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Nov 22nd

28 ways to tell whether you’re running a ‘lean startup’

By Anand Agrawal

Here are some pointers on how you really ‘do’ lean:

1. Focus on the process of building your business to profitability as rapidly as possible – not on the frills. (At blur Group we went as far as publishing our manual

2. Be obsessive about the problem you will solve for customers and make sure that you solve the problem well enough that they will pay prices which include sustainable margins to enable you to generate the kind of cash you desire for the business

3. Be obsessive about your customers, profitably acquiring them and servicing them

4. Nail repeat business into everything you do

5. Build great systems, cost efficiently

6. Raise only as much capital as you need at every stage and always question hard whether and why you require this capital

7. Rent everything

8. Negotiate everything as cost effectively as you can. There is no such thing as being too cheap in a lean business

9. Do not over-engineer your products, processes, systems or contracts – you want to engineer your business just right for each and every stage of its growth

10. Always work on refining and tightening your business model and financials – be detailed and cautious

11. Until you reach profitability do not plan or engineer yourself more than 6 months out

12. Keep it simple: contracts, processes, procedures, systems, pricing, products, messages etc

13. Ensure that your cost base is the absolute lowest it can be at every stage

14. Plan everything to the extreme, top to bottom, inside out. You should never have a spare or under-utilised resource

15. Ensure your organisational structure is a flat as a pancake and until you are profitable all managers must be player and coach. Each with tangible objectives

16. Only hire exactly what you need, define roles clearly and take your time. Lean means you have to shop around diligently and fairly exhaustively

17. Try and put the ‘viral’ into products, services, websites and external comms

18. Think scalability and efficiency in all you do

19. Do not commit to overheads or long contracts of any kind until you hit sustainable profitability

20. Be fit for lean – literally as it is a long, hard slog

21. Teach lean to every employee, partner or supplier and ensure that it is cemented into all your core principles and processes

22. Make sure all your management team and employees celebrate lean and are eternal advocates

23. Cement lean into your core values

24. Stay lean for the life of the business – never become fat

25. Reward and celebrate activities that shift the profitability needle and not other needles

26. Understand and measure any key metrics that will drive you along and beyond profitability – to the most optimised earnings growth possible

27. Be ethical, diverse, up front, open, transparent and bold – lean means building a sustainable business

28. The more you grow the more you have to push lean to the very bowels of the business and back up to the very top.

Lean businesses care as much about the bottom line as the top – in everything they do, at all times. They get that turnover at any cost is the business equivalent of gross obesity.

That capital raisings are distractions from the core and that lean is a long hard slog. Succeed at it and you probably build a longer term, more valuable business with the right economics to make it through thick and thin.

A truly lean start-up is as passionate about being lean as they are about their brand and products. It is a way of life – an ‘organic’ business.

Corporate retro – back to basics. Where your number one goal is cash generation, your best route to this is a total customer focus and your surest path to failure being poor products and weak cost controls.

blur Group was a ‘lean startup’ and one of the most successful in Europe. Now blur Group has become an international business so it is developing the concept of ‘lean business’. One day it will be a ‘lean enterprise’.

Building a lean business is not for everyone. Think hard about whether it is for you. If you are up for it then do it to the max. Lean has little room for compromise or deliberation. Lean is forever – no gorging allowed! And lean is absolutely not for the faint hearted.

Nov 18th

Diary of a start-up: “My first product prototype!”

By Anand Agrawal

SSome brilliant ideas on how to do market research and gain valuable feedback about your products before you actually spend a penny on prototypes. Here’s how to do it:

  • Create mock-up photos of your (planned) products in Photoshop. For example if you want to sell t-shirts with your own design on them, you can find an image of a plain white t-shirt online, and then paste your design onto it. Make it look good though; if you don’t know how to use Photoshop, see if you have a friend who can help you.
  • If possible, convince manufacturers to make a free sample of your first product.
  • Organise your images into a nicely presented portfolio.
  • Contact 5-10 small shops, perhaps local ones, that you think are a good fit for your products, call them and ask if you could come in and have a few minutes of their time.
  • Present your products to the shop manager/owner and ask for feedback such as: would you stock this product? How much would you recommend it to sell for (retail price)? How much would you be willing to buy it for (wholesale price)? What quantity would you buy? etc.
  • See your presentation as a pitch; best-case scenario the shop owner could place an order straight away!

From these meetings you will gain very valuable insights and feedback; you can see which products are the most popular, and which ones don’t work at all, or perhaps find out about changes you need to apply to the products to make them more desirable for the buyers.

Nov 10th

Diary of a start-up: Looking back on our first year

By Anand Agrawal

Whoever coined the platitude “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” must have been referring to a love of not working. The phrase certainly doesn’t hold true for start-up businesses, at least.

 

Over the past year it feels like me and my co-founders Rick and Hugh have worked practically every day – whether actively or else thinking about Onedox in what should be our spare time.

That’s not to say we haven’t enjoyed the experience. In actual fact, it’s the unique challenges and lack of a safety net that make it such an exhilarating ride; making the small successes along the way feel so rewarding.

Over the last year we’ve taken what was an untested concept of using technology to revolutionise managing household admin and turned it into a product that’s getting a lot of exposure and proving very popular. We’ve still got a long way to go to build the product we ultimately know it can be and to reach the scale we need for it to become a profitable business. However, these challenges haven’t come as a surprise. If it was easy there wouldn’t be an opportunity and we feel we’re in great shape to flourish in our second year of trading.

I thought it may be of interest to look back at some of my experiences over the last year and consider some key reflections, in case they may be of interest to anyone else in a similar situation:

Perseverance

Perhaps it’s the challenges of attracting readership that mean a lot of online commentary I see written about start-up businesses is binary in nature. It assigns them to one of two fates: hyper-successful “unicorn” in the making or else lacking hockey-stick growth potential and therefore doomed to failure.

The truth is typically much less sensational. Like businesses in any other sector, technology start-ups require more perspiration than inspiration in order to be successful. They also require positivity and the ability to see the upside in the challenges that a young business inevitably experiences.

Collaboration

Open and honest collaboration with colleagues, customers and anyone else who is prepared to help are invaluable to get feedback, insight and new ideas. Time is a very rare commodity and it’s easy to feel your time is best utilised working on what you assume to be correct, rather than being open to having different conversations that run the risk of being time badly used.

Of course, not every conversation will contribute towards making your business a success, however most conversations will contribute positively to growing your business in some shape or form. You also get to meet lots of nice, new people.

Enjoyment

There are lots of aspects to running a start-up that could be cause for worry rather than enjoyment. There’s the hours, the financial risks, the unknowns of whether it will work out and the potential stigma of perceived failure. However, there are massive benefits that make it extremely rewarding and it’s important to have them in mind when the going feels tough.

There aren’t many opportunities in life to choose who you work with on something you truly believe in, to see the real benefits people are getting from a service you’ve been a vital part of, and as your own boss, to have the flexibility to combine that with spending time with your family.First Year