Just when you think you've seen enough social networks, 10 or 15 new ones pop up. While I have personally abandoned my Facebook account, and my LinkedIn is on life support--with the exception of Twitter, I have pretty much tired of the whole social media thing. However, my college-age daughter lives and breathes social media--Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat are her favorite places to hang out online. When it comes to social media, there's clearly always room for one more.
Akash Nigam co-founded Blend--a social network targeted exclusively for undergraduate students--in 2013. Like most new ventures, it's a ride that's had its ups and downs--starting with the fact that Akash dropped out of the University of Michigan to build Blend.
I invited Akash to reveal his 5 secrets to starting and growing a successful business. The words that follow are all his.
1. You can't treat employees the exact same way you would treat friends. Think about it, your close circle of friends doesn't double or triple each year, but your headcount might.
As much as you want to achieve that perfect startup family and flat environment you've been reading about, it's simply only a dream. You need to find a middle ground. In order to maintain the company's best interest, there needs to be a system of checks and balances, especially during growth stages. If you want to be functioning efficiently, respect for procedures, protocol and other colleagues is imperative.
2. Approach fundraising like a team owner approaches NFL draft day
Don't be intimated or view the fundraising process as "a waste of time." Instead, it should be viewed as an opportunity to take your company to new heights. However, it is important to conduct proper due diligence! Big name, tier 1 firms can certainly make empty promises and end up a bust. Of course, securing a tier 1 firm will undoubtedly drive up your valuation and hype, but will it achieve your long-term goal of being a successful company? Your sleeper stars may very well lie in your smaller strategic partners who add tremendous value given your startup's specific emphases and needs.
3. Lawsuits are a tax on success. Be legally (and mentally) prepared.
I learned this the hard way the first time. However, we got sued a few more times after that, so we were much better prepared! As a startup, it's easy to skip formal paperwork to keep legal costs low. But it's important to circle back to cross your t's and dot your i's once you notice your company gaining speed. The snakes will come out of the woodwork in the most unexpected fashion. Stay calm and composed, you're going to make it through--especially if your paperwork is sound!
4. Forget dating. You're already in a relationship--with your co-founders. Make sure you know each other inside out.
It's like a marriage. You're going to have your honeymoon period when things are all fine and dandy. But soon afterwards, fights ensue over a variety of disagreements. Some of the fights are on the brink of divorce. The way you recover, move forward, and learn TOGETHER has an impact on the sustainability and prosperity of the relationship. If you're able to get through the worst of the worst (you'll know when this happens), then the bond only gets stronger and you're in it for the long haul. Latch onto these people--they're hard to come by and could very well be your partners for life.
5. The firing of someone is not the employee's fault--it's yours. Hire carefully and properly.
As a manager, your primary responsibility is to put each employee in the most optimal position to positively impact the company. This requires proper delegation and continuous communication. It's vital to personalize each situation--extract the strengths and massage the weaknesses of each team member. If the employee finds him or herself falling short on output and deadlines, it's your fault for not keeping them on track. If the employee is in the most optimal position within the company but their best is simply not enough, it's again, your fault. Shouldn't have hired them in the first place.