A tech startup with a spectacular aura: innovative, disruptive, industry-leading, successfully fundraised, cool offices, an excellent reputation, working with brilliant and creative people, and as the founder, you have the independence and freedom to fulfil your dreams. They name successful startups after mythical creatures because the thing that makes them unique is a type of magic that you can’t earn or buy.
Everyone has ideas, some good, some not. Some of the ideas are marvellous and revolutionary, and yet, 97% of all the tech startups will fail, and from the remaining 3%, which can be defined as a success - only a handful will become big companies, while the rest will do a small/medium exit. Why is this? Most startups all have the same components, smart people, great ideas and a hunger to succeed, and only a few go on to make a mark on the world. What sets them apart? It's something you can’t see or quantify. Yes, there are principles that all successful startups have on their way to being successful, but there isn’t a set formula that you can use to succeed.
The Delusion of the Startup Curve
One of my favrile diagrams to describe the startup journey is the Startup Curve by Paul Graham. The tremendous initial enthusiasm that carries away the entrepreneurs, the diving into the thought of sorrow when the startup is constantly fighting to find its’ way in the market, up to the golden point when the startup hits the Product-Market-Fit and begins to scale.
But this graph is also misleading, almost a lie, as it’s totally out of scale. The reality is that the first stage until the reality sets in can take a few days up to a few weeks, no more than that. Then the time scale in the thought of sorrow, well… that can take a few years and will feel like an eternity. Like a thirsty and hungry person who is lost in the middle of the desert, without a map or compass, who can only see the horizon in the same shape and distance every single day. The only power which gives him the strength to continue is faith and determination.
It’s all About the Execution
The feeling I had when I invented Whichit a few years ago was spectacular. A period full of energy, enthusiasm, creativity and pure initiative - aiming to change how marketers interact with their audience. It’s been four years since I founded Whichit, relocating from Israel Startup Nation to Great Britain together with my two Co-Founders, Yarden and Galit. A long and arduous journey that taught me one main thing about tech startups: It’s not about the idea, but it’s all about the execution of the founding team over some time.
Even today, after a few years of running our startup, with rich experience in the Trough of Sorrow, we are still holding faith and belief in the idea. We can feel and see it in every aspect of the business. From the support and care from our investors, who joined us on this long journey, our business partners who recognize the unique and innovative value we are bringing to the market, the successful businesses with our clients who are growing by the week and last but not least, our team, technically “employees” but practically they are the soul of the startup and keep on fighting even in the darkest hours. A team that you want by your side when you’re building a tech startup.
Being a Founder-CEO of a hi-tech startup is a bitch (sorry for my French). Long hours, hard work, constant uncertainty, great responsibility, constant concerns. As a Founder-CEO, you are overloaded in every single moment, dealing with millions of tasks that cross every aspect of the business world no matter what your background is, while you have few resources. As a Founder-CEO, every day is a challenge that becomes a struggle, getting “Nos” regularly and still trying to continue as if nothing happened. To be a Founder-CEO of a hi-tech startup, it’s doing the impossible every single day.
I was fortunate to have two super talented Co-Founders. Yarden, our CTO, covered all the technical aspects of the business. From taking the concept and the initial definitions to total production. Even though when we began, he didn’t have the full knowledge and experience of several technologies and code languages, he could learn and perform with almost a vertical learning curve, with an extraordinary talent and improvisation to achieve our product goals.
Galit, our Creative Director, is the master talent of the company. Every single pixel in Whichit: it’s her design. From the creative language, the commercial campaigns, marketing and sales materials, website, blog and social channels up to the full definition of the products, the user experience and the interface. Thanks to her talent and creativity, we won the ‘Startup of the Year’ by Facebook in 2015.
As we already know that talent is vital but not enough. The core team never stops surprising me with their dedication and hard work, sometimes with sacrifices of very late nights, working during weekends and holidays, constantly communicating around work to execute our plans successfully, getting into the small details and putting their care and personal touch in every corner of the product, services and piece of work and putting their sole into the tech.
The WBS of the Founder-CEO
I had the chance to look back and review all the disciplines I was involved in in the past few years in running my tech startup. All the millions of tasks spread across every domain and industry exist in the startup and business worlds. I don’t think there is a better school or degree that can teach you what can be learned in a single year as a Founder-CEO of a hi-tech startup.
I created this Founder-CEO WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) diagram, which contains every domain and Scope Of Work (SOW) I dealt with while running my tech startup, Whichit. There are three levels of involvement I’m defining for each scope of work:
1) Full – From the definition and planning to delivery and complete execution of the scope of work.
2) Partial – Taking an active part in the task execution with a colleague or a service provider.
3) Shell – The action/s taken was one or more of the following, while the actual task was created and delivered by someone else: planning, defining, managing, controlling, reviewing, mentoring, guiding.
As a Founder-CEO of a hi-tech startup, you will find yourself dealing with ALL of those components. In contrast, your level of involvement in each of them at the beginning of your startup will be “full” on you and the more progress you will do and the more team members you will have, the level of your involvement will decrease, but yet everything will be dependent on you. You may not have the professionalism, or you might not like a lot of those tasks (who likes to deal with GDPR or create a company’s manual?!?), but like it or not, the execution of your tech startup is dependent on each and one of those small parts.
The T-Model in Professionalism
As you can imagine, it’s impossible to be an expert in every single discipline in the industry, nevertheless to have the time to deal with and manage everything together. The following model I created represents the variety of domains (horizontal) in the tech startup world and the level of professionality in each aspect (vertical). While the middle point is YOUR core professional domain, and the more you move away from the centre, the less YOU are professional in those domains.
The T-Model in professionalism is personal and will be different for each person. The goal of using it is to understand better where your strengths and weaknesses in terms of knowledge and understanding and professionality in each aspect of the startup world. As an output, it assists you in concentrating on work with your core abilities and covers the domains you’re weak.
As I mentioned before, EXECUTION is the crucial ability in the tech startup. Not the idea itself, nor the tech, not the market and for sure, not how much money the startup raised.
In its first years, until it becomes a stable company, a tech startup IS NOT based on the traditional business models of T&M (Time and Materials) nor Bricks and Mortar, but more as an ongoing project, with a general direction and goal that are represented in a heuristic concept and with low resources to none.
Execution is the ability to execute a plan, order, or course of action. In simple words, for the Founder-CEO of a hi-tech startup, you can:
1. Understand the startup's current situation.
2. Measure your direction and distance to the primary goal.
3. Recognize the gaps and upcoming challenges.
4. Translate gaps and challenges to tasks and prioritize.
6. Repeat. Every single day.
Good luck with making the impossible possible, and may the force be with you.
Whichit is an interactive commercial content platform that enables marketers and advertisers to increase user engagement, open new revenue streams & gain user-related insight. The company has an innovative technology that profiles users based on their preferences and uses machine learning to provide bespoke commercial incentives in real-time.
The company works with top agencies and brands and is based in central London.