I was visiting a startup to sell our SSD Advok8 growth consulting services. When I walked into their “incubator” space, it was a stark, open, multi-use room. It was a whitewashed room with large factory type windows on one wall. These led out to a run down back alleyway.
After the meeting, I genuinely was thinking about how I could help this CEO grow his business. I was also thinking about something he said. He said, “I don’t want to make this a lifestyle.”
I had heard this before. I had lived this before. It is the idea that when your startup reaches a stall, you simply continue to show up until the money runs out, the power is cut off or the door locks are changed. What I wanted to do is think about how to prevent this. Afterall, my company really is about fixing startups and getting them successful very quickly. So here are my suggestions for preventing this:
- Every startup needs a storefront. In the 1950’s, every business in Americana had a storefront. It was everything from a glass case window display to a lobby area. In it, companies displayed what they do. In the tech world, we have forgotten the importance of this. Afterall, no one is really visiting us, except on the Internet. The problem is that customers, investors, politicians, suppliers, sales representatives all walk through the front door at some point. If this is a crappy experience, you have lost credibility. Worst case, many companies spend on average $15,000 on a trade show both they use twice a year. Set it up in the entryway. It will pay for itself in at least showcasing what you do at a trade show.
- Always create space constraints for your organization. Never ever let your employees spread out. It kills the tension and organizational synergies that are essential to growth. If you are a startup CEO and everyone is in four corners of a large space, you can go days without interaction. When you are a 2 to 5 employee business, this is terrible. Furthermore, constrained space provides unbelievable motivations.
- Use surplus space to your advantage. When I presented to this CEO, I myself am looking for office space. I was thinking, what if this CEO offered a accountant, a marketeer, a sales representative and an administrator workspace in return for services. It is one commodity the CEO had that he could leverage. Yet, the extra space in this instance had stayed vacant for years. Use it, it is as good as money.
- Project manage both success and failure. Don’t let people sit in a space for months or years on end. Project manage their time so that each resource will exhaust their capacity in the next six months. In other words, if you accomplish what we agree upon in the next six months, we will clone you with a second person, a third person and so on. If this is not possible, then I suggest that your business scaleability is flawed.
- Use surplus space for new business. If I have constrained my team to a 25% area within my total space. What do I do with the rest of the space? I talked to a company in the 1980s about this. They decided to actually contrain thier staff by building chain link cages for each functional team. A bit barbaric for my tastes. But they had about 10,000 sq ft left over. They decided to use this as a staging area for each customer’s custom installation. So they constructed each project before it was shipped. Before long this became an institute of R&D or a design area. It ended up creating 100s of new products. This CEO got it.