Startup life is hard.
So hard that my go-to answer when someone asks me whether or not I think they should start a company around an idea is don’t.
The folks that can’t be convinced are the ones that have a shot. These outliers will fight through the darkness, push through when progress looks impossible, and stay strong when all seems lost.
These are the people who succeed.
To you, folks. The fighters. The challengers. The round pegs in square holes. I want to give you one piece of advice.
Make it easier on yourself, figure out your story, and figure it out early.
Getting Everyone On The Same Page
Last week, I met with the teams from two different startups, and during both of the sessions, I had each group member submit answers to two questions. First, “What do you do, and who do you do it for?”.
The answers, from each person, in both meetings were different.
Not opposite ends of the world different, but with enough variety to confirm that every employee wasn’t swimming in the same direction and focused on solving the same longer-term issues and opportunities.
They were misaligned.
Misalignment leads to more grief than lousy code, a poor user experience, or crappy marketing every damn time.
It Seems Like It Should Be Easy
I’ve written previously about storytelling and aligning your mission around the why and the who rather than the what. Features and figures don’t move people. Stories and missions do.
Yet we see folks struggling with this over and over.
To tell a story, craft a mission that moves people, and get everyone in your organization on that same page. It takes work and commitment, and constant repetition to make it a part of your DNA and to have it influence day-to-day operations.
In a perfect world, we’d nail this all down before hiring and going heads down to build things, sadly we don’t live in an ideal world, and far too often, teams move right into the doing before nailing down their story.
To move your team / organization in the right direction, let me suggest the following;
1. Take an afternoon, an evening, or a weekend and think long and hard about all the ways that your product / platform / offering makes your customer successful / happier / better, now throw out everything on the list but the top two or three items.
Sidenote: if you’re not making your customers lives better, demonstrably better, rethink what you’re doing entirely.
2. Write a personal letter to those customers from you, as the founder, talking about why you decided to start your company / product / offering and how you see it growing and changing over the years. In this letter, do not “sell” anything.
3. Edit the list and the letter for clarity and cut down by half the amount of words you used.
4. Repeat #3.
Congrats, you now have the starting point in answering the why and the what of your organization.
Now talk to people. Customers to start, investors if you have them, friends if they’ll listen. Talk to these people like the flesh and blood human beings that they are. Again, don’t sell.
More precisely, work on telling them in a way that doesn’t have them tuning out or rolling their eyes. Watch and listen to how they respond, ask questions, take notes if you have to.
Repeat this repeatedly until you have a story that leaves people nodding and saying wow, even if what you’re selling is of zero interest to them personally.
Now take that, have a writer look at it and give it a once over. Don’t let them change the core. Instead, ask them to smooth out the edges and give it yet another edit for length.
Now take the front page of your website, along with your about page…and throw them out. Replace them with this story of why.
Gather all your employees together, tell them this same story. Tell them how you need their help to bring this vision to life. How only with their help and their contribution(s) can this all happen. Stay there until they have no more questions left to ask about what you’ve told them. Then tell them again.
None of this is easy, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated either. Not If you commit to doing it right and doing it early. Not when you put in the time. Not when you focus on solving the problems of others and not solving for your own needs.
You got this.
If ever you’re stuck, you drop me a line. I’ll be glad to ask some probing questions to get you back on track and to tell you how awesome you are for doing all this in the first place.
I’m @kmore on Twitter if you want to chat.