July 11, 2012
1. Seven days thou shalt labor, and do all thy work, for the startup life knows no sabbath.
That includes holy days. All-night coding sessions, missed meals, and triple espressos are the order of the day.
2. Thou shalt not torture thy customers with an endless beta.
To a customer, the “beta testing” label doesn’t mean much. If you keep making mistakes, and your buttons don’t work, and my password gets leaked, saying that you were “in beta” isn’t going to make me feel better – or stick around.
And waiting in line to get into a beta goes from curiosity to boredom pretty fast. “Too many startups are collecting emails (via a Launchrock page) for 3, 4, 5, or even 6 months, and by that time people lose interest,” says Ross Nochumowitz of BetaPunch.
3. Thou shalt not take thy competitors’ names in vain.
Badmouthing competitors sounds a little too much like gossip – and most customers aren’t interested. “We’re very careful: we don’t talk about competitors, we don’t slag them, we don’t throw them under the bus,” says Dave Olson, VP Community at HootSuite. The point is to focus on building a better product. “We don’t compete against people; we compete against ourselves,” he explains.
And I would also add: as a journalist, I always take entrepreneurs criticizing their competitors with about a dozen grains of salt, so trying to exaggerate their faults isn’t going to work.
4. Thou shalt practice humility, and not compare thyself to Mark Zuckerberg.
If you have to compare yourself to Mark Zuckerberg, you probably shouldn’t be compared to Mark Zuckerberg. Brian Wong, the 21-year-old founder of Kiip, complains about this phenomenon: “This is giving birth to a generation, unfortunately, of extremely cocky, ego-driven young entrepreneurs that think that just because they’re young, they should be paid attention to,” he says.
“I am my own person, I am my own class of entrepreneur, and I will build a company without anybody asking me how I built it compared to someone else. I’m going to build it my way.”
5. Thou shalt confess thy sins with true contrition – and then fix the problem.
Otherwise, your customers will be vengeful rather than forgiving masters. Social media has made business more and more transparent, so it’s hard to get away with apologies that don’t admit wrongdoing – “We are sorry if some were offended” – or apologies that skew the facts.
6. Honor thy investors, that their purse-strings may be loosened.
Zvi Band, the CEO of Contactually, recommends keeping in touch with current investors every 2 weeks, and potential investors every week.
And while you may not always follow investors’ advice, show some respect and actually take it seriously. Even if they didn’t create your startup, they are helping it grow.
7. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s acquisition.
Holding out your hopes for a $1 billion acquisition like Instagram’s is foolhardy, to say the least. And even profit-hungry investors don’t want to hear about your acquisition fantasies. “If you show me a slide as an early-stage company that mentions your exit opportunities, and in 3 years you’ll sell to Google for that return to me, I’ll just laugh at you – but the laughing means you’re dead,” says Jeff Clavier of SoftTechVC.
8. Thou shalt not steal thy startup’s contact list.
In a recent scandal, one of WakeMate’s cofounders used the startup’s email list and Twitter account to promote his new product, MiLife+, and raise funds on Indiegogo. He claimed it was affiliated with WakeMate, but the other cofounder didn’t know anything about it. Here’s the full story. The Indiegogo project was eventually taken down due to the drama.
9. Thou shalt kill thy startup if thy money is gone, and thy customers are few, and thy website is ugly.
Closing down a startup may be a painful process and an admission of failure, but it frees you up to move on to the next exciting thing. “You got a lot of good guys running companies that are not doing well, when they could be joining forces and building a lot more value,” says Mohan Belani, the founder of Asian tech blog e27. “I call it a zombie. People don’t want to kill themselves.”
10. Thou shalt practice generosity if thou becomest a gazillionaire.
Virtuous choices including being a mentor or investor, opening an accelerator, and donating pizzas to hungry entrepreneurs in your community.
And that’s the way to startup heaven.
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