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Startup Guide

MVP Stage

Time to assemble a team, find a workspace, and design your system architecture. By the end of this stage, you’ll have a released product, ready to sell.

Read on

1. Setting OKRs

Now that you’ve put the pieces in place, you’re going to need to define proper leadership and methods of bringing about your goals as a company.

What are OKRs

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. OKRs are a goal-setting methodology that makes personal and team goals transparent for the whole organization while providing individual guidance. OKRs were first taken up by Intel and made famous by Google. Many high-growth companies use OKRs.

Why it’s important to set OKRs

  • Motivation of employees and management
  • Autonomy in decision-making
  • Understanding one’s place in the hierarchy and how each individual’s contributions hold up

OKRs create transparent goal systems for the whole company. Each key result needs to be measurable, which also means it can be scored at the end of a period - usually quarter. This creates an individual signpost/compass and helps with prioritization. Everybody knows their motivation and targets for the quarter and can find them in the company ledger.

Having OKRs set and agreed upon by everyone lends a great deal of autonomy, but also responsibility, to each individual. Anything that helps to achieve OKRs is on the right track (within company standards, codes of conduct, etc.). Anything that does not is usually deprioritized. This can be decided based on each individual’s level without the need of executive decisions from the top of the company.

What makes good OKRs

  • Maximum of 5 objectives, ideally 3
  • Max 5 key results per objective
  • KR must be measurable
  • Up to 60% of OKRs should be defined from your direct reports
  • They have to be aligned with the company strategy

How to communicate OKRs to the company

If you are just now starting with OKRs, first pick a small group of people (less than 10) to test them out on. Make the test public to the rest of the company so they know what’s coming. Typically, if you try to set OKRs for everybody and your organization has not done this before, you are likely to fail and not see the benefits. Gradual rollout in this situation is better. The benefits and methodology of OKRs should be communicated to everyone in a company-wide presentation.

2. Company Foundation

As a founder, company incorporation has two main targets. The first is your protection, and the second is defining ownership and roles.

Protection

Companies’ forms and their legal regulation can vary in different countries and jurisdictions, but all of them offer several versions with limited liability for the owners. Some examples are Ltd. or LLC companies, but also joint-stock companies. Limited liability means that if a startup fails or has financial problems, you will lose only your contributions to the company; no one should be able to touch your private property and wealth (though this doesn’t apply to every country’s laws). In general, there are very few situations when companies with unlimited liability offer benefits to the owners.

This point is important especially because it can be temptingly easy for founders to conclude contracts (suppliers, clients, financing etc.) in their name before the company is legally incorporated, with the intention to change them under the company in the future. This can be extremely risky and dangerous since the founder becomes personally responsible for the contract and has full liability.

Regarding the difference between Ltd. companies and stock companies: in general stock companies enable easier transactions with equity, voting etc., but on the other hand, they’re more demanding in terms of administration and legal compliance. Due to this, they are more appropriate for more mature and valuable companies, while a Ltd. is sufficient enough for the early stages.

Defining ownership

Defining ownership and conditions can be more complicated than it seems. The evolution of a startup can be very fast and dynamic. Co-founders and others you start the company with will very likely change after six months or a year. Also, the involvement and contributions of people might be of a different nature, and people may have different expectations. Due to these differences, it is necessary to clarify everything as soon as possible, preferably in the form of a contract. This is called a shareholders’ or co-founders’ agreement. This contract should include not only equity shares, but also vesting rules. That means it’s legally binding, that, for example, if one of the co-founders decides to leave the startup in its first year, he will lose his whole share, or part of his share will be passed to the others. It should also cover other situations, such as new co-founders entering the company or how you might get equity motivation, e.g., key employees, and how much. Other provisions are, for example, restrictions on sales of the share for some period and without prior approval of the other shareholders.

3. Putting Together a Team

When defining a dream team, you first need to look at the core team. Who are the people who founded the company? Who do you want to constitute the company later on? In the early stages, it’s very important who you pick; it will define your company. Put simply – A players hire A players, and B players hire C players. So be careful who you’re hiring for your team, even at the beginning when you might not have the most options. Consider what your company culture is already like at this point. How do they fit in? How will they contribute toward building the company culture you want to have?

Important positions

At a minimum, you will always need to cover these professions:

  • Product Management
  • UX and Graphic Design
  • Development
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Customer support

Moreover, have a look at the team as a whole. Is it homogeneous or does it constitute people with different personalities, backgrounds, and knowledge? The risk of having a team of people who think alike is that they will probably not have the capability to think outside the box and reach new creative solutions.

Usually, in startups, no one does just one job. Are you picking the people who are able to jump on an issue even if it’s not in their job description?

Four considerations when searching for candidates

Entrepreneur John Rampton lists the following:

They have experience in areas that other team members do not.

They can be vouched for—you know them or know someone who knows them.

They are able to start at a limited salary or for a stake in the startup.

They are fans of your product.

After you’ve answered all of these, you have a few options regarding the style of staff you'd like to have. Each has its pros and cons and will vary in different countries. The big question is whether to use employees or freelancers.

Employees

Hire employees if you are planning on keeping people in the company long-term or are forming the core of your team. Companies may feel more secure with a full-time committed employee because better relationships are forged and there's more guarantee the employee is involved in the company's own philosophy.

Freelancers

Get freelancers for jobs that are temporary in terms of time or skill needed for a particular project.Remote work has gotten increasingly popular in the last decade, and 34% of the American workforce is currently freelancing. Companies don’t have to provide benefits to freelancers, but issues can arise with deadlines and scheduling. Also, more people who become freelancers value the freedom of picking their project and people they want to work with. It will increasingly be the companies’ duty to find reasons and justifications for people to be bound to them in a traditional employer-employee manner.

The big differentiator will be interesting culture, cool office space, and the prospect to grow faster than they could by themselves.

In certain countries the difference is blurred or there is a tax benefit to one form of employment or the other. Please refer to your local tax and legal code for more information.

Outsourcing and recruitment agencies

As for outsourcing, it can be especially convenient to make use of talent outside your borders, but there is no guarantee you will get things done the way you want.

And when to use a recruitment agency? Ideally never. When you need a recruitment agency, it is already too late. In an ideal world, your company should be super interesting and everyone would want to work for you.

For smaller companies, the price of a recruiting agency can be prohibitive, therefore tapping your friends and family circle and your social media networks might be the best course of action.

Larger companies are accustomed to using recruitment agencies for staffing purposes as the plethora of skills required is hard to encompass in one HR department.

Recruitment agencies are a good match when you want to quickly staff up, like after a series A, or with rapid growth and enough cash flow to pay for the services.

However you find your people, after the candidate has passed your tests, you should do some form of post-hiring assessment. Creating a kind of structure for advancement from this criteria will also help motivate other team members in the future.

4. Recruit from a Developer's Perspective

Want to make your ads interesting enough to catch the attention of developers? I am a developer, and I do not respond to 19 out of 20 ads from recruiters. Programmers are a tough sell since the tech market determined the high value of this work. If the programmer is overwhelmed with bids, you need to find smarter ways to get their attention. I’ll tell you what would work for me.

Some initial things to look for

You can recognize a skilled developer by the large portfolio of apps or projects they’ve done, not only in previous jobs, but also in their own time. This is what distinguishes a skilled developer from a “normal” one. A skilled developer will have (among other things) the interest and enthusiasm to develop their own projects even when coming home from work late in the evening. Most of the time, these “hobby” projects are of a different type than the developer does in his work, so that proves he has a good overview of the large field of technology.

You don’t have to code to speak their language, but it helps

The best job posts are written by senior employees who understand what the job requires. Someone who won’t mistake Java with JavaScript should highlight why the work is interesting or what sweet new technologies the future team member will get to use. Working with uninteresting technologies can be detrimental for you. Unless you’re an unflexible corporation, you should follow new trends and implement the newest technologies. Otherwise, forget about getting a good programmer at an affordable salary. (At U+ we actually use a lean startup method to help such corporations get cool digital products out the door faster).

Show compelling work

One of the best motivations is when your product can help people, and the developer team identifies with it and feels it’s something they can put their heart into. But this may mean that a foodie developer might prefer to code a startup for sharing coffee cup lids instead of an information system for improving executive efficiency. But c’est la vie. We, developers, are fickle creatures with unique proclivities.

Occasionally, I see ads where big companies try to speak the language of the young and look cool. Then, after a young person gets seduced by said company (usually through the promise of much money), they force him to wear a tie, sit in a cubicle, and create tickets in SAP. The employee will eventually get burned out. But then he has that mortgage to pay each month, so he stays with it. Create a better motivation than just money or personal benefit. Show developers that you offer inspiring, rewarding work where they’ll improve the lives of others. You should communicate how big of an impact this job can have on society. It is good to try to show any benefits you can. Even though you might not be saving lives, you can help and influence big groups of people through your work.

Look in the right places

You can't usually find good programmers through public employment services or web ads. Capable developers are probably already employed and won’t bother to find a new job if they are already comfortable in their current position. If their employer pampers them, you are probably out of luck. But if you can find some underrated talent in a large corporation, you may have a future colleague on your hands.

Explore developer’s social communities

Courses, lectures, conferences, special Facebook groups, or referrals from colleagues and friends. Generally, it’s good recruitment if you are doing technology lectures to network with the developer community (this approach has proven to be very good). It is also a good idea to give rewards for recommending new colleagues. People like to work with their friends, so they will try to convince them to work for the company.

Academia

If you have a master's degree, you can be a thesis advisor or an external supervisor or directly negotiate with the university management for cooperation. However, you should choose the students carefully and making sure you get those who really like the work they are involved in and aren’t just in it for the degree. I understand that a recruiter cannot consult on a diploma thesis, but some of the programmers could. It can also be interesting to teach at the university a few hours a week. Approach capable students with job offers. Most of these students will feel honored for the opportunity and will be content working for a lower wage than an older professional. However, make sure you don’t exploit them like some "student companies" do because these students will eventually realize their own value.

Online

Everyone is on LinkedIn, however, if you find a talented person, it’s not a good idea to call them immediately and try to push them to make a decision or arrange a meeting with you. Capable people are contacted almost daily, possibly by over ten recruiters, five of whom write personal messages, and three of whom try to call them directly because they think what they have an offer you can’t refuse. Calling is too much, because you're disturbing people from their current activities. Also, developers tend to be rather shy.

Personalized text is transparently fake. Sometimes, an even bigger blunder can occur, if for example, you leave the wrong name in the greeting. One recruiter contacted my colleague with a great offer “just for him”, except she called him Peter, even though his name is actually Daniel. He answered her politely that he is not really interested and called her Matt. And that was that.

Another good idea is to pay for advertisements on specialized online magazines (like root.cz). These places are visited by developers because they read articles and contribute to a discussion boards on these servers. You can place your ad in a groups on Facebook, which focus on a particular language/framework/topic. But first check, if the group allows job ads to be posted there.

A slightly different option from the previous ones is if you’re knowledgeable, contribute to discussions on forums/reddit/stackoverflow and include a link to your jobs page in your profile description or post footer. If you contribute often with high quality content, people will look at your profile and visit your website.

Personal attention

You should do some legwork and check out profiles outside of LinkedIn. It takes a lot of time, but the results may be worth it. I was once approached by a recruiter who read an article about my trip to India on my blog and invited me to her favorite Indian restaurant (since I mentioned in the article a few times I’m a fan of Indian cuisine). Even though I wasn’t looking for a new job at that time, I met her, and we spent three hours talking about everything possible over lunch. This was a great demonstration of personal attention, and I really enjoyed it. Another company took me to a rock concert. Get creative.

What to engage

Money isn’t everything, but it’s important. Don’t save money on good employees, because it is they who can attract other capable colleagues. I know a lot of companies that invest a lot of money in beautiful offices, spend a lot on benefits, but whose employees are paid much worse than their equally experienced colleagues. Of course it is logical: their salaries are lower because of the benefits, but it’s not exactly the right approach. Offices should be good, developers should have peace and space for work, summers in the office should be experienced without sweaty armpits, but it doesn’t make sense to focus only on benefits. Many people will admit they’d rather have more money on their account than a “free” multisport card (after all, it’s not actually free).

Be upfront about your company’s drawbacks are and what you need help with. You should not hide anything because it will always come out later and the probation period is long enough to reveal it anyway (with freelance there is no probation period, but also no commitment). Honesty is really important, and a connection is created when, for example, a new employee can help you when you need to do good devstack and no one else can.

Show colleagues that your new employee can learn from. Competent people would rather join a company with other competent people and interesting colleagues. It’s even perhaps best if this person contacts the candidate personally and offers him/her to meet in a cafe and talk about their future cooperation. I know a lot of people who had meetings like that.

Keep it informal.

Feel free to invite the candidate for a coffee or beer, be friendly, speak casually, and be genuine. I personally think it’s good to try it at a neutral place. Offices are perhaps too formal, and personally I prefer to get to know people on more casual terms before visiting the workspace.

Perks

“Sick days”, “young dynamic collective”, “opportunity to participate in decisions”, and “competitive salary”, are things offered by every IT company or startup. And if not, they will still write it in their job offer. These buzzwords should be givens for your company, so it doesn’t make sense to mention them as an extra advantage. You have to think up something more unique about why your company is a special opportunity.

Mention interesting benefits that are not offered by every company, such as:

  • Flexibility and freedom in work and the possibility to work remotely.
  • Work-life balance. Show people that you will not keep them at work against their will. Don’t force them to work on weekends. If the deadline is really close, don’t be afraid to offer them a bigger salary if they work in their free time. In my opinion this works really great.
  • Sports and fitness. Do you offer yoga, climbing, or running? Mention these and invite a candidate to a session before hiring.
  • Games. Programmers have to procrastinate too, so it’s good to have some entertainment for them. This will also make people more excited about coming to the office.
  • Food. The old Romans knew well (as our current politicians do) that bread and circuses are a great way to gain popularity. It's not that different with programmers. Do you offer free fruit and breakfast in the office? In addition, you can encourage programmers to be at work earlier with periodic breakfast spreads.
  • Personal development. Participation in language courses, conferences, company cooking courses or anything else is a welcome benefit, definitely worth mentioning.
  • Team-building events. Do you organize trips, wine tastings, climbing, canoeing, or team buildings where you eat organic goat cheese on a scenic farm? Personally, I can’t resist such things.
  • Free hardware. If you’re cool enough to offer Macs or PCs to employees according to their preference, you should probably mention it.
  • Phone plan. Many companies still do not provide phone plans to their employees, which is a shame because a company is able to negotiate significantly better conditions than an individual, and it’s another perk that could keep employees in the company (at least in a place like the Czech Republic, where no one wants to look for better conditions in the overpriced market of Czech mobile operators).
  • Coffee equals code. It’s maybe a bit literal of a statement, but I believe it’s true. So, if you have a La Marzocco coffee machine and beans from Doubleshot, you should certainly be proud of it. Tea is terrific as well. You could get a tea subscription for your office or find a tea guru. A great example is one company that has a tea room right in their office and uses it as a place for recruitment at conferences.

5. Forming a Development Team or Hiring an External Agency

Technological agencies are a versatile tool to have in your toolbox. They can do a range of things, starting with creating a prototype in a matter of hours to taking care of all your technological needs so you can focus on what you’re best at. As with almost everything in the startup world, making a good decision depends on a sober analysis of your current situation and the resources that are available to you.

Dream team?

Today, having a highly professional and skilled development team is a fortune in itself. It gives your company many advantages and maybe just the competitive edge it needs. It saves you lots of money. You can take measures to ensure the product is quality and the whole development is more agile with fewer communication barriers. Unfortunately, though, those advantages come only if you already have a team that’s highly skilled, highly professional, and highly experienced. The establishment of a development team is actually the hardest part. Nowadays, finding great developers is harder than getting enough sleep, and you need great developers if you want to succeed in the startup world.

You need a lead developer

If you’re not the “tech guy”, you need someone who will be the tech guy for you. This person must have wide-ranging knowledge across multiple platforms (web frontend, backend, iOS, android, data science… whatever platform you’re planning to develop on) and be able to make the big engineering decisions. He should also be a good manager and even better teacher. In engineering, one technological decision can be the difference between finishing the product 6 months earlier and not finishing at all; that’s why it’s so important to have a great lead developer.

Do you already have your lead developer? Great! With years of practice in this crazy field, he has probably made lots of connections and should be able to recruit or at least recommend you senior developers. No recruiting agency can even get close to the results of a lead developer’s personal connections, plus, in the early stages of your startup, he can also take the role of a senior developer on one of the platforms.

You need a senior developer for each platform

First of all, let me debunk a common misconception. Two junior developers do not make up for one senior developer, not even three, not even five. A senior developer is much more than just a fast coder. Not having one will probably result in your startup throwing in the towel before finishing its MVP, and if you’re actually lucky enough to finish an MVP, it’ll be buggy, non-scalable, and prime for rewriting.

This may sound a bit scary, but don’t worry. Different outcomes can arise and there is a solution for all of them. You either:

Have a lead developer and senior developers for each platform and trust them.

Great, you’re in the sweet spot, and if you followed the tips outlined here, they are probably responsible professionals and ready to take care of what’s necessary. In this case, think of agencies as a complementary tool to your A-team. In a perfect world, this A-team should now be working on everything, but sometimes smaller things that need doing will pop up or something unexpected that needs immediate attention happens. So what do you do? Wait until your main product is finished? That could take months. Assign one of your engineers a different task for the next three days? That would only make him unfocused. Make somebody stay overtime? Tired and unhappy employees=bad quality.

Hire an agency

You can’t really afford wasting the precious time and expertise of your A-team. Consider these scenarios:

  • You need your landing page redesigned before meeting an investor later this week.
  • Your senior Android developer quit a month before release.
  • You’ve got a genius idea for a smaller app that would support your main product.

A great response to all of these scenarios would be to hire an agency. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Making sure critical parts of your app are delivered by people you trust the most is a great idea, but those people can’t do everything all the time, and it would be a pity to waste an opportunity because you didn’t have enough people at the time.

You have some of the people mentioned above, but are missing some.

That’s a tough one. You have qualified people you want to work with, but not enough of them. Trying to find key people might take months without the right connections, and nobody has that much free time on their hands. What you need to do is to focus on the platforms you can do right now and grow your team steadily. Consider this example:

You’re making a killer mobile app and you have your lead developer specialized in backend, one senior developer specialized in iOS (and a few junior developers to help them out), however, there is also this weird platform called Android, which is used by a significant portion of your userbase, but it’s been a month now, and you can’t find a suitable candidate to lead Android development. Should you?

a) Wait months until you find one

b) Bail on 30% of your potential customers

c) GIve up and get a job at McDonald’s

d) Hire an agency

Don’t get me wrong, the first thing you should do is start looking for great Android developers. Just don’t bet everything on finding one in the next month—not even mentioning the fact that you want to try out your developers before giving them the important task of laying the foundation stones of your app. Hire an agency to start working on the Android app, let your new Android developers collaborate with the agency when you find them and then just take after the agency when your new Android team has proven capable.

I can’t stress enough how much money and time this can save you.

You have neither the lead developer nor senior developers

This is okay as well. Focus on what you’re good at and outsource the technological part to somebody more experienced. Do some deep research into what agency would best suit your needs, and when you find the one you’re truly comfortable with, trust them to do their job.

This is literally what agencies are for and what they love doing most.

6. Setting Up a Corporate Culture - Four Basics

Establishing a company culture is a complex and long-term undertaking with many different factors. We boiled it down to the four most basic things you should do or think about when creating one.

Reflect

Who are you are as a team? What is your startup’s mission? What is the vision? (see earlier article on creating a Vision Statement). Why did you start doing what you’re doing in the first place? What is the ultimate goal?

Once you realize what your company’s vision, you need to make sure everyone in your company shares that vision and understands how their contributions fit into the whole picture—then you can start to be successful.

You may want to consider whether you have a common story. Of course your company has its own history, but forming an easy-to-understand narrative that can be simply explained, especially to new employees, really helps focus your company on its future.

Create a set of core values

The core values are almost like the rules or even laws a company operates by. A society can’t function without laws and neither can a company. When establishing your core values, make sure they are ones which can stand the test of time as your company’s philosophy.

Establishing a set of core values will help you in at least in three areas:

  • In the decision-making process
  • In educating clients and potential customers about what the company is about and clarifying the identity of the company
  • In recruiting and retention

Communicate and live it

While the founder and senior members might have an idealized picture of the company culture, it won’t automatically instill itself into the minds of employees. It needs to be actively reinforced through communication, and be present in multiple dimensions, including the very aesthetics of the office space.

While the company culture should be something that everyone more or less feels part of and comfortable with, there will be more senior members who are kinds of “brand ambassadors” for your philosophy.

Another view claims that 80% of your company is determined by the founder. Whatever the founder’s proclivities are, the company will tend to that direction, e.g. if the founder is aggressive, data-driven, design-oriented, etc.

Reassess

Once you’ve gone through each of these steps, don't think your job is done. It’s necessary to continually return to these points and reassess, especially when you’re growing and more people start to join the company. After all, the people you choose and the choices you make all contribute to the company culture. Make sure people understand not only the culture, but why your company exists in the first place. It all goes back to the first stages of conceiving of your company. If you can answer these fundamental questions, at any time, any day, then you’re still on the right track.

7. How to Give People Autonomy in Decision-Making and Having Innovative DNA

Everything starts with picking the right people for the job. You want to hire people who can self-manage and who continuously surprise you with their results.

If you don’t have such people, chances are you picked incorrectly. This article details some management perspectives. (And how do you pick the right people for your company? First read the Startup Guide article on putting together a team)

Freedom

Now let’s assume you have the right people. Do you like to be micromanaged? No. Nobody likes to be micromanaged. Don’t micromanage people. If you really picked the right people, and they continuously surprise you with their results and manage themselves in the face of ambiguity, just set checks and give them information to decide on for themselves.

If you both make the same decision from the same data, all is good. If not, then dig deeper and try to understand the differences in thinking. Every such interaction is an opportunity to improve a process to be more self-sufficient and consistent.

What if it is not working out?

Are you constantly reaching different conclusions? Has there been a drop in motivation over time? Innovative DNA is very fragile and can be dumbed down by demotivation and choosing B players for your team. When this happens it is important to part ways with that person to keep the culture intact and bring in new blood.

How to manage expectations with new hires?

When hiring for higher level positions, you can easily fall into the trap of them knowing your brand and being sold on your company. They slide through the interview process everybody is super happy and then reality hits. Things get messy; the last company they worked for had much better processes and this is not what they signed up for. Make sure that while choosing the right people for your quickly growing company, you are equally honest about the shortcomings as the fabulous wins—you will need to find people who are high level, but are also willing to share their knowledge with everybody else.

8. How to Find and Set Up Your Workplace

So you've grown, and your business is doing well, but you don’t have an office? Perhaps you’re starting to feel the need for more space? This is the good kind of a problem you want to have. So, what should you do?

The environment in which you work has an immense influence on how you feel and perform. It is not just the psychology of colors, but the design you choose, whether you work in an open space or a closed office, etc. It shapes your everyday thinking and mood to a large extent. Picking correctly will pay off many times in your increased productivity. Here are a few tips on how to go about creating an office space that helps you achieve what matters most—the success of your startup.

Individual offices, coworking spaces, and open offices

How will a coworking space influence the culture of your company and your business? There are various options when picking a space such as shared, coworking, subleased, or direct. Consider whether you are looking for a space with other like-minded startups or if you're already in a stage where your employees would benefit more from their own environment. While in the earlier stages, try out more shared office spaces and temporary arrangements because they have greater flexibility than full leases.

As a rule of thumb, solo founders and small (less than eight) teams should choose a coworking space to have the mental benefit of being surrounded by other hard-working people from other companies, which will outweigh the potential discomfort of being around unfamiliar people. Coworking spaces also provide basic services such as meeting rooms, printers, coffee, desks, and chairs. Those are investments you don’t need to make by yourself at the beginning of your company.

Moving to an individual office space will give you more privacy, but getting good real estate is hard, and suddenly all of the services you have taken for granted have to be provided by you, which further increases your costs. That being said, coworking spaces do not scale well to larger teams in terms of per-person cost. That’s why it makes sense to move your team out of a coworking space once it is larger than say ten people (given the economics of your area and pricing of the space). At this point the concern is how open your want your office to be.

Open workspaces have become rather standard in the corporate sphere; their advantages for the employer are obvious: pack as many people as possible into the smallest area possible to reduce cost. But are open workspaces also good for employees? Not always. It highly depends on the type of the team and the work people do.

In an open workspace, it is harder to concentrate. With so many people, even if they are respectful, it is hard to keep noise level low. A good thing is that everybody is within short reach and can communicate quickly. On the other hand, this may make it common practice to approach people whenever you have a question, which could disrupt their workflow.

A possible solution for both problems (noise and communication) is to have open space and smaller offices available together. People who need to communicate a lot can use the open space and those who need to concentrate on standalone discrete tasks can use the quiet office rooms.

Consider your culture

One of the most noticeable ways to reinforce the values and vision of your company is through the physical space and design. Aesthetics, not merely functionality, is important here. Communicating company culture through physical surroundings can be done quite simply and cheaply with well-chosen decorations to give a lighthearted, fun feeling for employees. Something simple like naming conference rooms can achieve this effect as well. Existing employees will feel comfortable and new or prospective employees will be attracted to the space.

Your office should have a modern feel. A comfortable desk and chair is without a doubt a must. But there are other things that can take your workspace from boring to cool.

People are playful creatures— so equip the office with some gadgets that they can play with, because nobody can focus on coding for eight hours straight without a break. For example, a 3D printer might be highly appreciated by some creative developers, while others might prefer to spend some time playing FIFA on Playstation or Xbox. Others will want to rest for a while on a comfortable sofa or fat boy bag after working on a hard task or sitting on a chair for a long time. Also, a little in-office fridge packed with drinks like Arizona, Monster, etc. will make the office a better place. These type of furnishings and amenities will contribute to a modern, casual, Silicon-Valley style office culture.

Do the math

This is part of your planning too, not entirely different from any other concern about the initial stages of your startup, so be sure not to underestimate how much time it will take to find the right space for you, since you will be at the mercy of fluctuations in the property market. Think about your future growth and how much space you’ll need when considering terms of leases, etc. The faster you grow, the more this can become an issue. You should time things so about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through your lease you are reaching the occupancy limit. You don’t want to find yourself trapped in a long-term, maybe five-year lease. It may benefit you to find a real estate agent who can alert you to the most flexible properties. Knowing your budget helps narrow the search. Just remember to always keep your company culture in mind.

9. Create an Identity

Everyone has something of a unique style which makes them identifiable. As they say, “clothes make the man.” So too does visual identity make a brand. Think about this while building your startup. Brand and visual identity should be united.

How to pick a name

Your startup’s name is crucial. Aside from a logo, it is the first thing that people will encounter and it will make the first impression. It must be short and memorable. It should also correspond, at least a little, to what your startup does.

What's in a name?

The name also should be unique so it can be easily searchable. You don’t want to choose a common word that will be hard to find through search engines. Also, consider if the domain name for your name is free. A good, memorable domain is a big advantage for your project. If it seems reasonable, you can combine the domain and it’s ending to form the name of your startup. A popular domain with an ending suitable for this purpose is the .io domain, which is used a lot by startups.

The name should also be easily pronounceable by native English speakers. Do not choose local names in your language if you intend your startup to go international.

  • Make sure it's easy to write and pronounce.
  • Try to translate it. (It might mean something inappropriate in other languages).
  • Define how you want to position yourself.
  • Register the unique domain name and sign up for a Web host. Although free Web hosts and portfolio sites are available, having your own domain name lends a bit of credibility to your business or online persona. Don't rely on only your social network page as your primary online profile. Having a domain name ensures that your place on the Web is secure, no matter what online trends come and go, and gives you higher credibility.
  • Let your domain name drive the search. Below are some tools you can utilize:

    • Wordoid - Pick a short and catchy name for your business
    • Naminum - The leading startup, company, and website name generator on the web
    • Domainr - Fast, free, domain name search, short URLs

Logos

  • Mood board

    • Before the whole design process of a logo or a website, meet over a moodboard, or create it yourself. It’s a set of all the artwork that inspires you or might contribute to the final logo design. In terms of colors, shapes, or overall design, it’s the goal of how your logo/site should look. Dozens of styles exist. It’s important that you and the designer are on the same page and compare moodboards with other websites, fonts, colors, pictures, or even architecture, industrial design etc., so you know each other’s vision for the project.
    • Know your target audience and research appropriate visual styles, e.g., you probably wouldn’t use graffiti for a kindergarten logo. Be prepared to answer questions such as: "If your brand was a person, how would that person look?"; “what feelings/emotions should be included?” The designer must know your business really well to prepare a suitable brand.
  • Simplicity is the key

    • Make the appearance understandable, easy to discern, and simple, however it shouldn’t be too vivid or too visible.
  • Logo = A symbol, something that will represent your brand. Logotype = A typographical logo, made only by text and possibly some twist inside the text, without a proper symbol. Unless you’re Nike, you should be okay with using a logotype.
  • Brand Manual vs. logo manual

    • Logo manual is the basic manual you will need – it needs to define colors, fonts, shape, and the construction of a logo. It also defines the rules of how to place the logo somewhere, with safe zone around the logo, minimum size etc. It’s a technical document of how to treat a logo and how it’s made.
    • Brand manual is an extension of a logo manual, where all of the brand materials are defined, such as business cards, letterheads, posters, stickers and anything you want. The purpose of a brand manual is to have all your brand needs in one place and you will no longer need a designer to maintain your brand, you should have everything in there and just change the contents yourself, or at the printing house.
  • Style tiles

    • If a designer is preparing you website design, always get a style tile from him. It’s a definition of all elements used in the design, so you can build your own pages in the future, and they’ll still be consistent with the rest of the design. It defines used fonts and sizes (like H1, H2 etc.), buttons in all stages (hover, click, default), forms, colors, spacings, etc. It’s like a Lego kit you can build a new page from.

Colors

Even changing the saturation or hue of a color can make a big difference in the mood of your design. Plus, colors mean different things in different contexts and countries.

Claim

  • The main claim is about emotions. Don't put: “We are digital product development company and tech investor.” You can use it as an explanatory subtitle, but the main claim is supposed to trigger emotions and be somewhat memorable. Make them intrigued and interested to find out more. Examples: “Launching ideas into reality.” “It's time to tame the chaos of your payroll!” “Make your work a thrilling experience.” “We make your employees happier than ever!” “Where Work Happens” (Slack).
  • Painkiller vs. vitamin vs. candy. There’s a pretty popular school of thought that suggests the best slogans should tap into a potential user’s pain. If not, then even if your product is selling something very useful, it might only be viewed as a vitamin, meaning it doesn’t address acute frustrations. Finally, you might be selling something totally addictive, but which is mostly a diversion—thus, candy.

10. How to Write an Apt Claim

Exhibit A:

Mozart is the greatest composer of all. Beethoven created his music, but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it—that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed.

—Albert Einstein

This may seem an odd quote to start with, but if one is permitted a bit of mixing of high and low, I believe a palpable parallel exists. And now Exhibit B:

You cannot create demand. You can only channel demand. Demand is there. Demand is enormous. The bigger the demand, the better your ad is. You are getting in a boat and letting the stream carry you. Just don’t think that you can paddle up against the stream.

—Eugene Schwartz

Copywriting is an art

Is it really so bizarre that arguably the greatest and most influential composer of all time would share a method with the most pioneering adman of the 20th century? Odd that Mozart and Schwartz both found a way to direct the flow of human passion, be it in expression or consumption?

If human beings are creatures of desire and demand, then perhaps there’s a lesson here: great ad copy is not hammered into shape, but pulled as a set of patterns from the already existing flow of demand. This doesn’t make it easy. Not everyone is Mozart. Schwartz himself admitted there were many more innately ingenious copywriters than him. But what he and you can arm yourself with is knowledge about the product.

According to Schwartz, (though it's head-slapping unimpeachable), when writing an individual claim, you have to know as much about the product as humanly possible. For a quick demonstration of the difference between how a bit of research can distinguish lazy boilerplate and slightly less lazy copy, see this succinct article.

This can be furthered by also saying that you have to know as much about the market as possible. Different products ride on top of different streams of desire and demand of a different strength and kind. You have to know what you’re dealing with.

Channeling desire

The startup world updates Schwartz with its own tripartite analogy, but at bottom, it’s the same shtick. Candy vs. vitamin vs. painkiller. These are different kinds of products for different kinds of markets and draw different types of claims. The claim can dictate which your product is. Especially in untested markets, revolutionary products can go from novelties to life-support systems. When channeling pain in a claim, think about the headache-inducing whatever that your product can solve. Then, crucially, don’t just highlight the pain—that won’t lead anywhere— but incorporate the remedy (what you offer) into the claim. Is that a lot to pack into a few words? You bet. It’s going to take some iterating to land on the right claim. But first, you must correctly identify your own product. Again, getting to know the product as much as possible is everything (especially if you’re a hired copywriter and not just the CEO writing the claim yourself). For example, the true tragedy would be having a painkiller on your hands and only marketing it as a candy. The candy of course is addiction, inability to be sated. Perhaps the strongest products actually come from a mixing of these three comestibles. SF venture capitalist Kevin Fong claims an addictive painkiller is the ideal product. Again, your product might be an addictive painkiller, but it’s the great responsibility of the copywriter to forge its identity as such.

CTA

It used to be whole ads, now it’s whole webpages. In the past it was called “direct response advertising”; mail something in, etc. In today’s webpages, if people see the claim on the top and click through the rest, you’re onto something good. A good CTA (call to action) piques curiosity and anticipation and should be more fully considered in the wholistic construction of a landing page along with the claim/slogan and other layout. After all, the admen of yesteryear were limited: they had to get your out the door and to a store or a mailbox with their writing and would’ve killed to be able to put clickable links in their newspaper ads. However, back then people weren’t as deluged with so much information and ads every day, so getting your attention was easier.

The right words

Your slogan should be short and sweet. General and descriptive. Specific but encompassing. The more expansive your company, the more difficult it will be to write an apt claim. One fears the reduction to or heightened focus on a single aspect of the whole company when given the strictures of only a handful of words. If you’re building your startup from the ground up, you maybe won’t have a designated copywriter on your team when creating the first landing pages. Until you go through this process yourself, feel free to laugh at any company’s dumb slogan, but after attempting it yourself—and being brutally honest with whether the words you’ve selected actually fit and actually enhance and sell what you’ve got—then you simply cannot appreciate the Rubik’s cube quality of wrangling one of these haikus out of the ether of unborn slogans.

Levels of market sophistication

Just as books and movies are targeted to certain audiences, when writing a claim you need to consider how much your audience knows; which products have come before. Incorrectly identifying your startup’s market can lead to failure. Have they heard it all before and do they need to really have their paradigm shaken up? Or is your product so new that the market doesn’t even exist yet? How much do you need to “educate” your future user base? This will likely be something you tweak and re-address along the path to building a startup, but this knowledge goes back to the fundamentals of your product brainstorming.

11. UX

UX is basically the most important process while developing a product. It will help you know your target audience and define your product. If done smartly, it can also help you avoid future mistakes and pitfalls.

How to begin

When starting a digital company, or creating a product in general, you should begin by understanding its different aspects. Here is some of what you need to know:

  • Why you’re doing it
  • Who it’s for
  • The desired result
  • How to track it
  • How to know it’s successful
  • Who the future customers are
  • How customers find their way to your product

For more information on defining your startup, see our “Idea Validation and Prototyping” article.

What, why, for whom?

You should check available analytics, heatmaps, and customer behaviors. By analyzing current statuses and pain points you can then start to shape the basic architecture of what the product or brand should include. It’s important to create a screen flow (how things are connected) before making the design, to have a basic general overview of the whole project. Creating personas of model users and mapping their journeys through the product is also key.

From these previous steps you can start to draw the first sketches and wireframes.

Give shape to your idea, discuss the basic structure, layout, and contents with your team. Do many quick iterations to get the final structures and wireframes so the graphic design can begin.

Design

When you start the graphic design phase, it shouldn’t be something random based on your taste. With the previous knowledge gathered, you should have a solid idea of what you’re doing and for who it’s for.

Style guides and mood boards are key to compiling a bank of references and inspirations. Creating clickable prototypes is very important so you can feel the product for real. You have to validate your results and collect real user data before and after the product is launched. Even after testing, reality will indicate changes and features that should be tweaked, so you should always iterate the product.

12. Choosing Technologies

Choosing a technology is like choosing a car. You have to consider how fast you want to go, how far, how many people you want to take with you, and how much luggage you’ll take with you. Also, how big your budget is.

Choosing the infrastructure

There are two options to go with: cloud or dedicated server.

Dedicated server

This is a physical server that you purchase or rent, and run in a server house or in your own environment. This solution is usually used by large companies where you can have specific requirements on data security and data geolocation.

Cloud

Instead of purchasing dedicated servers, you can purchase a cloud server where you don’t pay for the hardware itself, but pay for a virtual environment and usually just get billed for the actual usage of the servers.

Which one should you choose?

  • Assuming you are not a large corporation, we suggest using cloud servers for these reasons:

    • Quick access to additional resources if needed
  • Adding more memory and computing power is usually just a matter of a few clicks
  • Auto-scaling
  • High security standards provided by the cloud providers
  • Lower maintenance costs
  • Cloud providers usually provide a larger set of managed services like databases, messaging, auth, queues, etc.

    • Saves implementation costs
    • Lower maintenance requirements

But always check the SLA of the provider especially related to the:

  • Availability

    • Usually 99.99% per month
    • It means that the server can be down ~4mins a month
  • Pricing. It’s usually based on

    • CPU usage
    • Data transfer
  • Geographical location of the data

Recommended providers:

  • Amazon AWS

Choosing the programming language

Basically any language can be used. At a high level, they all do the same things, but the real question is about the community around the language and what that community can provide. Building an MVP usually requires rapid development, which can be supported by your chosen language in the following ways:

Available resources

  • Some languages are more popular than others and the cost of developers can be different
  • Different countries= different resources

Available open source libraries and frameworks

Active community

  • Support

Active development of the language itself

  • Performance and security updates Based on these points, the most common backend languages are:
  • PHP
  • Python
  • Java
  • Node.js
  • .net
  • Ruby

Choose your backend technologies according to the size of your startup/project. Do not choose obscure technologies or frameworks that will cause you trouble finding people. Some very good, popular, and proven frameworks for mid-sized projects are Django and Ruby on Rails. Both have been vetted by large companies.

If you need something smaller but specialized, for example, real-time responses, use lighter event-driven frameworks that can communicate through websockets, like aiohttp.

Choosing one of these languages is ultimately only a matter of available resources. They all have active communities, with large, open-source frameworks that can save a lot of resources in any stage of development. Always keep in mind to use the latest stable version of the chosen technology and don’t forget to check the license of any open-source code before using it. https://choosealicense.com/

Frontend development for web

Choosing the frontend technology is not about the language itself, because for web technologies you always go with HTML/CSS and Javascript. The question is more about choosing the right framework, which really depends on specific needs.

Technologies evolve quickly, so these suggested frameworks are probably already outdated, nevertheless:

  • HTML/CSS

    • Bootstrap
    • recommended for responsive web pages
  • Javascript

    • ReactJS
    • recommended for pages with dynamic content

Mobile development

Most applications are developed for the two most common platforms: Android and iOS. Here we suggest using a Hybrid framework. What does that mean? Usually, when developing mobile apps, you need a different developer for Android and iOS because the platforms use different technologies. This basically means twice the amount of resources are needed to develop the app. But there’s usually a clever way to solve this issue with Hybrid frameworks: with these frameworks you can have a single code base for both platforms, so you don’t have to use as many resources. We recommend going with the React Native hybrid framework.

Tools to support development

Here’s a list of tools and processes you should pay attention to because they can save time and improve the overall performance of the development team:

  • Jira

    • An issue-tracking and project-management tool
    • The biggest advantage here is the integration with source code versioning services like bitbucket to automatically track the workflow
    • Continuous integration and automated testing
    • Choosing the right tools is just a matter of supported features and pricing

Open-source libraries

Nightmare or life-saver? It can be either. There are a lot of good quality libraries that can save you a lot of time. To choose the right ones, follow these simple rules:

  • Always check how active the development community is

    • Check the recent changes in the code
    • Check the number of downloads and stars on Github
  • If possible, go with a stable version of the library

    • Always check if the license is compliant with your requirements

12. Designing the System Architecture

Before you develop the project, you have to think about what which tools and technologies you’re going to use. It always helps to write it down and think twice. Reworking something which is already done in this stage can be very pricey.

Architecture

The monolithic and service-oriented approaches are the two most common design patterns that developers usually choose.

Monolithic

This means the software is developed as a single application, with a single codebase.

Service-oriented

The software is split into multiple components/services/applications. Each one can be written using different technologies which communicate with each other using APIs.

Which one should I choose?

Both have pros and cons. With service-oriented design, you will end up with code that is :

  • Easy to manage the codebase
  • Easier to scale

    • You don’t have to scale the whole system, you can scale only the services that are problematic
  • Easier to deploy

    • The services are independent
  • Services can be reused in different applications

On the other hand the monolithic option is:

  • Cheaper at the early stages of a project or for the MVP phase
  • A faster application because it does not include communication overhead between the separated services

It can’t be definitively stated that one option is better than the other, but if you’re looking for an architectural approach to you startup, which you want to grow and maintain, we would suggest using service-oriented architecture because monolithic brings these disadvantages:

  • Long-term maintenance is usually hard because of the complexity of the monolithic component
  • It is difficult to replace some functional parts with new ones, because it’s hardcoded within the project
  • It’s harder to scale such a project for higher demands

BUT, you always have to be very careful how you choose to split the application, as it can be easily “overengineered,” adding useless complexity. There’s no easy rule to go on, but at least follow these steps:

  • Having too many services can be counterproductive, so keep the number of services low
  • Don’t forget the communication overhead between services
  • Keep the services completely isolated from each other. It’s usually bad design if you need to share codebase between the services.

3rd party services

Yes. Use them! Using managed 3rd party services can save a lot of time and even money and it lowers the amount of resources you need for development and maintenance. In any case, always be careful and do the following:

  • Carefully estimate your usage and traffic because it’s usually related to the pricing
  • Check the SLA they offer

    • (Including security policies so you can be compliant with GDPR etc.)
  • Check the credibility of the services because your business will depend on them and replacing such service means more investment

14. Development

It is happening! You are finally developing your product! Congratulations! It is now imperative that you follow the development process exactly.

IT project-management tools

It is necessary to choose a tool that’s ready for software development. From the developer’s perspective, it should at least support the following features, which can save a lot of time for both developers and managers:

  • GIT(or any other version control system) integration
  • Workflow support

    • Based on the events from integrated GIT

You can also find many tools when you google “issue-tracking software.” Based on our experience, we suggest using Atlassian's Jira because it’s very feature-rich and supports high customization if anything is needed.

Development process

There is no way to describe the optimal development process. This really depends on the size of the team, given technology, product, given timeline, given budget, etc. However, there are at least a few major best practices in development that should always be included or used.

Where to store code and version control

When dealing with code, you should use a VCS (version control system) and most people use a CVS (concurrent version system). This allows developers to work concurrently on the code and handle cooperation flawlessly. You can easily switch back and forth between different versions of source code. A popular CVS is Git, which was written by Linus Torvalds, who built it for the Linux Kernel project. It’s designed to be quick and manage large codebases effortlessly. It was also popularized by services like Github, Gitlab, or Bitbucket. Git is the most popular CVS today, so it’s definitely a good way to go when considering where to store your code. We recommend using Git for these reasons:

  • Almost any issue-tracking tool supports Git integration
  • It has all the features needed for correct workflow
  • here a lot of cloud services offering Git hosting:

    • Bitbucket
    • Github

The bigger question than which CVS to use, is whether to use a managed service, or take care of the infrastructure on your own. For smaller, less critical projects, you can use services like Github or Gitlab. For larger projects, it might be wise to save the code on your dedicated servers. A Gitlab project, for example, offers the opportunity to use it on your own server. The disadvantage of this approach is that you need to manage the machine, but advantage is that you have full control over the system which might be required if you have sensitive code or proprietary code that you don’t want anybody to read and misuse.

Testing

There are two ways to test your application

  • Manual
  • Automatic

And both should always be included! Developers usually try to avoid writing automated tests due to lack of time, but that doesn’t make any sense. The truth is that no code is bug-free even if you have the best possible developers. Writing automated tests can consume more time in the early stages of the project, but in the long run, saves hundreds of hours. It helps the developers ensure that their changes don’t break anything in the existing code and prevents publishing code that won’t work correctly.

Code reviews

This is the best practice for involving more developers into the development of each feature to ensure:

  • The coding style follows your team’s standard
  • The code is written with best practices in mind
  • The code is understandable by others
  • The code doesn’t have obvious bugs

More than just one person understands the code, so changes can be made if needed

In general, this means that the code is checked by at least one other developer before it’s included in the main code base. This workflow can be easily implemented using GIT and best practices as covered in this article http://nvie.com/posts/a-successful-git-branching-model/

Deployment and continuous integration

Deployment always has to be automated. Deployment usually consists of many steps that need to be done in a given order, and to avoid any mistakes it should be automated and done using a single command. Using the right tool depends on the technology that is chosen.

Continuous integration helps with the integration of changes into the code. It can do a lot of useful things, but at least you should make sure it:

  • Automatically checks for any changes in the code
  • Runs the automated tests
  • Deploys on the changes in the test server

You can choose between a lot of tools and services to implement CI and they all support the basic features mentioned above. We would suggest using one of these:

  • Jenkins

    • If you want to run the CI on your server
  • TravisCI or CircleCI

    • If you want to use a CI server as a Sass

15. How and Why to Do User Testing

User testing is the necessary green light for every project to have a usable product and a satisfied client.

Nowadays there are a lot of companies that try to make apps to make life easier. The difference is that not all of these companies deliver good digital products that are actually useful for end users. This can be caused by several factors, but an important one is that skipping user testing may deliver a product that is not user-friendly.

What is user testing?

User testing is actually done whenever people use a product, but here we’ll look at when a specific user goes through a task and a reviewer observes how they use it, what their difficulties are, what is missing, how easily they can navigate it, etc. Every feedback given is recorded and may be used for every step of development.

How to do user testing

It is very important to have a scenario before starting with a description for the task. The following are the ways user testing can be applied.

Moderated user testing

This is a planned meeting to monitor how the client goes through the task. The client may talk out loud during every step or just keep notes during the testing. There may be a lot of questions from both sides, which are good to keep as notes to prevent further mistakes. But this may not be the best way because it is time-consuming.

Remote moderated user testing

This can be done by screen sharing or other external tools where you can follow and record how the client goes through the app. This is a good possibility because everything can be tested and you can see if additional features need to be added. Remember not to force the user in any direction, let them be free to navigate the site or app because observing their behavior is the most important part.

Eye tracking

This is an advanced method of user testing. The user gets a sensor that knows where his eyes are focused on the site. By the time the user finishes, the reviewer will have a map of the site with a lot of details about the user’s actions. Analyzing this map can help understand if the user had trouble understanding certain sections of the site, and it’s also good for checking different behaviors. Only a few companies apply this method because it can be expensive for the client.

Expert review

Done by experienced staff who evaluate the product. Users will go through the tasks and detailed notes are taken about some predefined conditions pertaining to the usability.

Recommended methods

Often, our first step is to create personas (users with some personal details) from the UX team. Test cases should be created in advance to cover every possible feature to be tested. In the meeting, the client might be with some of his employees or even some random people who don’t know anything about the product. The average number is around to three to four individuals. The role of the facilitator in the meeting is very important. He will be keeping notes, recording comments, and maybe giving a hint if the user needs it, but not helping the user check the task. During this time it is necessary to observe how the user behaves. Keep in mind that every time you ask the client constructive questions in order to get detailed answers, it will lead to some helpful changes for the user. It is always a good idea to test every feature, but this requires a lot of time and a lot of money.

16. Agile Process

Everyone wants to be Agile, and it’s more than just a buzzword. Here we extract its most important aspects to help you set up processes to develop quickly and with good quality.

Quick with quality

At the heart of the Agile process is flexibility. Rather than having a more traditional, rigidly structured development process, where every step is completely dependent on previous steps being completed, Agile looks at the whole picture and tackles different parts of it. Having an adaptable, self-sufficient team is important for this to occur.

Some important factors

  1. Test each other’s code.
  2. Make sure to avoid a single point of failure by having at least two developers know the code and configurations.
  3. Automate your processes. Writing Build Verification Tests (BVT) and moving towards Unit Testing(UT) saves a lot of time and prevents human error. It is recommended that you start doing this before your code base becomes too large.
  4. It is very important to build a sandbox testing environment where you can work with untested code changes and deploy here daily.
  5. Have daily meetings. This is important for keeping the team focused and achieving milestones. Do scrums--daily meetings that are short and precise to keep everyone focused and on track. Keep a backlog of the all the requirements and feedback.
  6. The team should be able to function without much founder supervision. Allow people to learn, fail, make mistakes, and, most importantly, iterate to get the best version of the product. As long as they know the overall goal, this trial and error should eventually yield the desired results.

Business validation tips

The software development team should be integrated with the product, customer engagement, and sales team. Ultimately, business development and software development are united. Rather than micromanaging, as a founder you should make sure to define the purpose and principles of the startup, so everyone knows what they’re striving for. However, you need to make sure to pay attention to the right elements. When you’re in the early stages, allowing the customer to pick features he or she might want could subtly steer you in the wrong direction until you’re fully off-course.

Try the following:

  • Problem validation: Does the problem exist for a wide audience?
  • Feedback analysis: Be selective and prioritize customer feedback by filtering out the noise (bad or inappropriate suggestions).

You have to approach your startup with some distance. Don’t get hung up on pet features that you personally love. After all: it’s about your customers.

17. Setting Your Pricing Policy

Your strategy for how, how much, and who you will charge depends on two main things: product type, and the nature of the market/competition.

Basic types of market and competition

  • You compete with the traditional, big players as a newcomer. In this situation you will face fierce competition as you have to fight for the clients by lowering your price or having a significantly higher quality of service and product. Aggressive pricing and marketing will be needed and you can even expect heavy losses in the beginning, so you should have a strong capital buffer and a patient investor.
  • You create a specific product, service, or a small niche business. Here it’s important to estimate precisely the number of potential clients and your ability to attract them. You will not face strong competition, so you’ll have higher control over the price, but you have to scale the company to the size and costs at which it is able to survive. So, you can afford higher margin, but should have more focus on cost control.
  • A completely new opportunity, technology, or product, aka “Blue Ocean.” Targeting this kind of market is the most risky but also potentially the most rewarding. If the market potential is high, it will attract not only corporate players, but also lots of other startups. You will have to adapt quickly to the actions of the competition not only with pricing, but also in product development. The difficult thing is balancing pricing to be able to get enough clients, while at the same not dying because of overspending and losing favor with your investors.

Product types which affect pricing and monetization strategy

Digital products

Clients simply pay for a digital service you provide. It’s common that some version of the product might be for free (trial period, freemium, etc.) to attract clients, or you offer different levels of service (free, basic, VIP etc). This needs to be tested in the real world to understand what clients are willing to pay for.

Subscription model

Clients pay a fixed fee and are allowed to use the platform freely for a period of time. This can be done again using service packages of different levels and prices to behaviorally steer the customer spending.

Intermediary platforms

Your product works by matching supply and demand for some product or service. In this case, the platform works on a fee that’s based on the number or value of the transactions. It is very crucial to understand which side of the transaction pays for it -- buyer or seller. The cost impact can be the same, but behaviorally one side simply refuses to pay any fee.

18. Marketing Strategies and Campaigns

There you go, you big entrepreneur! You’ve brought your idea to life! Congratulations! Now let's show the rest of the world how amazing your project is.

STDC

Did you know your potential customers have “shopping” habits? And even better: Did you know you can use them for your marketing strategy? Those habits have four shopping phases and are called See-Think-Do-Care (STDC) and were invented by Google Marketing evangelist Avinash Kaushik. Marketers all over the world use this technique to attract potential customers. Learn from it.

STDC is basically about building a relationship with your customers. If you’re doing it right, your customers will very soon become loyal customers, telling your story and selling your products to their friends and family.

Phase 1: See

At this point people haven't heard about you yet. In this phase you are talking to all your potential customers. If you’re selling a car, you have to talk to all the drivers. People can buy your product, but don't count on that in this phase. Right now you are basically trying to catch their attention. Run your profiles on social media, shoot a video, write a blog about your business, and don't forget about pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO).

Phase 2: Think

Now customers are starting to think about actually buying a car, so you have to show them the reasons why they should buy a car from you. You have to show your experience, give them some advice on how to buy the right car for their needs, and show them how you can help them if they can’t decide. Write ‘How to’ blog posts, shoot a video comparing different cars, or run a PPC targeting people who are looking for advice.

Phase 3: Do

Customers are ready to buy a product, but they aren’t sure where. You have to show them that the easiest way to get what they want is at your business. Show them how easy it is, invent some “kick ass” solution, give them something special, and be better than your competitors. Good reviews will always help. Think about an affiliate program, show them your lucky customers and the benefits you have.

Phase 4: Care

Customers have already bought your product and you want them to buy more and spread the word to friends and family, or write a great review and come back. Offer them free customer care. Let them know how to take care of a product you sold them, be ready to solve any issue they might have. Show them they are the part of a ‘family’ and you actually care about their needs.

The most important part of the whole strategy is knowing your customer and target group better. If you know who they are, where they live, what they like, what they prefer, why they chose you etc., you will be able to target your communication better and also be ready to upgrade your portfolio to include other products.

Content strategies

These days, content strategy is one of the most crucial parts of a marketing strategy. You are going to attract the customers with your experience, knowledge of your field, and show them just who you are. The market is full of people who want to succeed in your field and sometimes they have very similar products. The only differences will be your values and the personality you create for your business and company culture. You have to build a strong brand. Content strategy will help you build a relationship with your potential and current customers. And brand relationship is what sells nowadays.

Before building the content strategy, consider:

Your target group

Who are you actually talking to, what content do they like, what do they want to read, listen to, and watch?

The problem you’re going to solve

For example, are you going to help people lose weight and feel better or help moms manage their work/life balance? You have to find a problem which is real and your target group is trying to solve... Or something they didn’t know was a problem yet.

How it’ll be unique

What makes you better than your competitors or different products? If you don't have an answer for that, you will be one of many, and forgotten very soon. Don't waste your time and money. If you’re trying to invent something, know what’s already been invented. Be unique.

Channels where your content will be published

Always pick a channel where your audience is. Don't try to be somewhere and hope your audience will lead you there. Not yet. You can't afford to in the beginning. You have to follow your audience. Also, don't go where you are not able to produce the content. For example: don’t use YouTube if you can’t produce a quality video. Don't go to Instagram if you don't have pretty, eye-catching content. Don't run a blog if you hate writing.

How will you manage the content and publication - who will create the content? Who will publish it? How often? What kind of content are you going to produce? How will you know your content is good? How will you measure that? Who will answer your follower’s questions? Have everything set up before you start creating your content. Be prepared and you will not be surprised.

Channels

Pre-launch page

Launch the web page as soon as possible. Even if you have an unfinished product, let people know that something is going on and explain to them what the startup is about. Don’t forget to collect emails and set up a PPC campaign. You can get dozens of users who will be eager to try your great service. Once you launch your product, you can write them and you can start working with them and expand product awareness among the community to quickly get your first paying customers.

SEO

SEO is a long-term strategy that you shouldn’t forget. If you do SEO well, you will get new clients regularly.

If you like to write or have employees who like to write, SEO can be for you. In this case, get your keyword analysis from an external agency and start writing valuable content on a blog. Remember, that SEO must by also part of your marketing strategy and it’s not a good idea to do it separately.

If you don’t have the people to do it, don't do SEO at this stage because it's expensive. Focus instead on technical SEO to make sure all pages are indexable by search engines like Google. You can start generating content and doing proper SEO in the scaling stage.

PPC

PPC advertising is a good way to get new clients quickly. Prepare to do it if you’re in a competitive environment, since one visitor can cost you more than $10. Set up your campaign as soon as possible, before your launch your MVP, so you're not surprised. We recommend Google Adwords and PPC on Facebook. But keep in mind that these channels must be part of your marketing strategy. Proper PPC campaign setup is not easy and we recommend you hire an experienced professional.

Video

Video is the most popular, engaging, shareable, and easy-to-consume content. It helps people understand a topic far better than written content. It visualises the problem and solves it in a very short time. Books and other literature can provide more information, in greater depth, but take too long to consume. If a picture is worth a thousand words, video is worth a million. It’s 40x more likely to be shared on social media. On the other hand, you have to invest a lot of time and resources to produce something really valuable.

Offline

If you aren’t targeting a specific group of people, you can also try to focus on offline activities. Of course there are still people who watch TV, listen to the radio, use public transportation, or read newspapers. This kind of media has great impact -- the numbers are really high-- but the problem is, you can't exactly measure it. You can’t directly check how many sales (or different type of your goals) it brought and from which channel they came. You can do some additional activities to measure it, but there are extra costs. It is also much more expensive than online methods. You have to pay for the production of materials (a great TV spot can cost you a fortune) and the media space (which can be also higher than the production). The offline format is usually suggested for building brand awareness.

Also, you can use this one if you have a very specific target group. For example: if you are targeting a group of people who love to go to bars, you can definitely put out posters communicating your product there (it works the best on the toilet - the one place you have a moment of calm). If you provide, for example, a taxi service, you did the perfect targeting for catching people who are too drunk to drive.

Events

Your target group will gather at conferences, meetups, and exhibitions. If you manage to get to those events and present your idea, the community will definitely appreciate it and you’ll get many early adopters who can expand your product to the community. In addition, you will get a lot of ideas for improvement.

There are certainly some opinion leaders in the community whom it’s good to get in touch with and cooperate with, even if you promise them to test and use your product for free.

Social Media

Use social media. Your target audience is there. You only have to find the right one. If you’re targeting millennials, you have to be on many forms of social media. If you are targeting a more specific group, you have to pick the right one. Don't forget, people are going to talk to you and others will see that.

On Facebook you can create your own business page, receive recommendations, feedback (which is very valuable), know your audience better, and target your communication. Facebook is not as friendly to business profiles as it is to personal profiles: you have to pay if you want your audience to see your posts. On the other hand, it provides perfect target options, so you can be sure your communication will find its audience.

Twitter is needed if you have something to say. It is a very fast medium, and if you don't post often, you can be forgotten very soon. You won’t be appearing in your followers’ and other people's feeds. There’s also an option to pay for distributing the content, but the targeting is not so good. You have fewer options than you have on Facebook and you will have a problem reaching the audience you want. Don't forget to use hashtags, so people can find you, while following the topic you are talking about.

Linkedin will help you with hiring, sharing your culture, vision, and B2B communication. It is quite expensive to promote the post or get a premium account, but still, you can do a lot for free. Give it a try and see how the audience likes your content.

Instagram is powerful for those who has something beautiful to share. If you are selling beauty products and services and targeting millennials, Instagram is the right platform for you. The audience there is pretty picky, so be prepare to dedicate extra time and focus on the content you are going to create. It has to be beautiful… or at least very interesting. Buy yourself special equipment for taking and editing photos.

There’s a lot more social media you can use, but check if your audience is there, and what content they’re used to consuming. If you have nothing to say, simply stay back. Don't forget, you have to be ready to chat with your current and potential customers. One chat can help you build your brand and also ruin everything.

Don't forget to educate yourself. Social media is fast-growing and everything around it changes quickly, so don't forget to follow the news about social media and stay updated.

How to set KPI

How can you tell if your communication is working? It’s like trying to lose weight. First you stop eating chocolate and set yourself a goal to lose two lbs by the end of the month and you don't stop until you get there. Then you do some basic exercise and set a goal of four lbs. Then it’s 5 lbs and running to work. You see the progress and know what you’re capable of… and, importantly, you can see the results. It’s the same with setting up KPIs. You won’t see results and progress if you don’t set any goals. Try to set up reachable ones in the beginning, but enough to keep you motivated. The most common for social media are followers, engagement rate, and page rating.

Analytics

How much weight have you lost? Buy a scale and check. What kind of scale does the internet offer for your communication? The most basic tool for measuring and getting information about people coming to your website is Google Analytics. GA works best with Google Tag Manager, which helps you see customers found your website (ppc, banners, social media, emailing…).

Every social media outlet has its own analytics which will help you to know/identify your audience and show you the content they are actually interested in. You can use the paid tools to compare all your social media channels and also compare them with your competitors. For example: Socialbakers.

There are also a few tools on the internet which help you centralize your communication, and share content among all your channels and measure the impact of your communication-- a paid service, but definitely worth it. For example: Hubspot.com

Who’s going to do it?

Your strategy is set, you picked the channels where you’ll attract your target audience, you decided which format you’re going to use. One question remains: who is going to execute all this? You can hire a marketing specialist, copywriter, graphic designer, content creator, media planner, web analyst, and others to help you to fill the strategy. Or you can hire an agency. Like everything else, agencies have a lot of pros and cons. First, agencies can be expensive. You’re actually paying not only for people to work on your project, but all their costs as well. On the other hand, they do have the most experience with communication. They are reliable, have thousands of campaigns under their belt, know every platform and audience, and have taken care of so many issues with different customers that they’re ready for almost anything. Because of this, they can save you lot of time, guard you against unforeseen difficulties, and prevent you from spending a lot of money on something that might not work. Or you can hire your own people, but this will also cost you a lot of time and money. You will meet dozens of candidates, more or less senior, with different needs, experiences, and expectations. We suggest you hire marketing people only for key positions in the very beginning. If you see your business is growing and you are able to produce hundreds of videos which bring you a lot of new customers, hire a video guy. However, we suggest you leave this “testing part” to an agency and see how it goes.

19. Why You Should Do Content Marketing

Internet and offline media are full of ads. These can be video, radio spots, billboards, CLVs, or PPCs. It doesn’t matter. These are all just saying the same thing: We are the best. There is nothing better than us. Our product will save your life. Use us. BUY US! And they are everywhere. People have started to go blind to classic advertisements. They don’t trust what the ads say anymore. And they don’t even bother to see, read, or listen to anything you try to say. So how can you build your brand? How can you tell people you are here? It is simple: provide best-in-class service or do content marketing.

What is content marketing?

Let's keep the definition of content marketing simple. Content marketing can help you build a relationship with your potential customer and increase your sales chances by proving you are an expert and that you understand what you are doing. Imagine you are going to buy a car. And imagine you are a woman who has no idea how to pick the car. You’ve only decided on the color. So what can you do? Ask a friend? Ask your parents? No! You are a strong independent woman, so you Google it. Imagine you are a company that has just started selling a car. You would like to run your business in a different way. You want to be completely different then the company you bought your car from the last time. Those thieves! They sold you a car without brakes, they didn't know anything about servicing your car, and the guy who sold you the car also talked you into buying a polish which scratched the paint. You will never trust them again and you will never recommend their services to anyone. You've decided to help people in similar situations, not by providing the best in class service, but by helping them avoid going through what you did. You will start your own blog where you will describe how to pick a good car seller. What to check before buying. What to ask the seller. What to be wary of when reading the contract. How to pick a good car. All this will show people that you are a good person. You are not a thief if you show them all the secrets! You know buying a car can be difficult, and you know people can get lost easily. You understand their needs and you won’t laugh at someone who has no idea how this all works. Oh! And you also sell cars?! See? Do you get where am I going? It is simple, right? Show people you understand your field, you have experience, and you understand what they want. Be one of them. It doesn't mean you have to become a professional writer and start to visit creative writing courses… you can do basically anything you want to show you understand your target group. Nike is a great example. They make sports equipment, like running shoes. So they started to support runners. They created Youtube channels with guides for runners. They created a special application for measuring your runs, with a coach who helps you push your limits, achieve your goals, and lets you be the part of the running community. And the best part… everything is free, so anyone can join. Just listen to your target group and help them solve their issues. Be an expert!

20. Why Should the Founder/CEO Be Active on Social Media?

Recently, we had to convince our CEO to write a blog and share his thoughts on social media. This is not an easy thing to get a CEO to do. They are usually super busy and if they do have time for social media, they often use private profiles showing pics of their kids or dog. So, why is it so important to use social for work purposes?

What does the CEO represent?

The CEO is the face of the company. Nowadays, it is really important to show the people behind the company, so everyone can imagine “who” your company really is. The CEO should exhibit expertise, knowledge, wisdom, and experience. People want to know who they are giving their money to. And not only people—the media is interested in who they are going to talk to when preparing an interview or why, for example, they should invite him/her to a conference. How will they know this if your CEO is just a phantom figure in the back of the company?

What to write about

It is not necessary to convince your CEO to write a daily report on what they’re doing. Nobody is actually interested in that. You have to find topics your CEO is good at and connect it with the mission/vision of your company. For example: if you work for an advertising agency, he can definitely write about trends, how to build your brand, and use your company as an example. He can definitely comment on the topics from your field and air his opinions of daily topics on social media. And it is always nice if he can describe the current situation in your company. Maybe your company gets into a difficult situation—a personal statement from the CEO on social media can carry more weight than a super-formal press release since it can lend a personal touch and show your followers that your CEO actually really cares about the situation more than a press release (which is also important) can help your CEO statement published publicly. You CEO can help his company build a brand (which helps with sales), share the culture (which can help with hiring) and show the strengths of the company (which can help with PR). If your CEO doesn't talk or share his knowledge publicly, everyone might wonder if he really has anything to share or talk about. It is not always necessary to let the CEO be the only one who contributes. It is always good to show more people from your company. Remember: as we’ve done with this guide, everyone who has something interesting to say, who can help your customers, and who can help build your brand, should be welcome to share their expertise.

21. Investor Relations

You have investors on your side, which is good. These are probably the most important relationships in your career. Here is some advice about how not to ruin things and keep long-term business relationships.

Why it’s important to communicate

You’ve won over the investors and you now have the money to chase your dream. Congrats! Now comes the hard part. The investor bought it because of a roadmap of growth you both believed in. While you’re involved in your startup every day, it’s important for the other party to understand what’s happening in the company and if everything is on track. The rule of thumb is: the more you communicate your progress and results, the fewer questions and disruptions will come from the investor side in you regular business.

Roles

Unless specified otherwise in contracts, you are the CEO of the company, so you make executive decisions including the money from investors. You need to abide by the rules of the engagement, but you should be in the driver’s seat. The investor sees your company as a monetary vehicle and you and the team as a way to capitalize on the investment. They should not be directly interfering with your running of the company, unless there are some unforeseen circumstances that warrant the interference.

Reporting

Agree on a standard for reporting and stick to it. Some investors will send you a template of their own that helps them look at all their portfolio companies in the same way. Include all the metrics, their past values, projections, and how you’re meeting the target.

22. Release

Releasing the application means your troubles are over, right? NO! This is the last step of the MVP stage. You’re almost there, but there are still some important things you need to make sure you do.

Technical side

Releasing is very simple, but you should always follow this checklist before any production release:

  • Have security testing done before any release.
  • Try to do the testing on a system that is very close to the production environment.
  • Have automated functional testing ready.
  • Set up your monitoring. The app can be much more popular than you expected and -you need to be notified if more server resources are needed.
  • Set up some analytics to see how your app performs.
  • Prepare your support team. There is always something to support even though the app is supposed to be bug-free and user-friendly.
  • Always keep your infrastructure up to date. Set up a procedure to update the infrastructure when any security fixes are released.

It’s alive!

Once your project is live, don't let it die. You need people to keep it breathing. They have to visit your shop, visit your website, see your activities. The project lives from people's attention. If you don’t bring people there, you can expect to close up shop and realize you’ve wasted much time and money.

Hello, World

First, you have to admit that you are absolutely nobody, no one knows you, so you will have to pay for their attention. Introduce yourself to world. Make some noise! Setup your social media profiles promote you posts, and lead them to your business. Setup the PPC and business profiles, so people can easily find you on the internet. In case your business brings something new to the market, write a press release and try to connect with servers who will be glad that they can write about you. Make friends, you will need them.

23. Scaling Your Product—Don't Hesitate...Iterate

Whoever said “good things come to those who wait” no doubt missed the bus a lot, and is probably reading this piece thinking “just a few more changes, and then we're ready to ship.”

The world we live in today does not allow for us to wait and make things perfect (sorry, grandfather), especially in the tech space. By the time you have “perfected” your product, the industry as a whole has already started to migrate towards something else, and the users and their short attention spans are long gone.

Fast market, fast products

With things changing so fast, it goes without saying that getting your product to market quickly, within a reasonable MLQ (minimum level of quality), depends on how quickly you get feedback on your product -- giving you the ability to make changes at the same speed as the market expects them. Now, I understand that this movement is very much focused on products -- mainly software related. But I see this strategy as an entire element to your business model, strategy, and overall culture. While I don’t sign on to the phrase “fail fast,” I do however believe in constant change and improvement through education. It is my belief (though it’s brashly worded) that “Fuck it… Ship it” is addressing this very point.

Roll it out

It’s called continuous delivery…not perpetual development. With continuous delivery you produce updated versions of your product in short sprints and send them out into the world. This is opposed to the methods of certain corporations that seek a kind of glacial perfection before finally releasing their “new” product. Large corporations such as banks may be hampered by bureaucracies that prevent timelier releases, but in our world of ever-increasing speed and little patience, where corporate dinosaurs are being disrupted by hot new products (think TransferWise vs. whatever your bank is), the startup-style approach is becoming more relevant than ever before. For iteration heroics, take the example of the messaging platform Slack. Here’s a company that wasn’t afraid of an identity crisis and was willing to morph into what users wanted-- because it found out what users wanted (heck, its original version was for a videogame). Later in Slack’s development, the team realized that their application was functioning differently with larger groups. They went back to the drawing board and began another process of testing with user groups of various sizes before rolling the product out to a wider user base.

Who are you?

While this “movement” grows traction, you as a business owner have to ask yourself if this development method is the image you want for your products and company. Are you the one that delivers a beautiful and “perfect” product when you think it’s ready? Or are you someone that delivers a product for the market, by the market -- where you give your users the ability to test-drive and shape your products and company based on their needs, which is, after all, the most empirical method for fine-tuning your product. Iterating is not ragged imperfection, spewed out haphazardly, but a path to higher perfection. Lastly, you have to ask yourself if your market is ready and understanding enough to test “imperfect” products, in the hopes that the end product, while never finished, will essentially be built by them through constant iteration. Humans are built through constant iteration, why shouldn’t products be?