— October 3, 2017
When you build a startup, you often find yourself navigating polarizing advice. For example, some people will recommend raising money whenever you can, and others will recommend running lean operations and raising as little as you need. Often, opposite pieces of advice can both be right, and the right answer for you depends on a slew of factors and context. Determining which direction to take can be a lot.
While building three different startups over the past 20 years, I encountered lots of conflicting advice. However, through all those years of work, I also finally found a few key lessons that apply to every startup, no matter the business model, stage of growth or competitive landscape. Below are the few pieces of advice I’ve learned can work for any business you’re building.
Stay product-focused through every stage of growth
Your product and services are the crux of your company so stay focused on them through every stage of your business. If you find yourself blaming issues on sales or marketing in the early days of your startup, you’re likely missing the real problem and core product related improvements you could make – you don’t.
To avoid this issue at AppLovin, we kept the company in stealth for the first three years. We didn’t publicly launch until we had a strong run rate, were profitable and had a solid amount of customers. This allowed us to really stay focused on our product and listen to our customers. We eventually brought on sales, marketing, and advertising teams to help fuel growth, but only when we were ready.
The stealth approach might be too extreme for some businesses, especially ones in the consumer sector, but the product-first mindset isn’t. When you get feedback or encounter a new hurdle, first look at how your product is equipped to handle it and make updates (innovate quickly) if needed.
Failures are opportunities
One of the core values we have at AppLovin is to embrace failure, and fast. Prior to founding AppLovin, we were experimenting with creating an app recommendation engine, which as you probably figured out, didn’t work out. We pivoted quickly, failed fast, and found things that worked instead–things that were informed by our lessons-learned.
While failure never feels good, knowing what doesn’t work is part of finding out what does. It’s failing at small things — or even big philosophical things — and trying different approaches quickly that allowed us to grow as a company.
It’s this core tenet that influences every part of our company culture and business. While in stealth, we took customer feedback seriously and adapted our product to suit their needs. We don’t always get it right the first time but we don’t give up and failing fast allows us to adapt.
If you are not failing, you’re not ambitious (or humble) enough.
Avoid the meeting trap
When your startup begins to grow, the amount of time spent in meetings can spiral out of control. You have to resist falling into the endless meeting trap and instead focus on actually building something.
Often top executives are the ones that get sucked into the most meetings. This slows growth and limits the time you can spend thinking about the overall strategy of your company. It also brings you into the weeds of things you should delegate to the capable teams you’ve hired.
There are certain circumstances that clearly warrant a meeting, but scheduling meetings should be more of a last resort, not the default. And there is a right way and a wrong way to meet. The right way is to have a meeting owner, who is responsible for providing a clear agenda before it starts, and a list of action items following the meeting. The wrong way to meet has no owner, no agenda, and no follow-up.
Psychology Today found that as much as 50% of time spent in meetings is wasted, and another study found that most employees attend 62 meetings a month on average. Instead, communicate with your teammates every day as needed and make it part of the daily routine.
When you’re a first-time founder or in the early stages of a startup, you’ll often find yourself leaning on your network for advice. It’s easy to become overwhelmed parsing the conflicting lessons you hear. After two decades in the startup world, these are three lessons that I’ve found hold true no matter what company I’m working on. If you follow these, you’ll set your business up for success.