Starting a new venture, whether it be a new project or a new business, is challenging. For most people, even experienced entrepreneurs, the challenge comes from the immensity of the undertaking and simply not knowing where to start. Often they are simply not asking the right questions and considering the right tools at their disposal.
In a recent interview with YPO member and serial entrepreneur Steve McKean he identified the 7 key questions every start-up CEO must ask and answer to achieve success. McKean knows his way around start-ups. As a self-proclaimed "middle-aged" entrepreneur, the Miami native is the founder of several companies and CEO of Acceller Inc., the nation's leading customer acquisition and marketing platform for Internet, Televison and Phone Services. Acceller was ranked #54 on the Inc. 5000 list, and twice won the award for one of the best place to work by the South Florida Business Journal. After growing the company to $50 million in revenue and 300 employees, in 2014, Acceller merged with its competitors - Bridge Vine and the company is now generating record profitability.
Steve is also the Co-Founder for Animusoft, a software platform for robotics and drones, and CEO of BillShark, a personal finance platform to help consumers lower their monthly bills.
Here are the critical questions that McKean suggests every start-up entrepreneur address from the get-go.
1. What's your story?
McKean doesn't believe people will just come running for good product. You must bring the message to them. "Have or create the narrative [of your business]. When explaining the WHAT and WHY of your business, it's much easier for others to relate when it's wrapped in a good story!"
2. What are your core values?
McKean is a big believer in the value of a strong culture. "Establish core values early on. Limit yourself to 3 and eliminate those that are aspirational, table stakes or can't be observed. Properly done, core values will screen those who don't fit into a new culture."
3. What will the customer experience be like?
McKean has witnessed plenty of failed start-ups who waited for the customers to dictate how they should be treated... once it was too late. He advocates strongly, "Envisioning how a user (whether it's a customer, consumer or employee) will experience your company or product will provide a great lens for focus."
McKean thinks you should also carefully consider the presentation and "feel" of your company's identity. "Spend the time to develop your brand blueprint including colors, fonts, personas, voice. This work upfront will make your marketing far more efficient and cohesive. Identify the "tone" of your business culture. This tone will be threaded throughout everything you create going forward."
4. What does your voice sound like?
McKean thinks too many start-ups start selling before they have the necessary platform for growth. He explains, "Start building your social proof (Facebook, Twitter profile) prior to launching. Show the market you have a voice, a point of view and an approach. This will help establish your brand and guide you through iterations of learning."
5. Who do you know that can help you?
McKeanis one who believes you just can't do it alone. Get your outside network working for you even for internal support. McKean gives an example, "I have found many big companies with customer bases open to experimenting with new products and services. Some of the most valuable relationships and feedback are found in these dialogues."
6. Are you leveraging the right tools for success?
"Build your business using the right/best tool for the job. Be aware of 'Swiss Army knife' tools that try to do too many things. Evaluate each solution to fit a specific need...then tie them together to create your own custom solution."
One example he emphasizes is marketing. McKean is a devote of the "Church of Inbound." "[I] cannot stress enough that interruption marketing (think cold calling, TV ad's) is dying and inbound marketing, creating great content and promoting, is the most sustainable method."
7. Are you ready for the road ahead?
McKean has watched many start-up entrepreneurs crack under the pressure and workload. He has experienced the entrepreneurial stresses first hand and cautions strongly. "At any age, a start-up is hard. It is a new child, new baby. I would strongly encourage to focus on sleep, finding 2-3 hours per day for deep work and morning routines (yes the Tim Ferris stuff works). These routines will help you maintain a balanced psychology in dealing with ups and downs of start-up life."
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