3 Tips to Early Stage Startup Execution

We like founders that execute (guess what JFDI stands for), and I really enjoy working with teams that get sh*t done.

Yesterday, I was talking to Tomas Laboutka of HotelQuickly (he’s a mentor at JFDI), and he also obsessed over the importance of getting stuff done—which would build momentum.

From talking to successful entrepreneurs like Tomas, through my own experience, and seeing JFDI’s founders achieving their near-term goals, there are 3 main ways to organize a startup so you can also become an execution machine, and I offer anecdotal examples and tools to help you do just that.

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 1. Set Clear Objective

Founders often get bombarded with tasks and things to do. While keeping a laundry list of tasks can help you finish all your to-do’s, a list does not help you prioritize.

Recently, I have the pleasure working with a few teams I got to know personally. Aron and Dipankar from Klipper.io are extremely diligent and en pointe with their execution. They are always on time—despite missing hours of sleep to overnight hacking.

I have been working with them just over a few weeks, mainly helping set short-term objectives. One thing we obsessed over was to set up ways to measure progress (check out this tool we use, called OKR).

Before I started working with them there were a lot of signal vs noise problems. Aron told me right before we started working together, that his uptmost concern was to uncover “unique value proposition and narrowing down our customer set.” The conundrum he faced was: his customer segment and the customers’ problem were both “moving targets,” and he didn’t know how to go about tackling this Catch-22.

Together we used OKR to plan accordingly and set out weekly goals—at least this way we were all clear in mind what was the most important priority. We then supplemented the OKR with other tools, which I will share in the rest of this blog post.

Try out OKR yourself.

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 2. Be Ruthless & Always Curious

I got to know Sid and Archit from Stumply recently, too. They are the epitome of scrappy entrepreneurs; it’s always a joy to talk to them.

They work out of Starbucks in order to meet their potential customers, and are always looking out for feedback. Recently, they were hacking on their Early Adopter Persona (here are some tools), and absolutely nailed it with over 29 interviews in one week.

Sid and Archit could also bend—I commented on how they could do better in defining the behaviors of their early adopters—not just using facts and demographics to describe the personae. They completely got it right away because they had done the ground work, and were able to dig into their memory lane with notes that they took, to quickly formulate a clear behavioral persona based on the conversations they had with their potential customers.

The language and visualization we used were based on Steve Blank’s earlyvangelist (covered here & here), and Sid and Archit not only figured out what their Early Adopters looked like, they also found out where they hung out and how to reach them.

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 3. Think Outside the Box: Creativity Counts

Being able to corner your early adopters also take some creativity. There are so many teams competing with you for attention. Another team I got to know recently are Jay and Leon at BigSpoon.

SMB and F&B are two of the hardest markets to crack (in my opinion). These customers needed to be marketed to like consumers, but they have the sales cycle and bureaucracy of an enterprise. I knew this from working with one of JFDI’s startups, Skimbl.

This didn’t faze Jay or Leon. They figured out that the early adopters were restaurants owners in need of help. In a couple of days of following classified ads online and offline for “help wanted,” they were able to get in front of 5 of their early adopters in the restaurant space and had conversations with them.

Creativity does not just end there. Today, I just learned of a term at JFDI office: oDesk-Inception, coined by Khailee of 500Startups & Krish of Klinify.com, a JFDI alum. Part of a CEO’s job at an young startup is to find ways to hack the system—and Krish is leveraging oDesk as his new best friend in scaling himself.

Along the same lines, Justin Wilcox, a Lean mentor at JFDI, also shared how to use Mechanical Turk to scale Customer Development process.

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 In Summary

Working on early stage startup is extremely hard—this is why we run an accelerator program and share knowledge within a class of founders. I really value these types of anecdotal experiences that I gain from working so closely with the teams—that is why I seek out early stage founders to work with, even outside of the JFDI Accelerator capacity.

Try out these tools that I hyperlink in this blog post; we use these tools at JFDI during the accelerator program. A lot of the startup language and methodology link back to Steve Blank’s Customer Development. For a comprehensive free course on the topic, here is his Udacity online class.


3 Tips to Early Stage Startup Execution

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