How do you organize and mould an organization that will forever live in a constant state of sustained innovation? Embracing, celebrating, and becoming one with the journey is probably the only way. Alvaro G. Velilla
Surround yourself with great people
One of the main challenges with Pulselocker was always finding the right talent and unless you have deep pockets, you will deal with a similar situation. We hired and had to let go 80% of the engineering team twice during the project’s first two years. Does it mean we were terrible at hiring? In part. But we also learned a few hard valuable lessons in the process.
First, a great candidate is not necessarily a rockstar, but somebody with great human values who feels personally invested in the project goal or the space. Second, as a golden rule, stay away from narcissists. They will make you lose valuable time and you will end up swimming in unnecessary cryptic documents and presentations, as the narcissist tries to convince you that the problem is you, not their dysfunctional behaviour.
Look for straightforward people who communicate plainly, love what they do, can sustain positivity for extended periods of time and can handle (and provide) constructive criticism. Third, hire agile people who can adapt quickly and If you can afford it, look for seasoned individuals. It’s all about trust. Creativity is a team sport. That goes for everybody, including founders, c-team, and advisors. That is why vertical (overly pyramidal) teams tend to be bad at executing projects.
I’ve had the opportunity to work and partner with exceptional companies and managers. The best of them were honest, upbeat yet balanced folks. Look for these attributes, and your team will thrive (and ship).
Think about the future early on
If you are lucky enough to find economic support for your project, you will be over the moon. Hires, incorporation, office space, strategy… espresso machine. It’s a lot to take in all at once, and it requires absolute focus. It’s tough to think about the future in the middle of the initial storm. Optimism is a potent tool that will serve you well along the way, but there is also a dark side to it.
In our particular case, during the early stages of the company, we made a few critical strategic decisions concerning the team and our infrastructure that, years later, harmed the organization by slowing us down (when we should have been running). At the time, we were not aware of the potential future consequences. They were simply a symptom of the generalized “yes” attitude that we had so that we could accomplish a lot with a small team.
Consider this: when making big decisions early on (such as critical infrastructure partners or other significant investments), always try to visualize the worst-case scenario to the best of your abilities and reverse engineer it to the present moment. If you are still unsure, look for help, talk to your advisors, industry friends, do some research, shop the project to different vendors, compare feedback, always sleep on it for a minute and remember, all that small print on the agreement is not for when things go great, but for when things go south. Pay attention to it.
Talk to everybody, embrace hate, and don’t burn bridges
With Pulselocker, I had to constantly push my limits and get out of my comfort zone. If you are doing a good job, that will also happen to you. Be friendly and down-to-earth. Practice your pitch and find a simple way to describe your opportunity in less than 20 secs. Identify the two most important industry conferences relevant to your product, fly in economy, Airbnb, or couch surf, and spend time approaching and connecting with folks.
In the current environment, everybody in the industry is receptive to new technology and start-ups, and you should have no issues securing a few meetings. After, follow up fast and be conscious about over-communicating and bothering people. Don’t email them again if they politely push back. Email again when you have something new to show. Don’t burn the relationship. Something helpful to remember about subscribers & press: haters will hate. Eventually, you will grow a (functional) thick skin.
Learn to read between the lines and understand what the hater is trying to articulate. What is the actual piece of feedback that you can distil? How can you use it to improve your business model or identify a possible emergent strategy? Lastly, as a founder, your contacts and relationships will be a big part of your future. Karma is the most potent force in the Universe. What goes around comes around (in one form or another). That is a fact.
Take shortcuts (at the beginning)
Our industry evolved tremendously over the last few years. Back in 2010 when we started our journey, many of the off-the-shelf peripheral B2B solutions available today did not exist. Suddenly, we were faced with the daunting task of learning, administering and building things we had not anticipated. One of the most precious things you will enjoy during the first 18 months of your project is the ability to put everybody in a room and act fast.
Use every dollar in the bank to go from zero to market-fit in the shortest amount of time. Mindful planning is critical. From very early on (as part of your business plan), try to visualize your critical differentiator. Why will customers “hire your product” instead of somebody else’? Once you identify it, focus on it.
After launching Pulselocker V.1 in 2012, we realized we needed a brand refresh and a more superior UI/X. We decided to fly to Berlin, one of the world’s design capitals, and hire a studio to help us ideate and launch a product that was initially far from our reach. It paid off (and we made a few lifetime friends).
Spend the bulk of your resources relentlessly trying to bring to life a stable, functional beta of your vision and outsource the rest as you sleep five hours a day for months obsessing about every detail. You will have to take care of the technical debt that you have accumulated and build in-house in the future. Your engineers will probably hate you. But that is a different story.
Enjoy the experience to the fullest
I’ll be honest, there are many possibilities that your project will fail. Even seasoned entrepreneurs typically don’t make it. The statistics are brutal; nine out of ten startups will die during the first two years. People compare it with climbing a mountain. For us, it was like crossing the Sahara desert, building a niche product during a time when nobody wanted to invest in music.
We were constantly standing behind closed doors as some of our idols (whom we had the opportunity to connect with) dismissed Pulselocker as a fantasy, an impossible technology or a damaging product for the Industry. How in heaven can you know if the initial strategy you are following is correct? Building the product becomes almost meditative. How do you organize and mould an organization that will forever live in a constant state of sustained innovation? Embracing, celebrating, and becoming one with the journey is probably the only way. Driving simply for the pleasure of driving and enjoying every minute of it.
Infuse your ideas, concepts, and products with love and dreams, be naive and ask dumb questions. Often innovation comes from the most humble and unexpected places. When faced with uncertainty, feeling rejected, or when things don’t pan out as expected, remember this: very few people can drive a vision from ideation to launch with honesty and character. There is greatness in you. You can achieve far more than you thought you could ever do. As Miles Davis once said, “…sometimes, it takes a long time to sound like yourself…”.
On that note, my final words are to never give up.
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