Currently the co-founder and CFO of TheSquareFoot, Aron Susman began his career in the international mergers and acquisitions group at Deloitte in Houston. Most recently a vice president with MDTech, a health care technology company, Aron oversaw the company's financial, accounting, and business development efforts.
At the end of 2010 I was looking for office space for my old company, and the process seemed absurdly frustrating. So I called up my buddy Jonathan, who had some experience in the industry, and asked him to describe the leasing process for an office space to me. He explained the process exactly as I was doing it, but I still felt like there was no way that could be it. I then called my college friend Justin, and he confirmed the process as well.
Eventually I got through the leasing process, but those first frustrating phone calls initiated the idea for a better way to do it, and TheSquareFoot was born. Since that day a few years ago, we've been working together to make the leasing process as simple as possible.Along the way, I've picked up some invaluable advice that I wish I had known before starting my business.
1. Working with friends has its pros and cons.
In the beginning, when you start up with friends, everyone is drinking from a fire hose, trying to do as many things as possible to demonstrate value to the other co-founders. However, this is not scalable--you'll begin to step on each other's toes, and your employees won't know whom to report to. Define your roles early, knowing things can and will change, and it will save you dozens of headaches in the future.
2. Other people are not trying to steal your idea.
In business, ideas are easy. So while the idea for TheSquareFoot is a simple one, it's nothing without the execution of our amazing team. One of the best pieces of advice that I got was to "share your idea with everyone." This means not only other people in startups, but all sorts of people as well--from the CEO to the electrician. You might get some feedback that you never expected.
3. VCs are more selective, not less.
If we were really looking at a startup bubble then we'd likely see VCs who are eager to invest in young companies, at every stage. But I've found VCs to be more selective about funding in later rounds than they are in earlier rounds. In order to raise Series A or Series B funding, a company actually needs to be hitting real milestones. Stand out by showing key metrics and how they are trending in the right direction. If your goal is something other than revenue, have a clear path to monetize those key metrics.
4. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Lawyers are expensive, as are insurance policies, but it's much more expensive to clean up a mess. Ask another founder whom they use and like, or speak to a good agent who has worked with startups--your needs are not unique and they will know exactly what you need and when. Nothing is worse than getting close to signing a term sheet (be it for a banking relationship or a big office lease, etc.) and not having the proper insurance.
5. Hiring is hard ...
You want the best, but finding it in today's market is tough. You are screening for more than innate talent; you need to find the right cultural fit, especially during the early innings when hiring wins and mistakes are felt acutely. We learned early on to ask behavioral-type interview questions: Does the candidate say "we" and use the word "respect"? Finally, we have all potential hires come into the office and shadow one of us for a day. This way they can see how passionate the team is and what everyone is striving for. Hiring is like dating, and both sides should know exactly what is expected.
6. ... but managing is harder.
Now that you have assembled the best team in the business, it's your job to help them hit it out of the park: Removing roadblocks. Providing strategic direction and vision. Ensuring everyone plays well together. But think, for instance, of something as simple as lunch: Who is a vegetarian? Who has food allergies? Is anyone gluten-free? Even simple tasks can prove to be difficult terrain. The best tip I can give on managing a growing team is two-fold: 1) It is impossible to please everyone and if you try, you will please no one; and 2) Get smart on the topic and try to talk to as many people as possible so you can learn from their mistakes.
7. Be selective with your mentors.
You could easily spend the entire month meeting with advisers and ignoring the day-to-day responsibilities of your business. Instead, figure out which mentors make the most sense to develop relationships with, and be very clear in your ask when you reach out. And while you're doing this, make sure to look for mentors everywhere: Go to networking events, ask friends, ask old co-workers, and connect on LinkedIn. Good entrepreneurs want to pay it forward, and it never hurts to ask.
8. Focus on what you do best and delegate where you can.
Tasks like payroll, accounting, and legal can often be outsourced to companies like JustWorks. Time is an incredibly value resource, and if these tasks don't fall into your core skill set, it is best to just use an outside resource. It can be hard to let go of having your hand in everything, but it's simply not sustainable to control everything when scaling is the name of the game. When you find yourself missing big-ticket items for small worries, it's time to delegate.
I tell people all the time that if I knew then what I know now about how complex it is to build a business, I may not have done it. However, I could not be happier or more proud of what we've done. So while it's important to gain as much knowledge as possible, there is something to be said for being naive in certain respects and just taking the plunge in spite of it all.