I sometimes recall the times when I was a hired employee. Being very involved in the activities of the company where I worked, I was ready to dive headlong into any assigned tasks, but I knew that I do not have the burden of choosing tactics or strategy. Company’s tomorrow depended on me exactly as much as I could put my efforts into it. At the same time, I did not influence the market, did not choose where the company would turn tomorrow and did not know if it had a vision of its future. Now, waking up on a quiet, sunny morning, I start checking all the performance metrics of the company, view emails and other corporate communications to ensure the stability of the company and the absence of threats in the market.
- Time deficit. For several years now, I’ve dreamed of waking up in bed, turning on the TV, slowly gearing up, and going to have lunch with my wife in the cafe. In practice, everything happens a little differently. Of course, this situation is very wrong for the business owner and indicates the wrong delegation of tasks, but a start-up is a business that has not yet been well-established. You have to set everything up first and only then you can relax.
My start-up experience
KeepSolid is not my first attempt to create a project. I am glad that the circumstances turned out the way they did and I had the opportunity to experiment and achieve results. Whereas with some matters my opinion changed according to circumstances, I was always sure about one thing – I do not want to deal with investments. For me, the “startup-investor” relation reminds of people addicted to medicine pills (they do not cure a serious illness, but rather regularly use drugs at even a slight increase in blood pressure). The human body is a very tricky thing – it has been evolving for a long time and is used to adapt to external factors. If your body understands that it is constantly supported by doses of pills, vitamins, or other medications in response to the slightest deviation from the normal state, it ceases to cope with problems on its own and develops immunity no more. Indeed, why would it? Should anything happen, it will get a pill!
Starting your business from scratch, putting every cent in it (wisely or not), I received feedback from life in a natural way. Yes, it is difficult and very contrary to the mentality of many people, but I believe that before gaining privileges, I must invest myself. Once, when I could not pay for even a single employee, I coded all myself. Days and nights. Now I smile when I recall as I was sitting at the computer, looked up at the window and saw it was night, and once I looked up again – it was day already. It was my investment in the future of the company, which I do not regret about and which allows me to watch ironically at people who say that “working on public holidays is illegal!”.
As months passed, the company was developing dynamically. When there were over thirty employees, the first signs of management problems appeared. Approximately at this stage I noticed I don’t have enough time to daily communicate with all employees and solve problems only through communication. Coming from a technical background, for a long time I did not realize the importance of interpersonal relations. I did not understand how to choose people by personal qualities (by the way, why are they now called soft skills? Is it an attempt to hide behind a mysterious term?).
Finally, we found ourselves in a situation where there were so many of us that the lack of clearly described and presented processes led to a chaotic Brownian movement. Attempts to preserve and develop the company resembled a comedy with an awkward hero, who has everything falling down and, while he runs to keep one thing from falling, he is forced to let go and head for another that also begins to fall. An interesting period, after which you can proudly straighten your shoulders and boast of another milestone conquered.
At that stage, I understood the importance of the ethics recommended by L. Ron Hubbard and the company PERFORMIA: the best hiring for top positions of the company is internal hiring. This fact is confirmed by J. Collins in his books, for which he and a group of researchers spent many years collecting and analyzing data on famous companies. Indeed, every time we can close a position by raising a successful employee, we get a lot of advantages:
- The company confirms the possibility of career growth.
- A person who we already know comes to a higher position. We know what he is, and isn’t, capable of.
- Our employees know the values of the company and, acting in a new position, they will continue to share these values.
You can rightfully say: “No employee can replace a person with specialized experience and education”. Yes, it can be true, but! Successful activity in any position depends on two components: knowledge and personal qualities (allowing or not allowing a person to successfully cope with work). From these two components the former one – knowledge – is easier to adjust. Accordingly, we take personal qualities as a constant, which makes it more important when choosing a candidate for any position. And only if a candidate fits us by this metric, we take a look at his knowledge. We have many examples of career growth. The most common of them are:
- Testers with management potential become successful project managers.
- Customer support managers go to the sales or customer success.
- Programmers become team leads / tech leads.
The development of employees is not limited to these examples. I believe that any employee has the opportunity to grow both professionally and administratively. In this article I have already described how we see career growth in KeepSolid. Before changing positions, employees are trained and, if possible, for some time they learn from existing specialists.
When setting up processes in the company and creating new jobs, we try to stick to the most important hiring concept for a product company – we recruit people who will drive the company forward rather than wait until all the processes are described to be able to act strictly within the framework and reduce the level of responsibility to a minimum.
Recommendations before the start
If you feel the you are ready to start, go through these steps before you discard your current career and plunge into your entrepreneurship:
- Define the goal. Ask yourself very sincerely if you really want to create something for the benefit of humanity, or maybe your startup is just an attempt to satisfy personal ambitions. This determines the choice of behavior model and the consequences.
- Choose the segment of the market that you know. Do not cling to the popular or trendy areas without having experience or at least understanding of them.
- Describe the first steps (yours or your team’s, if you do not start on your own).
- Decide on the business model. The model depends on the means at your disposal, perhaps you will need investments or you will have to take a loan, or maybe you have wealthy friends or relatives.
- Determine the relationship with all colleagues and your investors. In the states of the former USSR, unlike the US, people are not used to negotiating in advance and discussing such things as a share in the business and parting conditions. For this, they even came up with adage “do not divide the hide of a bear that’s not dead yet”. That’s not right, as if you do not agree in advance on the responsibilities and benefits of each business participant, conflicts will begin as soon as the first incomes appear. It turns out that each of the partners started with their own goal in mind and thought that the others had the same goal. Each partner believes that he’s doing no less, or even more than others. But is he? You have to agree on that in advance.
- Analyze the competition.
- Prepare to be responsible for yourself, for all team members and for the consequences of your activities.
Barriers and results
The difficulties that I had to face became important stages of my career. Me and my partners covered a long path with many conflicts before we started to distinguish responsibilities and trust each other. We defined areas of influence, which allows employees to better understand who of us is responsible for which questions.
In its second year, the company fundamentally restructured the hiring procedure. Involvement and personal qualities came at the forefront in the evaluation of candidates. Candidates that have “I work only for the sake of money” all over their face became less likely to get to the interview at all. In addition, we refused to steal specialists, unlike most HR’s do. After all, when trying to entice someone else’s employee by an increase in salary and asking not to talk about the job change, companies develop a sense of impunity among specialists and eradicate responsibility among them. We give a cold shoulder to the specialists involved in such gray schemes – the way he came to the company, the same will he leave. Therefore, I am grateful to all HR’s, who in advance relieve us of such unscrupulous employees. Changes showed results immediately – the company quickly formed the core of specialists aimed at the result, which are offering worthy solutions rather than discussing the desperation of the problem.
Internal recruitment has become an obligatory and priority procedure in case of the emergence of new positions in the company. At first glance, this is more difficult than finding a suitable person from the outside, but the investment pays off as soon as the candidate gets used to the new role.
For a long time we ignored the need to describe self-explanatory processes in a clear form that each employee can look at and understand what he should do in a particular situation, what is his product and function. The same happened to the organizational chart of the company.
Choosing an office. In three years we changed three offices. Each of them was larger and more convenient than the previous one. The popular subject of dispute is open space vs. cabinets. I highly advocate for a limited space or cabinets, because one of the features of a product company is frequent discussions, and sometimes even heated disputes, regarding choosing the right solution in the development of the product, or the whole direction of the company. In such disputes, developers are discussing technical issues; marketers and sales are arguing about the choice of events and activities; managers make plans and distribute resources to achieve the goals of their units. In this mode, I think that the optimal size of rooms is 10-15 people.
The main task that I set before the company’s management is to establish the right work process with timely delegation of tasks, because I do not want to see the top management, having rolled up its sleeves, constantly performing its work independently and complaining about the lack of free time. I see a very negative consequence of such situation – being constantly engaged in performing tactical tasks, the leader does not have time to look around, assess the company’s position in the market, and adapt the strategy in a timely manner.
Now we have reached a new stage of development with more complex and ambitious goals. I believe that our team will succeed, and in the nearest future we have a lot of interesting news for you.
Do you have any experience at starting a company? Share it in the comments below, I will be happy to read them!