It's often said that entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint.
It's actually a lot more like a soccer game - sometimes you're running as fast as you can. Other times, it's a light jog. Once in a while, it's a brisk walk.
It begins in your first year. You leave the gate the minute you launch your business. But by year 3, you're in a full-blown run.
The Third Year: What Matters
Momentum and sales. Still! Am I a broken record? But it's true. In fact, don't count on either being less of a priority, ever. Year 1 is about acquiring your first customers and year 2 about scaling those numbers. Every year after will require your attention to be on momentum and sales. In year 3, you're looking at where you can grow, contemplating expanding your sales team, working out how to better manage your channel and funnel.
Recruiting an exceptional leadership team. You want people who are still willing to get their hands dirty, but also people who have experience - who know what problems to expect, and have an intuition for when they should be turning over rocks. People who can be good managers to your junior employees, and who are a voice of mitigating risk in an organization. All while aggressively and ambitiously tackling a growth curve.
Managing risk. Risk lurks around every business, in all shapes and forms. People are starting to take notice of your business. You don't want scandals, upset partners, or product that isn't delivered. Lean on your leadership team. Redundancies, background checks, making sure all your T's are crossed and your I's are dotted. Have a plan for how you'll address issues that arise. Don't wait until problems knock on your door.
Organization. Year 3 is time to start calming some of that chaos. As your team grows, there will be less tolerance room for things frequent change, errors, etc. You'll need to be running tighter, more efficiently. Institute processes, create employee handbooks, put systems and frameworks in place. There's a popular mindset that these things can kill a startup's innovation. But it's actually beneficial - not detrimental.
Refining your leadership skills. Year 3 brings a new stage for you as an entrepreneur. Rather than micromanaging your leaders, you need to rely on them. You need to find how you motivate your broader team, learn where your gaps are, and how to have your ear to the ground.
Leveraging Media Interest. People will begin to notice your business. Take advantage of the press that's interested in your momentum. Get a great PR agency, one that understands how to work with a company of your size and stage. PR for a startup is very different than PR for a larger and more established corporation. You want an agency that understands how to be proactive, not just one that manages and reacts to attention.
Managing financial exposure. Be really close to your financial picture. Make sure you very clearly understand it. What drives it for your company? What are your levers? Are there places you should be negotiating that you're not? It was at this stage that we uncovered some areas where we could easily save $1mm by being really tight.
The Third Year: What Doesn't Matter
Everything matters now. There is very little you can neglect by year 3. At this stage, you should start making sure everything is in tip-top shape. But luckily, you can increasingly rely on your employees for this.