For me, there are two types of businesses. You either try to get people in, or you try to get them out. Running any type of internet business and mass religions can be an example for both, respectively.
Though those two can diverge in uncanny ways. When you overpromise, overexcite, fiddle with new and unproven concepts and amp up your marketing more than your capacity to deliver something meaninful. You can, at least for a short period, make an internet business that tries to get people out. Why do they get people out? Because every other user increases their operational costs and asks unnecessary questions.
Purpose of this piece is to outline the missteps and consequental lessons I personally took in my first year of running a startup program. I highly doubt that people would read this piece (or others in that regard) and find something influential in them or anybody reads my blog at all. Nonetheless, let me start.
This is a people's business
I cannot stress this enough. We started not as a startup program but a series of programming sprints and ideathons. What came out of it was a catch-all startup program that was overpromising. A lot of people came to us asking questions at first, that seemed like a promising subject for us to pivot upon. We can potentially turn into a startup factory for early stages and for everyone. What we promised to provide was unmatched at those levels of pay and the fact that we did not require any skill at all quickly turned back on us. After that, I can only say that this is a business of ensuring other's success even at the expense of coming out as ordinary and meager at start.
When we promised to provide any ordinary joe with a self-proclaimed big idea with mentorship, connections, tech and access a lot has happened. Not necessarily for the better though, mostly people made demands about them and we tried to make stupid leeways without telling them to find someone or somewhere else. Even though, we cannot realistically fullfil that requests later on. Being the popular choice for a demographic and getting attention was a good thing at the start. Not anymore.
It is important to recognize the core value presented at a startup program. Making people successful and ensuring growth. This generally has nothing to do with popularity and other connectors per se. You should not admit or flatter anyone to gain a follower or two, nor you should compromise this human aspect by ignoring or automating crucial processes of a program.
Hard to iterate
With every broken interaction, a mismanagement or communicative error you lose a boundary or trust. You can't just start from scratch and figure out the way to run your program along the way. Having a skeleton of a program does not cover even the basics. You should be mapping and figuring out key processes, application and lead management, stakeholder, beneficiary and investor relationships at the start before regretting about it later.
One you gave it a go it is extremely hard for people to start anew and trusting you to not to break things again at the same time.
Avoid hunting with trolls
Because this is a people's business. You cannot afford to be open to anyone. This is a simple rule, really you can't effectively automate a startup program in its core. Define a type of people and pair them with your cause. Get a type of people and make them your people.
Partners are only meaningful if they are… well… “partners”
We have 180 of them. Though not everyone is a good fit and same thing occurs both ways. If you do not engage with them constructively in other words: if the relationship is somewhat of a zero-sum, that is you are being partners only because of a single give-something-get-something deal then, reconsider it. Do not use partners to gain credibility or upsell yourself to others. People tend to judge you by your actions, if you cannot give the same performance like that shiny new partner of yours. You will probably regret that upsell.
Do not overpromise
Really, do not do that. The primary drive that turns your business into something that expels people more than you can deliver good results is this.
It's about them
This is, entirely about them and their success. That is a good thing by the way.
You are not a non-profit
This is from Simon Sinek actually. If you have structure that is similar to us please take his advice.
Do your own thing
You might have a leadership at the top. Bear with them at the minimum for your own sake. Most of the things I've done was unwarranted and they turned out to save the day. Follow the best practices, value experience, get good mentors and do your own thing.