We recently announced a partnership with the Tech Wildcatters Incubator Program, a Dallas-based "microseed" fund and startup accelerator, and we couldn't be happier with the results we've seen thus far. Much of the press coverage of the sponsorship focused on the $1,000/mo of cloud, dedicated or hybrid hosting solutions we offered the program's startup companies, but the most exciting aspect of the relationship thus far has been getting to engage with the participating up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
Having been in their seats about six years ago when SoftLayer was born in a living room, the SoftLayer team is especially qualified to give insight about the struggles and successes of running a startup, and that aspect of our partnership is where we hope to provide the most value. Over the past few weeks, we've met with the current Tech Wildcatters participants and seen some of the amazing ideas they have in the works, and we're pumped to see them succeed ... By all accounts, we can't really call SoftLayer a "startup" anymore, but our investment in this community reinvigorates the startup culture we've tried to maintain as the company has grown.
Recently, I had the chance to share a few "Keys to Success" with program participants, and since those thoughts might be interesting for other startups and small business users, I thought I'd share some of the highlights here. There are no "guaranteed win" formulas or "super-secret secrets to success" in business (regardless of what an infomercial at 3am on a Tuesday morning may tell you), but these ideas may help you position your business for success:
1. Hire people smarter than you.
Your goal should be to get people on your team who can handle specific responsibilities better than you can. Just because you're running the business doesn't mean you can't learn from it, and the best people to learn from are brilliant people.
2. Hire a diverse group.
Different people think differently, and different perspectives lead to better conversations and better business decisions. Filling your organization with one kind of employee will lead to a lot of "That's the best decision ever" moments, but whether or not that "best decision ever" decision is good for anyone else is a crap shoot.
3. Founders should put skin in the game.
With all of the startup company trials and tribulations, you want everyone on your team to have a vested interest in the business's success. Clock-punchers and coasters need not apply.
4. Boot-strap the beginning.
Along the lines of the previous recommendation, if you've remortgaged your house or sold your car or maxed out your credit cards on a new business, you're going to care a lot more if it fails. By boot-strapping your initial financing, you become even more accountable for your success.
5. Operate with financial sense, operational sense and common sense.
Balance your business responsibly. If you disregard any of those "senses," your tenure as a small business owner may be relatively short-lived. When it comes to financial sense, I also recommend that you invest in professional accounting support and software to save you a ton of headache and heartache down the road when it's time to go after "real money."
6. CBNO - Challenging But Not Overwhelming
You can always do something more for the business. You and your team should be maximizing your efforts to grow the business but not at the expense of burning out. If you've got "skin in the game," your threshold for what is overwhelming may increase, but you have to understand the need for balance.
7. Have fun and make money.
In that order. If you're not having fun, it doesn't matter how much money you make. Startups are run by passionate people, and the second you lose that passion, you lose a significant piece of what makes your business or idea great.
I touched on about a dozen more points when it comes to how to orient your business to your customers, but I'll save that bit for later.