Business today moves at dizzying speed, with new markets, new memes, new technologies, new threats, and new opportunities arriving every hour if not every minute. If you're running a small company or department, and you have limited resources, how can you keep adapting quickly enough to keep up with this rapid change?
It isn't easy, but it can be done. Just ask John Jackovin, founder of Bawte, which provides product information such as manuals, recalls, and how to buy spare parts. He recently came through the TechStars accelerator program in Boulder. (Here's his advice about how to get into TechStars and other accelerators.)
Bawte was already up and running when Jackovin arrived at the program. But he learned early in the game that for Bawte to succeed, he would have to dismantle the website and service he'd built and relaunch with a different focus. "We redesigned the website," he says. "The iOS and Android apps got completely overhauled. The product changed, the business model changed, so the way we communicated had to change. Our pitches changed and our materials had to be completely redone. If you look at Bawte and the beginning of TechStars and the end of TechStars, it's completely different."
How long did the Bawte team have to effect this transformation? Although TechStars lasts thirteen weeks, the first three or four were spent pitching the company to mentors and digging deep into the business model to set the company up for success. That left only nine weeks for the actual overhaul before Bawte relaunched in early December.
In order to turn things around so fast, Jackovin had to find a way of working that stripped down anything that wasn't strictly necessary and accelerated both communication and decision-making. Here's how he did it--and how your company can too:
1. Do what you know. Unload everything else.
Bawte's special sauce is its ability to assemble owner's manuals and other information for hundreds of thousands of products, with or without the manufacturer supplying them. Jackovin outsourced of the website's design however. "We outsourced the design of everything," Jackovin says. "We didn't have a designer. We didn't have a UX [user experience] person, and we certainly didn't have anyone who could build iOS and Android apps."
And speaking of outsourcing, Jackovin highly recommends hiring a good law firm to make sure all materials and necessary filings are taken care of. "Any company looking to raise money should do that," he says. "One thing that will kill a round of financing fast is not having all those things signed, sealed, and delivered."
2. Ditch the weekly or monthly status meetings.
Not only are the meetings themselves a huge time suck, you can't afford to spend time waiting for the next meeting while an issue goes unresolved--at least not if you're trying to move fast. It's much more effective to communicate in real time instead.
"Instead of letting topics sit until you get around to a predetermined meeting--or until there are enough topics that we need to talk about them, we found it was much easier and faster to deal with things when they rose to the surface," Jackovin says. "Everyone pops their headphones off, we talk about it, we document it, and we resolve it. Nothing's as fresh as an open wound." (Here are some more very good reasons to forego regular status or update meetings.)
3. Let your team own both their work and the company.
"Our company, like most start-ups, is too small to have people who don't own the things they work on," Jackovin observes. "You have to have people treat it like they own every aspect of what they're working on. It could be an API [an interface that lets other software interact with yours]. It could be a background process, it could be the app itself. Whatever you produce, you have to be fully committed. And the only way to do that is if you're a part owner of the company, and the only way to do that is to have a good stock option plan so that everyone's incentives are aligned. That's really the only way we can get everyone working toward the same goal."
4. Know where you're trying to go (so you can tell if you got there).
"When you're building a business you need to be able to say, 'Here's my vision for where we end up,'" Jackovin says. "You may take a different path and end up in a totally different place--which may be a great place to land. But you won't know whether or not you ended up in the place you intended if you didn't set out a vision for where you wanted to go. It's critical to understanding your company."
It's also critical for eliminating extraneous dead ends and tangents. "You always have everyone looking at where you want to end up and that makes decision-making a lot easier," Jackovin says. "Hey, does what we're talking about lend itself to getting to that goal? If the answer is yes, you look at it seriously and if the answer is no you table it. It stops a lot of daydreaming and wandering and scope creep that can happen when you're under all this stress."
One such example was Jackovin's plan to add a point system to reward users for adding items to their My Products list. Mentors warned that such systems have unexpected drawbacks--but also, when he considered Bawte's core vision, he realized it would be a distraction. "It's important not to add things that could make it take longer to get to the MVP--minimum viable product," he says. "You can have a lot of ideas and not know which ones to pursue."