There is no one way to start a company. Making mistakes and learning from them is just par for the course when it comes to startups. However, when I look back on 2013, I saw several areas of opportunity emerge, ones that may help other startups gain the attention of customers, investors and talent.
Design. Startups are [still] not investing enough in design. While the general public may not understand how great design is created, they're developing a keener sense of what works. With the bar set high, design is increasingly becoming a huge competitive advantage. More and more startups are founded by designers, which is especially helpful in consumer applications. For most nascent companies, the funding for design is still short, late and constraining.
Great design and usability says to your customers, "We're reputable, we know what we're doing and we care." People don't hesitate to rent a home or apartment from a stranger on AirBnB, not because it's been around for a long time, but because good design inspires confidence. Especially for unproven startups, trust increases when you get the details right, especially if it has to do with storing financial details, processing payments and safeguarding accounts.
But design isn't just about how something looks, it's also about how it feels. The unique voice of your brand brings together the tone, personality, intelligence and passion in a way that is critical to your success as a company. It took us a while to find ours at Doorsteps.com, but now I like to think it's unmistakable.
Leadership. Startup founders need to continue learning how to lead and inspire in order to retain incredible talent. Too many of the best young entrepreneurs are notorious for less-than-perfect, even alienating, people skills. While I agree in theory with the startup mantra "hire fast, fire fast," this shouldn't be used as an excuse not to acquire strong leadership skills. Great leaders should have the ability to find talent, evaluate their fit, inspire them to join and keep them engaged. I've seen founders get too comfortable with the constant startup revolving door and that's not good for business or company culture. While time spent managing problematic employees is time that could be devoted to higher-value drivers within the company, it's important to make sure you are creating an environment where people are able to do the best work of their lives and that means fostering the right culture and attitude in your team.
Focus. "If you're reacting to someone else, you're doing someone else's roadmap." Jack Dorsey understands that as undesirable as navel-gazing is, caring too much about the other guy can quickly erode your company vision and brand integrity. I have often made the mistake of comparing my company's beginning to another company's middle. When starting out, it's easy to compare yourself to those who are already established in a similar business. Startup founders are expected to be well-versed in the competitive landscape especially when raising capital. However, once the team is in the thick of building their product, constantly keeping tabs on competitors, some of whom seem more talented and more established, can be damaging. Social media can be a big culprit here as well. Throughout our Twitter and Facebook feeds, it looks like everyone's "winning," whether they are or not. In order to combat this, stay true to your original mission and have faith the rest will follow.
In closing, the worst mistake any company can make -- at any given time -- is not making something users want or need. If you make something that users want to engage with, none of these other gaffes will have overwhelming import.
To 2014 and always acting like a startup!