7 Characteristics of Startups Built to Weather Any Storm
A company, like a house, can only be as strong as its foundation.
No matter how innovative and profitable your startup is, setbacks are always lurking. It could be out of your control, like a natural disaster, or it could be an internal problem that spirals beyond your control, such as a customer service hiccup that goes viral.
Regardless of the exact situation, your startup needs to be prepared to weather any storm. That may sound impossible, but it can be achieved by using these seven techniques.
1. Pick the right co-founder.
At the beginning, you might have to embark on the entrepreneurial journey on your own. But the solo journey often gets lonely and difficult. That loneliness -- and the fact that many argue that co-founders make ventures more successful -- makes bringing on a co-founder one of the best moves you can make.
Having a co-founder helps you balance your strengths and weaknesses, flesh out ideas and expand your network. They can also build you up, calm you down and step in when you’re not available. They might even help you secure funding because the presence of two engaged and committed founders proves to investors that you have a secure team.
Picking the right co-founder begins with knowing your priorities and what you’re willing to sacrifice. If working with someone who shares your values regarding family is important, don't bring on a co-founder who's open about his willingness to sacrifice all else for work. If your goal is to hire a diverse team, look for a partner who shares your perspective.
Make sure to also assess your strengths and weaknesses. This is where having a co-founder can come in especially handy -- a partner with a marketing background can make up for your utter hopelessness on social media; someone who is adept at numbers but struggles with writing will appreciate your ability to be a wordsmith. Seeking balance so you can successfully grow is important.
Decide what type of personal relationship you want to have. Some of this will depend on your personal communication styles and preferences; the rest may depend on your own boundaries and outside obligations.
Most importantly, don’t rush. It’s like getting married: You wouldn’t marry just anyone, right? They need to be the yin to your yang.
2. Win over your employees.
Your website crashes. Deadlines haven’t been met. There’s a PR crisis. Sounds like a chaotic workplace, right? In reality, your team maintains its composure, and morale is high. How can this be with all this stress surrounding your team?
You’ve won over your employees by being empathetic, showing interest and creating the right opportunities for your team members. Additionally, there’s frequent communication and plenty of support; you haven’t pitted employees against each other, and you’ve shown them your appreciation.
Does this mean you have to be popular? Not necessarily. Entrepreneurship isn’t a popularity contest. But doing the above shows that you deserve respect and that your team will stand by you -- calm, cool and collected -- during the severest of storms.
3. When the going gets tough, get resilient.
Even with the right co-founder and team by your side, it’s still your company. That means your team will turn to you for guidance and inspiration when times get tough. And the only way you’ll be able to achieve this is by knowing how to be resilient when life gets hard.
The first step is to recognize, acknowledge and accept the situation. Once you do, you can take action to resolve the problem. That will prevent you from making rash decisions; calmly evaluate the situation. This may sound counterproductive, but you may want to quit. Think of it this way: The best way to survive a hurricane is by making sure you aren't around when it hits. Take a step back to determine what you should stick with and what you should ditch.
Make the journey of getting through a hard time a game -- include stakes, challenges and rewards. This can be both motivating and distracting at a time when everyone needs a little help with both. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. However, you should also help others. It gives you meaning and opens the door to new opportunities.
4. Eliminate friction.
Step up to the conflict, and deal with the things that slow you down. Tapping into your empathetic side and remaining attentive to your team -- and your customers -- can also help eliminate friction. Ultimately, most conflict comes down to people feeling as if their needs aren’t being met or heard. If you spot this early on, you can address the issue before things erupt.
5. Be prepared to pivot.
Pivots are normal in the world of startups -- especially when starting out. Twitter, PayPal, YouTube, Starbucks, Groupon, Nintendo and Instagram are just a few examples of famous pivots.
While this doesn’t mean your business is going to fail, it does mean you need to be prepared. Focus on the key feature that sparked your passion in the first place: How could you add a new or innovative feature to your existing product or service? Could you expand your market by redefining your target audience?
Switching business models can help; adding subscriptions or creating a second revenue arm that ties into the first can reinvigorate a business. You can also re-examine your pricing structure and technology platforms. Perhaps your processes are slowing your team down and need some streamlining, or your prices may no longer be competitive in the marketplace. Upgrading your own model while staying aware of what others are doing is crucial.
6. Invest in Crisis Management 101.
Disasters are bound to happen. That’s why you need to be well-versed in crisis management. The first step is to develop a written disaster plan, containing specific actions to protect the people and assets involved.
This plan should also identify a spokesperson to ensure your startup is represented by one consistent voice. The spokesperson's role should be to remain as transparent as possible without damaging the company unnecessarily. He or she -- along with your executive team -- should also be responsible for making sure your customers, suppliers and other stakeholders don’t hear the news elsewhere first.
Keeping your team involved will secure their trust and eliminate whisperings. Update teammates often, and make sure your team stays on top of social media conversations and other press by putting a person in charge of alerts and mentions.
7. Never giving up.
Take a step back. Taking a quick break allows you to regain your focus and composure and recharge your batteries. This doesn’t mean disappearing for two weeks, but giving yourself 24 hours will clear your head.
After pausing, you want to surround yourself with supportive and resilient people, like your co-founder and loyal team. Don’t forget to remain positive and tap into your intrinsic motivation. When my startup failed, I relived past successes and focused on why I'd become an entrepreneur in the first place to spark new inspiration.
Storms are inevitable, particularly when you're establishing a company. By mastering these seven steps, you can give your team a fighting chance.
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