Three years ago I quit my last ‘real’ job and have been growing two different startups since. While I’m not a millionaire, I have learnt how to bootstrap a company from nothing to something. In fact, I've learnt that it takes much of the same ethos as making a great bowl of packet ramen.
Top Quality Ingredients
Just because you’re going ‘cheap’ on the ingredients, doesn’t mean you should lower your bar. If you shop around enough and believe in your soup then you will be able to find the right ones, rich in flavor & substance.
When it comes to the success of your soup, it has less to do with how great your idea was, and more with the quality of ingredients that you brought in. No matter how good your idea is, it's all about the execution. If you don’t have the right flavours on board, things are going to crumble when the going gets tough.
Balance is extremely important here too, you want to have an evenly balanced group whose strengths and weaknesses complement each other. This is true for skill sets as much as it is for personality types; having a broader range of personality types helps to balance the yin/yang of your culture.
Roles Not Titles
To bring out the most in your ingredients, they need to understand what flavors they are responsible for in the soup.
To bring out the most in your ingredients, it’s best to be clear about roles and responsibilities. A clear understanding of who is responsible for what flavor, means that despite the overlap of effort that is required in a small bowl, everyone can have ownership and be accountable.
From my experience — albeit young and naive— I’ve found that Titles foster a culture of politics and ladder climbing. Roles, on the other hand, stipulate ownership, responsibility and accountability –without the ego. People need to know who is responsible for what; they don’t need to know how many meaningless adjectives you can cram before the one word that signifies what you do.
The only other benefit that Titles play is making people feel important. This shouldn’t be neglected or thought of as insignificant. However, this can be achieved in a more effective manner with things such as ownership & responsibility, rather than fluffy synonyms for Special.
It's more than a bowl of noodles.
In reality, I think bootstrapping a company is one of the most challenging and borderline insane things one can attempt to do in your life. Ask anyone who has invested the 2–5 years it takes to get your company to ‘success’ and they will tell you that it was no walk in the park.
You are going to go through tough times and if your heart is not in it, you will begin to question why you keep doing this to yourself. Having passion doesn't make it easy, there will always be difficult times, but having a meaningful vision to focus on during those tough times, will help you make it out the other end alive.
Process Is King
Clear, simple and flexible processes mean that you can leverage more hands to make the soup.
If you are working in a small team, we can safely assume that you are pretty much always under-resourced. Simple processes that are readily documented can ensure that everyone understands how things get done in the kitchen. It also serves as a benchmark to indicate what progress and quality look like.
Unfortunately, small teams don’t have the luxury of single-role team members, everyone has to wear multiple hats. This can lead to a lot of confusion and loss of momentum if done incorrectly. Having clear processes in place and accessible to everyone, allows people to help out in other domains more effectively, as they can quickly understand how the work needs to be done.
That being said, taking process too far can do the opposite and reduce productivity. You should allow team members to iterate on the process and don’t stick to process at the price of long-term productivity or quality.
Embrace The Chaos
Eventually, everything is going to get messy.
Despite your well-intentioned processes and planning, there is going to be chaos and uncertainty. The best way to deal with it is to embrace it. If you try to pull in the opposite direction you will only be wasting your energy.
Embrace the fact that you don’t really know anything about the future. The more you plan into the future with an unproven product, the more you are going to be wrong. Plan far enough as to create clarity and direction for your team, but going any further is purely to satisfy your ego. When you embrace that you don’t know where your product will be in one years time, you stop gambling heavily on your biassed guesswork and are forced to listen to y0ur customers.
Embrace the fact that you can not, and should not, control everything that happens in the company. If you brought the right ingredients in to start with, you should trust them with as much authority and autonomy as possible, as to unleash their potential.
Enjoy The Meal
In the end, you are doing this because you choose to.
Despite the constant stress from trying to build a company that can support its team, it's important to remember that you are choosing to do this. As entrepreneurs, we would rather battle through the dark tunnel towards the light, than be working away day-in day-out on someone else's dream.
So don't wait until the bowl is empty. Enjoy the soup while it's right in front of you.