Irresponsible Startup Mentality
What is a startup mentality?
One of the most important things when it comes to making it in the startup ecosystem is the ability to stay competitive. An entrepreneur must be ready to take risks, change, and adapt. S/he must not be afraid of failure, because it is inevitable.
Many entrepreneurs act upon fear, which by no means should reside within a startup mentality. It is irresponsible to not display confidence because it affects the employees.
However, too much confidence can also be fatal for a startup. Irresponsible startup mentality is also reflected in the entrepreneur’s rash decisions, made without proper research and consulting.
Additional characteristics of an irresponsible startup mentality include not paying attention to the office culture, or their employees’ needs and ideas. This can result in employee dissatisfaction and can greatly influence the business in a negative way and ultimately result in failure.
Failure is one of the most important factors when it comes to moving forward. Whoever keeps trying will keep failing as well, but this is just the cycle of success. Multiple failures for the sake of achieving one big success is a part of the constantly evolving innovation cycle, which is propelled by the experimentation of bold and creative individuals.
This kind of reasoning is most prominent in Silicon Valley, and it’s the main reason for the existence of so many different startups.
In this post, we will deal both with the irresponsible and responsible startup mentalities, but with a greater focus on the latter, for the sake of giving positive advice to future entrepreneurs.
We will focus on explaining how to approach various problems and how to implement different tactics for achieving success. We will try to provide advice on what one should do to avoid startup mentality problems. We will also talk about Silicon Valley and the positive and negative examples and approaches by different startups.
Entrepreneurial Mindset of the Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley (SV) is the most exemplary startup ecosystem in the world. Due to the existence of numerous academic institutions, a huge talent pool and plenty of venture capitalists, the area is perfect for startup development.
During its existence, SV has seen many businesses succeed and fail. Through the analysis of success patterns as well as patterns of failure, entrepreneurs can now easily recreate proven business models, successful customer analysis, and cycles of product iterations.
Successful entrepreneurs embrace the startup mindset of the lifelong student. This is the only way to adapt and evolve as a startup in the Silicon Valley and beyond.
The Lifelong Students
The Berkeley-Haas Defining Principles clearly state what it means to have a healthy entrepreneur’s mindset. In short, one should always have to question the status quo. S/he should have confidence, but without obvious attitude. Entrepreneurs should be a “student always”, as they put it, and they should continually develop and extend their knowledge and ability.
An effective mindset revolves around the readiness to fail. It means having no fear of change and always being aware of the fact that adaptation to innovations is inevitable in the dynamic IT industry. This ethos is manifest in the highly successful “lean startup” method.
The Lean Startup Method
Ries came to the realization of the lean method after the difficulties he encountered within his first startup, called Catalyst Recruiting. He also learned some useful lessons while working at There.com.
Namely, the problem with Catalyst Recruiting was that they did not focus heavily on the needs of their target consumers. They put in too much time and energy in the initial product launch, which then resulted in the startup failure. We could say that this is an example of an irresponsible startup mentality.
After Catalyst, Ries worked for There.com as a senior software engineer. The company had a similar flaw to Ries’ old startup. It was not fully aware of their consumers’ needs.
They were heavily focused on the initial vision of the product and the early adopters. All of this led to the necessity for the development of the lean startup method.
What follows are its core principles.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
MVP is the version of a new product that makes it possible for startups to gather as much relevant information about consumers as possible while investing the least amount of effort. The goal of MVP is to test business hypotheses as quickly as possible so that a startup can develop the best version of the product for the target market.
For example, Zappos—a company that decided to prove that consumers were willing to buy shoes online—used the MVP method. Now, instead of the widespread approach of building a website with a large offering that he would then market to consumers, the company’s founder Nick Swinmurn did something completely different.
Nick photographed the windows of physical shoe stores and posted them online. After making a sale, he would buy a pair of shoes at the full price and ship them to the buyer.
Nick gathered valuable insight into the consumer market which led him to bypass buying shoes at the full price. Consequently, the company filled its stock with the products that clients wanted to buy the most. This approach made Zappos grow into a billion-dollar business.
Continuous Deployment (Software Development)
This phrase was coined by Timothy Fitz, one of Ries’ colleagues. It is used exclusively in software development.
Continuous Deployment means that all code that is written for a certain application is immediately used in production. This results in a reduction of cycle times. Some companies deploy 50 new pieces of code in production process everyday.
A/B testing or split testing is a kind of experiment. Two sets of consumers are offered two versions of the same product. The customers’ responses to the products are noted using specific metrics, which leads to the comparison of similarities and differences between the metrics.
Most important metrics include acquisition (how do users find you), activation (do users have positive first experience), retention (do users come back), revenue (how do you monetize), and referral (do users tell others).
Decisions about which version of the product is more user-friendly and marketable are based on these responses.
These kinds of metrics are a big contrast to what are known as vanity metrics. These include the raw page views, downloads and number of registered users. Vanity metrics are considered to be unreliable because they can be easily tweaked and do not guarantee conversion.
Actionable metrics allow entrepreneurs to make key decisions and repeatable actions that are relevant to the observed results. The goal is to make a perfect product, one that is shaped over time and always in sync with consumers’ shifting requirements.
A pivot is a correction, a modification of a certain product based on the regularly updated knowledge gained from customer analysis and feedback. A pivot is currently a buzzword in the Silicon Valley, but—if a startup has the capacity to change its approach, or pivot—it will be better equipped to meet the needs of potential users.
By using this strategy, a startup remains agile in the sense that it can transform and adapt its product and develop it in any desired (profitable) direction. By pivoting, a company can abandon a bad plan and embark on a better one instead of unnecessarily firing an honest executive.
Innovation accounting is the process of defining, measuring and communicating the progress of innovation. By incorporating innovation accounting, an entrepreneur maintains accountability for each of the business’ sectors. By prioritizing, measuring progress and planning milestones, a startup will be well on its way to maximizing the outcome.
Build – Measure – Learn
The build – measure – learn loop suggests that speed is a critical factor during successful product development. First, you build the product, then you test its usability (gathering of user feedback and data), and lastly, you acquire critical insights.
The insights you get will determine whether the product is ready for deployment, or it needs to be pivoted. The process is then repeated until it results in success.
The lean startup method is a prime example of a good, productive mindset when approaching the problem of developing and marketing a product. Instead of being limited to your own company’s predictions and focusing only on early consumer adoption, the continuous monitoring of a product's usability and tweaking of its features to suit the users’ needs will ensure success upon completion.
The lean startup method is the basis of a healthy startup mentality. It would be irresponsible to ignore it, especially in the ever-changing IT field. What follows are tips for avoiding the irresponsible mentality which, among other things, includes poor communication between management and staff, fear of change and failure, etc.
Qualities of Successful Startups
In the business world, having a positive startup mentality is synonymous with being innovative and able to adapt to the ever-changing market. It means being extremely purpose-driven, always thinking outside the box, and working at a fast pace.
This kind of a mentality is desirable in large corporations and small businesses as well, but few people employ it consistently. Here are some things that startups need to start paying more attention to if they ever plan to be successful.
Disruption comes mainly from startups and much less from big corporations because successful startups are always asking questions. Teams are working together towards the same goal—achieving something great. Communication is, of course, essential and should consist of a constant dialogue between teams and individuals.
Great Startups Embrace Change
Technology is evolving rapidly and it is changing everyone and everything. We are witnessing the rise of modern consumers and tech-savvy workers, the digitalization of the workplace is currently changing the way we work, while consumers use more advanced gadgets than ever before.
The inability of some companies to adapt to new technology will definitely allow their competitors to get ahead in business. Young professionals are heavily dependent on cutting-edge tech and are therefore quickly becoming the most valuable of all employees.
Startups need to think in terms of adaptability and agility. There is no more room for stubbornness. Entrepreneurs with a healthy startup mentality strive to incorporate innovations and do not fear failure.
They Embrace Failure
Startups need to make room for mistakes. In order for the lean approach to work, startups must constantly test and modify their product.
The whole lean method is based on trial and error, so you need to be resilient and not easily defeated by failure. In order to succeed in anything, you first must fail a lot.
Many entrepreneurs still do not have what it takes to constantly change and improve upon their initial idea. At times, they are required to stray away completely from the original concept and that may make the employees feel hopeless, as it seems that their hard work is lost. That is when mistakes could start kicking in.
What Startups Should Not Do
We all know what a modern, stereotypical startup should look like. Its workers are happy and more productive because of the flexible work hours. It has “fun” office spaces that tend to attract new employees and customers.
While this modern approach might work for some, it can be disastrous for others. Let’s explore some of the problems that might arise from trying to follow the new startup trends.
Hire for Charisma
Office culture is important, and so is having positive workplace atmosphere. This is often stated in many of the business articles, but it’s erroneous to think that startups should only hire a person based on their appearance or on how well they play ping-pong.
If playing ping-pong is irrelevant to the business in question––which it probably is––that skill should have absolutely no importance whatsoever in the hiring decision. Employees should be hired based on their work experience, their specialised skill sets, and work capabilities.
At the end of the day, you are not often friends with the people you work with—you are in a professional relationship. The whole team will feel much better if there is a sense of accomplishment rather that just being around someone who is charismatic, but doesn’t get the job done.
Spend Way Too Much
This one has to do with the “fun” aspect of the startup office culture. But do you really need a huge swimming pool or a full blown retro gaming centre? This starts to look like irresponsibility.
Entrepreneurs feel like they can attract new employees and clients more efficiently if they make a quirky, interesting workplace in which the workers feel as if they are in a kindergarten. This strategy might work for some, but usually it’s just an unnecessary expenditure.
When a startup is in its early stage, every penny should be important and efforts must be made toward a single goal—getting the startup off the ground. Afterwards, it is OK to make the space fun and interesting, but there should still be a good reason for it.
Make Rash Decisions
It is quite all right to create a somewhat homey atmosphere instead of the old cubicle hell. However, a startup is a place of business and emotions do not play a big role when it comes to making money. This is often evident in new tech startups of the SV.
Of course, the management might like a certain employee more than the other, but what really counts is the efficiency and reliability of the employee. These kinds of HR decisions are often what makes or breaks a startup and could be labeled as highly irresponsible.
Have No Leader
This is a democratic approach which allows for the blurring of the line between a worker and a supervisor. It works great until a complicated problem appears. Who will be the problem solver then?
A startup needs to have a leader. Someone who will delegate work according to his/her best judgment. After all, the person with the vision is the only one who knows where the startup is going. Without them, everything falls apart.
Forget the Initial Goals
Office culture is important, but not as important as the startup capital, idea-timing, and overall business plan. After all, it all started with an idea that would change the world for the better.
This problem reminds me of a moment in the HBO’s hit show—Silicon Valley. The Pied Piper crew started working under a new CEO, a man who was not there from the start, and things started to look gloomy.
The Pied Piper Problem
Namely, the product they were trying to develop had to be put on hold. The main reason they founded the startup was all of a sudden irrelevant, because the new CEO saw, after gaining insights from the sales department, a chance to sell “a box”.
More precisely, it was an enterprise data center that suddenly became more important than their lossless compression algorithm. The crew somehow managed to get their way, but things like these happen all the time in the Silicon Valley.
The really interesting and useful products get neglected because of a sales opportunity. This behaviour from the CEO was completely irresponsible and ungrounded because he failed to notice the entire potential of a product that was right under his nose the whole time.
Examples of Irresponsible Startup Behavior
For an array of bad startup decisions and experiences, have a look at this post on Gizmodo. You’ll notice that most stories have to do with poor leadership and irresponsible behaviour from the bosses. Having a toxic boss is probably the worst thing that can happen to a startup. In some cases, after the money has been raised, a person's goals, lifestyle, and attitude toward work all change for the worse.
There were examples of drug use at the workplace, failed projects, and unkept promises. The office culture becomes determined by the loudest and the most influential people, while those that want to learn and work find themselves sunk in chaos and eventually leave.
Some of these stories are incredible—like something out of the Wolf of Wall Street.
Innovation and Responsibility
In the end, the best startups are the ones embracing change, adapting to new concepts and having the courage to do it, even if it means failure and embarrassment. Through failure they grow, innovate and become trustworthy, so we could say that to the young entrepreneur, failing is actually beneficial.
An irresponsible startup mentality means ignoring all the logical steps toward building a business. It means being oblivious to the trends in the industry and needs of customers.
As long as entrepreneurs focus on innovation and take responsibility for their actions, there will be successful startups. The startups we love are the ones that really can change the world.