5 startup lessons to start up right

By Callie Johnson on September 3, 2015

When it comes to entrepreneurship and getting a startup off the ground, things aren't always easy. But, luckily for us (and you!) our very own Aaron Skonnard (Pluralsight CEO and president) recently shed some light on what he's learned when it comes to starting up a startup right.

Aaron spoke at StartFEST, a startup festival here in our HQ base of Silicon Slopes (AKA Utah). StartFEST brought thought leaders together to discuss what they've learned that's made them successful. Aaron shared five tips to help any entrepreneur.

StartFEST 2015

1. Boil your business down to one page

Seek clarity. Can you explain your entire business on one page? It’s really not as easy as it seems. You’ll realize quickly how hard this exercise is, but there’s tremendous power and value when you can achieve this goal. If you can boil your business down to one page, it makes it possible for everyone in the company to remember the value of what you’re trying to accomplish. Over time, you won’t even need that page since it'll be easy to remember, and everyone in your company will have clarity.

Be able to answer these 5 simple questions on that page:

  1. What’s your reason for existing?

  2. How do you behave?

  3. What do you actually do? (Hint: this is different than why you exist; it's the mechanics in more concrete terms.)

  4. What do you need to do today to define success?

  5. What's most important to your business right now?

If you can’t get your business down on one page, then you haven’t thought hard enough about it. Take the time to do it and get it done right because it can be incredibly powerful.

 Aaron recommends reading: "The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business"

2. Inspire with “why”

Avoid a 'command and control' style of leadership by inspiring everyone in your company with your vision and with a leadership team who leads with "why" and not "how."

If someone on your team really understands why they need to do something, it leads to intrinsic motivation, creativity and innovation--which will lead to solutions you never anticipated or thought of. It's how you help people find the motivation to do things. You can’t make people do anything. You help people and inspire them with why.

There's a lot of power in taking the time to explain why. Keep asking why until you fully understand, because once people have an understanding, there’s a tremendous power that emerges.

Aaron’s recommends reading: "Start with Why"

StartFEST 2015

3. Don’t be the smartest one in the room

Build a team of people who have capabilities that you don’t have. When you start a company, in the beginning, you’re touching everything. But, if you keep it that way for too long, you’ll put the business at risk. It’s critical to bring people to your idea who are smarter than you--who know more about a particular area (that's important to the business) than anyone else in the company. Bring in exceptional leaders to help with your cause as soon as you can. The faster you compose a team around you, the faster your business will fly.

StartFEST 2015

4. Beware of incentives

In the beginning, you often use incentives to force results you want to see without taking on too much risk. It’s been proven that this doesn’t work long-term; it only works in very short-term circumstances. It's more healthy to think about the right dynamics you're trying to produce. Incentives work against those things, and sales commissions specifically work against what’s in the best interest of the customer most of the time.

Let’s treat all of our employees the same way and encourage them to do what’s in the best interest of the purpose of the company. The employee of the month incentive is also unhealthy. It usually backfires, because you make more people demotivated to do what you really want them to do for the business long-term.

Aaron recommends reading: "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us"

5. Hiring more developers isn’t always the answer

The product function inside of a company is incredibly important. What we refer to as "product" means building an organization of people who are working closely with your engineers to understand your customers and add value to what they need.

Most companies underinvest in product--it’s one of those functions that’s often overlooked as a business. You'll gain so much more in your company by bringing product into focus than if you had just hired more engineers. When you bring on a product team, you’ll find an increase in productivity and you'll be able to deliver the right value to customer needs. You’ll find that valuable product-market fit. If you don't have product yet, it'll help you so much more than hiring more engineers.

StartFEST 2015

Bonus tip: Obsess over culture

The central theme here is culture. The more you obsess and pause to think about these types of things: the way you work together, the way you serve your customers and the way it feels to be at your company, the better off you’ll be. That’s where true inspiration and innovation come from--the cultural DNA that you put in place. It's never too early to start thinking about culture.

StartFEST 2015

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Callie Johnson

is a Branded Content Specialist at Pluralsight. With bachelors' degrees in both Journalism and Web Design/Development, she has a wide spectrum of interests, including enforcing the proper use of ‘you’re.’ She loves hanging with her husband and their super weird, yet unbearably cute dogs, Kingsley, Thor and Rumble. Find her on Twitter @calliemarie87