Gum Tree 31st July 2009


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This is a presentation I gave to Gum Tree UK staff at the end of July 2009. I was asked to go along and talk about my experiences in start-ups. I wanted to illustrate that the start-up vibe could be achieved regardless of the age or size of a business and that the productivity gains could be very good.

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Gum Tree 31st July 2009

  1. 1. Start-up MOJO Colin Bruce
  2. 2. My experience <ul><li>3 start ups since ‘00 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>B2B purchasing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Financial aggregation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Local search & ads </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Varied roles </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ostensibly: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>marketing | product | operations </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Along the way </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>HR | sales| PM | QA </li></ul></ul></ul>
  3. 3. I recently started-up…again <ul><li>I had lost sight of some fundamentals </li></ul><ul><li>I hadn’t realised I had forgotten some lessons </li></ul><ul><li>I learned new lessons </li></ul>
  4. 4. Critical areas of a start-up <ul><li>Areas </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Technology </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Operations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Culture </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Communication </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Critical actions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Iterate </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Innovate </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Be pragmatic </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Technology
  6. 6. Technology is critical <ul><li>Acceptable risk </li></ul><ul><li>Cost </li></ul><ul><li>Scalability </li></ul>
  7. 7. By definition, start-ups tolerate risk <ul><li>Biz-tech dialogue key to managing risk </li></ul><ul><li>Technology stack </li></ul><ul><li>Must release to production often </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The iterate fast </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Up time </li></ul><ul><li>QA </li></ul>
  8. 8. Start-ups keep costs low, really low <ul><li>BView monthly hosting is £1,500 </li></ul><ul><li>Open source, free, borrowed, bought on </li></ul><ul><li>Spend where relevant </li></ul>
  9. 9. Start-ups appreciate scaling but don’t stress <ul><li>Hacks are tolerated in the short term </li></ul><ul><li>Got to think about scaling in different ways </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Systems </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Processes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Software </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Product </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Scaling might require different skill sets </li></ul>
  10. 10. OPERATIONS
  11. 11. Start-up guide to operations <ul><li>Flatten structures </li></ul><ul><li>Optimise processes </li></ul><ul><li>Break the biz|tech silo </li></ul>
  12. 12. Structures – flatten where possible Business analyst Tech PM Architect Dev lead (TPM) Developer (analyst) Designer Business QA analyst Business PM Business (BPM, QA) Dev lead Developer(s) Designer QA Technical analyst 3x more productive Tough to scale “ high-calibre, smaller teams outperform larger organisations” Bart Becht
  13. 13. Example start-up process simplification <ul><li>Do use Google docs </li></ul><ul><li>Do use full screen mocks </li></ul><ul><li>Do have developers write specs </li></ul><ul><li>Do write light test cases for features </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t document non-critical system elements </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t do a regression test every release </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t track burn rates (in the work-rate sense) </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t set false deadlines </li></ul>
  14. 14. Start-ups avoid biz|tech clan wars <ul><li>“What’s best for the business?” </li></ul><ul><li>Mutual understanding…empathy! </li></ul><ul><li>Talk, don’t swap requirement docs by email </li></ul>
  15. 15. Culture
  16. 16. Rules of thumb for a good team <ul><li>The right people in the right place </li></ul><ul><li>Empower </li></ul><ul><li>Delay hiring </li></ul><ul><li>Happiness & team building </li></ul>
  17. 17. Start-ups have Swiss Balls <ul><li>Your team needs a place to call home </li></ul><ul><li>The right office: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No legacy parent culture </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Technical freedom </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Open plan </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Near pubs </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. The right people are key <ul><li>Get: </li></ul><ul><li>Get rid, fast: </li></ul>passionate commercial intelligent relentless process nazis nice-but-dim intellectuals procrastinators “ this is (…) not a game (…) if you’re not into it - go work at starbucks” Jason Calacanis
  19. 19. Start-up people are empowered <ul><li>People should feel confident to ad lib but; </li></ul><ul><li>Mavericks are hard to work with </li></ul>
  20. 20. Idea exchange has to be part of the culture <ul><li>Opinionated people </li></ul><ul><li>No fear to suggest </li></ul><ul><li>Regular spot meetings </li></ul><ul><li>Discuss possible solutions not implementations </li></ul>“ let those ideas flourish and not have them crushed by a (…) consensus” Bart Becht
  21. 21. Embrace failure <ul><li>Failure is guaranteed at some stage, in some form and of some magnitude </li></ul><ul><li>If you are not failing you are not experimenting or learning </li></ul>“ You always pass failure on the way to success” Mickey Rooney “ Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” Steve Jobs
  22. 22. Cynics/realists <ul><li>Are vital to the process </li></ul><ul><li>Will help refine ideas </li></ul><ul><li>Must be managed well </li></ul><ul><li>Left to run wild will destroy the will to live in others </li></ul>“ If it is such a good idea then why isn’t everyone else doing it?” “ This is too complicated – we aren’t making the process easy enough”
  23. 23. Start-ups can run on a fraction of the staff <ul><li>Only hire when it is absolutely vital </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No empire building </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No jock strap holders </li></ul></ul><ul><li>First HR hire: 75+ staff </li></ul><ul><li>Pay existing staff more before hiring </li></ul><ul><ul><li>They will be happier </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>It will be cheaper </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Re-purpose existing staff </li></ul>
  24. 24. Start-up people know they are making a difference <ul><li>People motivated differently but common denominators c/o Maslow: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Growth </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Recognition </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Belonging </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Money </li></ul></ul>
  25. 25. Start-ups engage in fundamental team building Do things together Celebrate team victories Long term financial reward Facilitate personal growth Drink Eat Play games (as before) Options Shares New stuff Free time Responsibility Recognition
  27. 27. Kuh-myoo-ni-key-shuh n <ul><li>Meetings </li></ul><ul><li>Open & empathic </li></ul><ul><li>Top down – bottom up </li></ul>
  28. 28. Start-up meetings have a purpose <ul><li>Communicate the purpose </li></ul><ul><li>Short but regular </li></ul><ul><li>Direct, frank, friendly </li></ul><ul><li>No absolutes </li></ul><ul><li>Preparation </li></ul>
  29. 29. Start-up people are open & empathic <ul><li>Understand what the other party wants </li></ul><ul><li>Communicate your goals </li></ul>
  30. 30. No ivory towers in a start-up <ul><li>Brown bags/town halls are great </li></ul><ul><li>Few/no taboos </li></ul><ul><li>Air fears, communicate goals, communicate successes </li></ul><ul><li>Understand what each part of the business does </li></ul>
  31. 31. INNOVATE
  32. 32. Innovation across the business <ul><li>Creative and intelligent people are always looking to do things better </li></ul><ul><li>Fostering innovation is critical </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A meritocracy of ideas </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Embrace the new </li></ul>
  33. 33. ITERATE
  34. 34. Start-ups evolve fast <ul><li>Processes must facilitate change </li></ul><ul><li>Staff must facilitate change </li></ul><ul><li>Technology must facilitate change </li></ul><ul><li>Examples: </li></ul>
  35. 35. BE PRAGMATIC
  36. 36. Keep it simple, stupid <ul><li>Launch fast & iterate </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Test ideas in the real world </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Live by the 80/20 rule </li></ul><ul><li>Go step-wise to achieve complexity </li></ul><ul><li>Seek input from inside, outside </li></ul>You don't need to outdo the competition. It's expensive and defensive. Underdo your competition. We need more simplicity and clarity. Jason Fried