Improve Your Startups Chance of Success + Make Money Doing It

Traditional “startup success” wisdom tends to go something like this: you get a great idea, you quit your day job to focus on it 110%, finally it gets traction, you raise money (or are making money) and then get written up in FastCompany—where your story will look like an overnight success.

But with all fairytales, reality rarely shakes out like that. Instead, most of us either have to build our business while working, rely on savings, or scrape together friends + family investment as we try and validate our business idea.

Personally, I’m a fan of option 1. This means working externally (at least part-time) while building your startup, especially if you can swing working within a related field. Many successful entrepreneurs kept their “day job” as they built their company—Sarah Blakely of Spanx is a great example.

3 solid reasons to consider this:

First, unless you’re born wealthy, or have someone supporting you, an entrepreneur must eat and put a roof over their head.

Second, when your business starts to pick up and bring in revenue, it’s often far better to reinvest that capital into growth, versus carving out part of it as a paycheck to the founder(s).

But there is a third reason, that most people don’t realize, and it can massively impact your startup’s long-term success.

Removing yourself as the bottleneck: A prerequisite for growth

via GIPHY

I run a business called AVRA. We’re a full-service talent firm that works exclusively with startups. Our mission is to help companies hire the best people, for the right roles.

For the first year, I did all of the work of the Recruiting Strategist (since unlike traditional recruiters we assign dedicated teams, each of whom specializes in one of the five disciplines of hiring). Now it’s not easy building systems, doing all the biz dev, and running point on every client—but in theory, working 60+ hour workweeks—I could keep it up.

But luckily (for myself and my loved ones), I realized that would do AVRA a big disservice.

The founder is rarely the best person for every job

As the founder, you often find yourself wearing ten hats—but in no way does that mean you’re within the 90th percentile of excellence for every one of them. Often there are hats you wear that you’re functionally bad at, along with some roles you can handle—but another person could produce 10x the results.

When you’re bootstrapped or haven’t raised money, it’s hard to justify delegating these roles because it (a) assumes new costs in the form of payroll and (b) makes it harder to justify your own pittance of a salary.

This is where the magic of working externally comes in. It forces you to hand over the reigns to all but the parts of the business you are the absolute best at, and it takes the pressure off your startup’s finances to pay you a salary. This frees up cash to for other people who can do the job better, or at least as good, and it lays the foundation for scale. If you want to build something bigger than a lifestyle business—you must continually put yourself out of “jobs”.

So what is the right type of work?

Obviously, that depends. It depends on your skillset, your expertise, and if you’re able to charge a premium for your talent. This business may be your first real job. So the decent pay and solid benefits of Starbucks could be a great fit (plus they give you a wicked deal on Frapps and everyone looks sexy in black).

Or, perhaps you are strong at design, coding or finance; skills you can leverage to help other people grow their businesses—and get paid for it. If this is the case, epic. If you’re lucky you may be able to work within the same industry as your startup.

IRL examples

  • You’re building a solution for X on the blockchain. You’re a product manager and can work half time at a Consensys company.
  • You’ve started a K-beauty blog and are beginning to sell products you import from Japan and Korea to your audience. Your background is in finance, so you work as a fractional CFO for a well-funded B2C startup that sells to female consumers.
  • You want to disrupt the office-chair market like the top sleep startups have done to the mattress industry. You’re fresh out of school, but you can work at Office Max, or on the floor at Herman Miller. It may not be your dream job but you’ll get to watch your target consumer on a daily basis and synthesize that information as you build your Aeron-chair-killer.

1PVR: The One Page Visual Resume

We are living in the most competitive job markets in recent history. So if you’re reading this in 2018—good on ya! I began working on my last startup in 2009… thus yours truly got her hustle on by bartending by night, working on other businesses’ social media profiles by day, while slowly building what would become Zirtual all of the time in-between.

But just because the economy is jamming, doesn’t mean you should get complacent. Through years of recruiting, for both my own companies and others, I’ve noticed that job-seekers assume hiring managers are at least partially psychic.

Spoiler alert: we aren’t.

So instead of relying on a boring traditional resume, create a one-pager with at least a partial visual component that tells your professional story and makes it easy for a hiring manager or client to put your strengths into context.

Below is my real life 1PVR. My goal is to communicate quickly and effectively, my strengths (with social proof) and allow for someone who is glancing at it so figure out whether or not I can help them solve their pain point.

*a larger version is here.

Do’s + Don’ts of the One Page Visual Resume

Do:

  • Niche-down and pick the ONE thing that you are best at (here is a great book on the topic)

Don’t:

  • List everything you’re good at, or are interested in. You will lose people’s attention and minimize the power of people sharing your strengths with others. (e.g. no one says “oh my friend Mary could help you with these [TEN] things”, instead they say “oh my friend Mary could totally help you with developing the marketing strategy for your blockchain startup”)

Do:

  • Make it EASY on the other party. This could be friends or colleagues who you ask for referrals or a hiring manager you’ve reached out to via AngelList. Give them something visually appealing and concise, that can express how you can help them within 30-seconds.

Don’t:

  • Use a boring traditional resume packed with details. Good design is so important nowadays and you can easily find a template, whip something up on Keynote, or pay someone on Fiverr to do it for you.

Do:

  • Provide a brief overview of jobs or experiences that back up your overarching ONE thing.

Don’t:

  • List everywhere you’ve ever worked. No one cares that you rocked the watermelon smoothie station at Jamba Juice when you were 19.

Do:

  • List social proof.

Startup Hack: Live Simply

If you decide to make your own one-pager that shows off your skills and makes it EASY for a company to say “yes!” and hire you part-time, or as a consultant, please drop me a line and let me know (happy to provide quick feedback as well!)

But before we wrap, a final word of advice. One of the best ways to destress starting your own thing—especially if you’re committed to bootstrapping or are pre-funding, is to live simply. I’ve been a minimalist most of my life, but every time I start something new I usually purge and pair down to the absolute essentials.

It not only does the ole’ wallet good but it clears space in your mind to really focus on the things that matter: your business, your relationships, and your health.

Questions, comments, recipes for baked goods…

Ping me @marenkate pretty much everywhere.