Tech Veteran Offers Five Lessons for Avoiding Mistakes that Plague Startups

Don Tennant
Slide Show

Five Point Checklist for Developing Successful Workforce Strategies

According to Asif Khan, a technology veteran who can speak from experience, finding success as a startup is all about finding the right people to start it up and keep it going. With a background in health care IT, Khan is CEO of a startup that’s enjoying some enviable success: Chicago-based Caremerge, a provider of cloud-based communication and coordination technology for senior living communities.

Here are five lessons to help ensure a startup’s success that Khan says he has learned along the way:

  1. Stay clear of anyone who isn’t team-oriented. It’s been said that the strength of the team is each individual member, but the strength of each member is the team. Finding the right people at the right time takes time, energy, patience, and serendipity. When you’ve put together the right team, you’ll have a group of extraordinary people working together toward a common vision using their individual skills, talents, and experience.
  2. Look for those committed enough to put skin in the game. You’ve got a great idea, it’s gained some traction and resulted in interest from various people willing to take a risk and come on board. Chances are, you’re excited because a few short months ago, you couldn’t get anyone to collaborate, much less join the team. But now that you’ve got buzz, how do you gauge their commitment? It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to measure their commitment to your mission is to ask them to invest within the company for equity. You’ll see their true motivation, and guarantee their investment goes beyond money to include their expertise, which is often as important as funding, if not more important.
  3. Ensure that you network with a purpose. One of the best and easiest ways to find like-minded people is to have a lot of conversations with purpose—that is, a goal that defines what you want to extract from each person. I don’t know what the definition of networking is, but I can tell you I have a lot of conversations with substance and purpose to suss out people I want to keep in contact with. Many of our employees came to us by way of candid conversations we had at conferences, roundtables, and other interactions. As you establish relationships, you’ll know if a person you’re talking to is a good fit for the company now, down the road or never.
  4. Recognize that sales rules. Don’t let anyone undersell the importance of a strong sales leader and team members. The common belief has always been that a corporate sales leader with proven experience will take you to the promised land. Don’t fall prey to that assumption. Corporate sales isn’t always a good fit, because the environments are disparate—goals, timelines, and expectations vary wildly between the two. Startups move faster, they fail faster, and get up and go faster, and often, corporate sales leaders can’t keep up. By the time you realize it’s a bad fit, you’ve lost months of potential revenue stream development. Instead, take the time to compose a nimble, agile sales team that has worked in the industry you’re looking to penetrate, understands the fluctuating nature of a startup, and is willing to do the dirty work: segment the market, make cold calls, automate sales and implement a sales process that is unique to your company and product. A startup sales team should have people that view sales as an ongoing learning process they can take advantage of.
  5. Insist on candidates who fit your culture and mission. Startups are intense, mission-driven microcosms. Find team members who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. People are puzzle pieces: They fit together in order to create the big picture. A bad fit goes beyond an employee and his or her immediate supervisor. It can encompass an entire company, hinder growth, and block employee engagement with the mission. Resumes are important, but the final decision-maker should be whether or not the candidate is a right fit for the company vision. Will this candidate be with you for the long haul? Even without skin in the game, does he or she relate to the mission? If not, move on. The right candidate is out there.

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.



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