Lightning Talk at Brisbane Software Developers Startup Community

Last week I did a lightning talk at the Brisbane Software Developers Startup Community meetup drawing on my experience from Techstars and One Model. I came up with 4 areas I wanted to cover and the following is the script I prepared.

Shared experiences

I think something that gets underestimated is the importance of being in a motivating environment with people you can relate to. I got a real boost when we started working out of the Techstars office, compared to before that when I was working from home by myself. The camaraderie we had in the Techstars cohort is something I missed when it finished and I came back to Brisbane. When I started to hire developers here, we worked out of the Gravity co-working space and that provided a similar environment.

Taking part in Techstars was a great experience. If you get the chance to take part in a startup accelerator I’d highly recommend it. On top of the advice and the kick start it will give your business, there is a benefit to being alongside other motivated founders who are on the same journey of starting a company. If you’re not interested in being in an accelerator I’d at least look at working out of a coworking space like Fishburners or RiverCityLabs. And hopefully this meetup can become a community.

Mentor Whiplash

Techstars is all about its network. Each company met with about 90 different mentors, within the first week and a half! There was a lot of back to back, speed dating style meetings. On top of that, and one of my favourite parts of the experience, every Wednesday night they’d have a founder story, and not just from other Techstars founders. I found it motivating to hear other’s journeys, and I enjoyed listening to the different approaches taken.

You end up getting a lot of ideas and advice, often quite conflicting. This can result indecision, and gets referred to as mentor whiplash.

I think this is pretty common, even without getting a lot of advice. All that needs to happen is someone suggests an approach different to you current path. There’s no real way to deal with this, ultimately you just have to internalise the advice and decide for yourself is it right or wrong for you.

Always be selling

Yeah, it’s a cliche, but it’s true. If you’re a solo founder, it’s going to seem obvious that you need to be selling your company. Where it is not so obvious is if you are part of a team. In that case you might think you can get away with focusing on building the product, probably a bit like I did originally. However you won’t.

You should always be thinking about selling. Even if you aren’t selling directly to customers you need to think about selling to investors and potential employees. This is an area I feel that we could do better in at One Model.

A couple of easy ways I think you can do this are:

  • Blogging about the company and the software being developed and challenges you’re overcoming.
  • Putting out open source software and building a community around that.

Another benefit to this is that if your startup doesn’t work out, you have created some collateral to help you get another job if required.

Also on the topic of sales, something else I think that makes developers uncomfortable is selling features that don’t exist yet. Unfortunately this is something has to be done, even just for the simple reason of getting market validation. You don’t want to build something and then start to try and sell it and find out it is entirely wrong. A way of phrasing this that resonated with me was “sell the future”.

Hire Slow Fire Fast

Finally the part I think I’ve found the hardest has been hiring. I do regret not having put effort into creating a company blog and presence so that we have a pipeline of candidates. I’m also a bit jealous of people that have consulted, or worked in a consulting firm and have a good network of fellow developers they can reach out to for candidates.

Without that, we’ve been relying on recruiters and it’s been a slow process to scale up the team. For the most part the developers I’ve hired have been excellent, but early on I did have to let one developer go. It was pretty obvious early on that they weren’t working out, not from a skills perspective, but from an attitude and work ethic. Unfortunately in startups I think you have to be a bit ruthless, you’re trying to be as effective as possible and as a founder you have enough to do without having to manage someone to get them to perform. I hadn’t fired anyone before and I was pretty nervous about doing it, but I feel it was the right move for the company and the the replacement we hired has been awesome.

Lightning Talk at Brisbane Software Developers Startup Community