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The startup team

April 3, 2006

Prelaunch

The last month has been hectic, 12 hour days are not uncommon for the small team that we have put together for pre-launch (not to mention up to 18 hour days for me). Though the costs of entry into the market can be low, the myriad details of starting up a service can be very intimidating for the 6 people involved. There are so many details to attend to: business plan, competitive intelligence, engineering, legal, accounting, and setting up the basic processes of the company. Not including me as I dont take a salary, the full time team consists of 2 developers, 1 tester, and 3 regional customer specialists (kind of a mix of customer facing sales, support, and competitive intelligence functions for key accounts). I try to add value in all areas based on my prior knowledge and experiences – hopefully that is the case – or I try to stay out of peoples and just unblock them whereever possible.

There are two key functions missing from our startup team that will be filled just prior to launch. One of these functions will have to scale based on some key business factors that I will explain in a future post. Not counting that function, I'm only planning on adding 2 additional full time people to expand our capability to support a 24×7 service at some acceptable level between now and the end of startup phase. The end of startup phase is defined for our purposes as 100,000 customers per month with one dollar average revenue from each customer.

Every choice that we have made while in prelaunch has positives and negatives associated with it. For instance, one downside to not being in Silicon Valley, Seattle, or other tech hub is the selection and training of the staff. People in these areas often intuitively understand what needs to happen to put together a service on the engineering side and have a good mix of of mature company experience and startup experiences to plan the required process. I have not not found this. I've had to do fairly significant training of the staff to help them fully understand the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Experience in large companies with existing process in place isnt the same as a startup. The upside is that, once in-place and running, I will hopefully have a staff with few bad habits.

The training has already yielded benefits on the business side. The customer team has started their competitive intelligence and sales prep work. The results of their work has made me scrub through and refine the business plan a bit more after the team did some initial meetings with prospective customers and gained feedback.

The team is intentionally small for a number of reasons:

Customer Touch: We want the sales staff to still be known to our customers and not some monolithic entity

Existing Proven Model For Small Teams:Craigslist seems to be successful with few employees. They are not broken, so I am not trying fix something that does not need to be fixed.

Cash Flow:I'm completely self-funded with no partners or loans. We want to grow organically and be sure that we are selecting the highest quality people that will bring a tangible rise to both the top and bottom line and up-level the team overall.

Also, I'm quickly learning that a small team. The decision and approval cycles in prelaunch tend to be short…really short. I'm liking that.

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