Sharing lessons as a start-up founder

A Founders Notebook

It’s been several years since I returned home to Sligo after many incredible years in New Zealand, to set up Frankli. As any founder would agree, it’s quite the adventure, full of challenges and changes but equally as energising and fulfilling. I took some time this week to reflect on everything I have learned so far on my start-up journey. I have selected a few of the essential points, in no particular order, and I share them in the hope they might be helpful to others thinking, starting or growing a business.

Hire Your Heroes

You can’t do it alone. Surround yourself with great people. I recall an announcement from one of the Intercom founders some time back that led with ‘Hire your heroes’. Those three words have become a personal mantra of mine when I think about building our team. We’re still young as a company but continuing to bring in and invest in great people is right up there for me. Why? Great teams are made up of many uniquely talented individuals woven together to deliver exceptional results. It is this coming together that sets your business apart. Great people are also attracted to great people, so there’s a growth strategy thrown in there too. 🙂

Be Humble

I see a lot of start-ups and founders come out of the traps racing and selling their early traction and growth. From my perspective, they are acting and talking like a big company way too early! I’m all in on ambition, but I think it’s crucial for that picture to reflect where you are actually at as a start-up. Selling an unrealistic image of this is not good news. Great people and early customers all pick up on this. We’re human, so be human. Tell an honest story and evolve.

Consistency

As a founding member of any business, people will look up to you and model behaviours. Consistency is something I care deeply about how I approach my role, my work and my colleagues. It’s doing the small things in a consistent way time and time again that allows you to gain respect from your peers. So as a leader of people, I try my damndest to be my best and most consistent self. Do the same for your customers and partners. Limit surprises.

Get Personal

I’m all in when it comes to letting my guard down. I’d like to think I’m an empathetic person and so sharing my feelings and tuning in to our people in a similar manner is very important. Getting personal binds people and teams together at a truly unique level. This is something inherent in us and something that makes for many magical moments and opportunities.

Long Term Thinking

You’ll get knocked, challenged and have your ideas and vision for your business pulled apart. Stay grounded, focused and believe in what you’re doing. One of the things I’ve found very useful is to think long term. People I’ve met with great ideas, tend to give up too soon. Envisage a world where what your building has a chance to evolve and have the impact you believe it can.

Fixate Over Finances

Time and time again I see early-stage founders outsource bookkeeping and accounting to the point that they don’t have an understanding of what it costs to run their business or how much money they have left in the bank. It is your responsibility to understand the numbers intimately. Cashflow is the lifeblood of any business. Knowing how much is in the bank keeps you honest and drives the right kind of focus and priorities.

Listen To Your Customers

Your early customers ensure you get paid. They play a crucial role in your business as they help shape your product priorities, iron out bugs and help you better understand the real-life scenarios and problems your product solves. Listen closely to them and show you care by iterating quickly on their valuable feedback.

Surround Yourself With The Right People

As an idea becomes a product and then the product turns into a business, you’ll likely have many great people helping you get there. People will likely be external to the company and internal in your team. Both are equally important. I found keeping the external advisors a small, focused group to be valuable. Everyone has an opinion, but you want advisors who bring context, are passionate about your endeavours and are good fun to be around. Early on, great advisors can really move the dial on progress.

When it comes to your immediate team internally, it’s your role to respect and to look out for them and reward their efforts fairly. I’m all for getting out of people’s way and letting them get on with it. Just remember in a start-up a lot can happen quickly; what your people started out enjoying can become quite stressful for them. Take note, intervene and figure out a better way forward that benefits everyone. If your people burn out, your business will likely follow close behind.

I hope you’ve found this piece useful and I’d love to hear your feedback or learn from other founders out there. Feel free to get in touch.

Let’s keep connected,
Noel