It has been over two years since I started working on Fanpics. What started out as a single mailto: website and rough hardware prototype has evolved into custom mechanical hardware designs, a full API, a front-end web app, a native Android app, a native iOS app, and contracts with the L.A. Kings, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Galaxy, and San Diego State University. We have also moved from the four co-founders (Will, Dan, Marco, and I) working full time in a small apartment on Craigslist to an office in the Old Mission Brewery building in Downtown San Diego and seventeen employees.
Through this growth I thought that it was about time for a review over these past years and what I have learned growing a startup.
1. Culture counts
Culture has become something of a buzz word lately. There are talks over the importance of culture, yet they are still thrown up as agenda items set for when the company meets some arbitrary inflection point (X number of employees, Y amount of revenue, etc).
Culture doesn’t start at a specific point in the company’s growth but grows when the number of people working on the project/company is greater than one. Culture is how you feel when you work with on a project. Culture is the trust between your co-workers. Culture is the values you optimize for.
However, there also needs to be a clear understanding of what culture is not. Culture is not the shallow aspects of a company. Culture is not beers after work, mandatory parties, and Nerf guns. That stuff fades. Quick.
2. Respect your team and users
The co-founders, the engineers, the designers, the support team, the users, and everyone in-between should all be respected. This isn’t one team vs the other; this is an ecosystem and a community. Everyone is working together, including your users, to make the product what it is. If your users are complaining, it is because they want to use and love your product and you haven’t made it frictionless enough.
3. Keep your burn rate in check but spend when it matters
This can be tricky. How do you know what to cut?
Look at what values you want to focus on and figure out what can get you there most efficiently. Sometime it is optimizing for short term validation as opposed to long term stability. If spending X amount inefficiently will help you validate your goals in less than if done in a longer term stable method, I’d opt for the former. The key to this is keeping a sharp focus on what you want to achieve and rapidly iterate.
Hiring. Is. Hard.
A brilliant engineer does not discount the culture fit and vis versa. A common misconception for many first time people hiring is “I would have a beer with this person”. The person must work well in the team, fit with the values of the company, and be able to execute the task at this time in the company growth.
Since startups grow at a rapid pace the hires must fit with the current stage of the company and not over optimize for future needs pontential needs.
5. Raising with terms
Terms are important when raising money. It is easy to go for the higher valuation and not accounting for the extra value that can be added besides monetary value. Good investors can add more value/access and are worth more in the long run than just taking more money. This raise might be smaller, but if you get good additional support to help cover gaps you might have will help your company grow much quicker.
Terms also matter for liquidity, control, etc. But for the sake of retrospective and my experience with the matter first hand I am focusing on the additional value/impact that investors can have.
These viewpoints are my own and from what I have observed through the specific stages of my startup so far.