Wow. It's been almost 14 years since I co-founded my last startup VerticalResponse and it was an awesome ride. The highs were really awesome and the lows were tear-jerking. (BTW, I've asked a few startup CEOs if they've ever broken down and cried, and surprisingly some ego-centric guys said no. They're lying.) But there's a real satisfaction that emerges out of building something from scratch, watching customers buy or use what you've built and listening to what they like and what they don't. It's something that's in my veins and I suppose always will be.
So after I sold my lovely email marketing company over 2 years ago, I took a bit of time off to sort it all out. Took some time to myself, took on a few advisory roles (which I will always do) and realized that I'm drawn to the drama of startup life. But I think I've learned a lot about what NOT to do; still have a ton of work on the what "TO do" part, but I'll get there.
So here I go again! My newest start up is this awesome new company called Dasheroo, business dashboards for any size of business. There are 5 co-founders and they're all amazing guys I've worked with in the past. I'm all in and here's why:
1. Build something people need.
At my last startup we were a tad bit early to the email marketing game and had very little funding. Luckily people caught on and realized they needed what we offered. This time it's different. Businesses know they need access to all of their data from each of the business apps they use, it's a great problem to solve. So I'm betting the farm that we build it right and a ton of people use it.
Lesson: Do your homework before you embark. There might be plenty of products on the market like yours but think about targeting an underserved market or offering different products or features that your competition might not.
2. Get the A-team.
What a cross section of leadership in this one. Our head of engineering James Ryan is just an awesome thinker, developer and person. Josh Feinberg led product for us at VR and did a helluva job with very little to work with. Alf Brand is all about customer success here and figuring out how customers use us and what they need. John Hingley (caveat my husband) is an awesome leader who landed us a Series A round to get us off the ground. How could I not be a part of this amazing team?
Lesson: The founding members of the team should have an expertise in the important things you need to run the business. Some overlap is OK but not too much. For instance Alf and James are great at User Experience but Alf is also great at marketing communications and James is great at architecting a web app and coding. The overlap helps but they both have other things they're strong at.
3. Be personally invested.
The founding team felt that there was a big, addressable market, and we had the expertise to build and market a great product and user experience. So much so, that each co-founder personally invested their own money in Dasheroo. In addition our families did too! On top of that we've got an excellent VC partner Cloud Apps Capital Partners whom we've known for some time now that believes in us, the customers and our business model, business freemium.
Lesson: If you and your team (and your families) put money into the company, it makes you work that much harder for your next milestones. At 40 you still want the gold star on the fridge from Mom. Trust me.
4. A new business model, business freemium, sounds like fun.
I really wanted to build a product that would be so great that our users tell their friends about us. In addition, the ability to offer a valuable product for free is important. Free and awesome are two things that start conversations which turns into a powerful marketing message that you just can't buy. So we really have to keep a close eye on how our users use us and listen to what they want. It worked great for Evernote, Box and MailChimp, so why not Dasheroo?
Lesson: Instrument your website and your business so that you're consistently listening to your customers whether you offer business freemium or you charge for your products or services up front. Use Google Analytics and MixPanel for your website traffic patterns, use Zendesk for customer support. At any point you touch a customer, ask them something about how you can be better.
5. Create a different kind of company.
This company was to be built differently from the start. John and I, Alf and Josh are all in the San Francisco Bay Area and James is in Austin. So the company was born to be distributed. We always loved the approach of not being so rigid with "9-5" or strict vacation policies. It's worth it for all of us to have a life and if we can do it while growing the business it works for everyone. It is so far anyway. It works for companies like Basecamp and Buffer and many, many others so we'll give it a try.
Lesson: Make sure you have some guidelines for people so you don't get abused. For instance at Dasheroo we tell people to ultimately "get your sh*t done" we're not clocking you in and out. If we need you in a pinch, just be there. Also make sure you have open lines of communication: a daily standup is a great idea so everyone knows what everyone is working on and if someone surfaces a “blocker”, it’s solved there. Make sure you have Google Hangouts or Slack as a communications tool so that you can instantly "ping" someone as if they were in the next cube.
So am I crazy? Probably, but I'll be crazy with this bunch solving an amazing problem for awesome businesses around the world. So here I go again, I'll be writing about all things startup and marketing and loving every minute of it. Wish us luck!