A checklist of things that are usually important if not necessary for starting a startup. Some items are more or less important than others and it’s hard to tell from this simple checklist, so have a look at the original sources for context and nuance.
You get users manually with the goal to get a small group of them to love you.
You understand that group extremely well, and get extremely close to them.
You are building an engine in the company that transforms feedback from users into product decisions, then get it back in front of the users and repeat.
You ask users what they like and what they don’t like and watch them use the product.
You ask users what they’d pay for, if they’d be really bummed if your company went away, what would make them recommend the product to their friend, if they’ve recommended it to any yet.
You make this feedback loop as tight as possible.
You don’t put anyone between yourself and your users.
You have this loop embedded in the culture.
You use metrics to keep yourself honest.
The CEO decides to measure something and that’s what gets built.
If you’re building an Internet service, you ignore things like total registrations. You look at growth in active users, activity levels, cohort retention, revenue, net promoter scores, these things that matter.
You are brutally honest if your metrics aren’t going in the right direction.
You treat choosing co-founders as one of the most important decisions you make in the life of your startup.
You are not choosing a random random co-founder, or choosing someone you don’t have a long history with, or choosing someone you’re not friends with.
You met your co-founder in college.
You met your co-founder at an interesting company.
You would choose to have no co-founder rather than to have a bad co-founder.
Your co-founders are unflappable, tough, they know what to do in every situation. They act quickly, they’re decisive, they’re creative, they’re ready for anything. They’re like James Bond.
You’re more interested in a co-founder that behaves like James Bond than you are in someone that is an expert in some particular domain.
You have known your co-founders for awhile, ideally years.
Your co-founder is tough and a calm, especially if you feel you yourself aren’t.
If you aren’t technical you have a technical co-founder.
You don’t say, “We don’t need a technical co-founder, we’re going to hire people, we’re just going to be great managers.”
If you are a software company, you are software people. If you are a media company, you are media people.
You are a two or three founder team.
You are not a five founder team.
You try not to hire.
You are proud of how few employees you have.
You are proud of how much you can get done with a small numbers of employees.
At the beginning, you only hire when you desperately need to.
When you hire, you hire people that believe in the company almost as much as you do.
You have a culture of extremely dedicated people that come together when the company faces a crisis.
You have an extremely high bar, you hire slowly and ensure that everyone believes in the mission.
When you’re in hiring mode, hiring the best people is your number one priority.
You don’t underestimate how hard it is to recruit.
To recruit the best people, you can convince them that your mission is the most important of anything that they’re looking at.
You spend either zero or twenty-five percent of your time on hiring. You’re either not hiring at all or it’s probably your single biggest block of time.
You do not compromise and hire someone mediocre.
For everyone you hire, you think: will I bet the future of this company on this single hire?
You hire people that you already know or that other employees in the company already know.
When you’re hiring someone that is going to run a large part of your organization, you hire someone with experience.
For most of the early hires that you make at a startup, you hire for aptitude and belief in what you’re doing over experience.
When you hire you ask yourself, is this a role where I care about experience or not?
You look for these three things in a hire. Are they smart? Do they get things done? Do I want to spend a lot of time around them?
You prefer to hire people you’ve worked together with in the past.
If you haven’t worked together in the past, you work with them on a project for a day or two before hiring them.
When hiring you try to work on a project together instead of an interview.
If you interview, you ask specifically about projects that someone worked on in the past.
You don’t bother with brainteasers in interviews.
In interviews, you really dig in to projects people have worked on.
When hiring, you call some people that the candidate has worked with in the past, and you really dig in: Is this person in the top five percent of people you’ve ever worked with? What specifically did they do? Would you hire them again? Why aren’t you trying to hire them again?
You hire people with good communication skills.
You don’t hire people who can’t communicate clearly.
For early employees you hire someone that has somewhat of a risk-taking attitude.
You hire people who are maniacally determined which is slightly different than having a risk tolerant attitude, so you look for both.
You can describe any employee as “an animal at what they do.” Unstoppable people. People that are just going to get it done.
You hire people that you’d be comfortable hanging with socially and you’d be comfortable reporting to if the roles were reversed. You don’t have to be friends with everybody, but you at least enjoy working with them. If you don’t have that, you at least deeply respect them.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of time around people, you trust your instincts about that.
As a rough estimate, you aim to give about ten percent of the company to the first ten employees.
You fight with investors to reduce the amount of equity they get and you’re as generous as you possibly can be with employees.
After you hire employees, you retain them. You make sure they are happy and feel valued.
You learn a little bit of management skills to help you retain employees.
You don’t tell your employees they’re fucking up every day unless you want them all to leave.
You really praise your team.
You let your team take credit for all the good stuff that happens, and you take responsibility for the bad stuff.
You don’t micromanage. You continually give people small areas of responsibility.
As a first-time founder you are aware that you will be a very bad manager and you try to overcompensate for that.
You offer these three things that motivate people to do great work: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
You fire fast when it’s not working.
In addition to firing people who are doing bad at their job, you fire people who are a) creating office politics, and b) who are persistently negative.
If an employee screws up once or twice or more times than that, you are very loving, and you don’t take it out on them. You are a team, you work together.
If someone is getting every decision wrong, that’s when you act.
As co-founders you decide on the equity split ideally very soon after you start working together.
The equity split is near-equal.
You have the ink dry on this before the company gets too far along, certainly in the first number of weeks.
Every co-founder, including yourself, has vesting: four years to earn all of your equity and the clock starts one year in.
You aren’t remote co-founders.
You know that execution is the most critical part of running the company.
You know that being a co-founder means signing up for this year’s long grind on execution and you can’t outsource this.
In order to have a company that executes well, you execute well yourself.
If you want a culture where people work hard, pay attention to detail, manage the customers, are frugal, you do it yourself.
You don’t hire a COO to execute while you go off to conferences.
The company sees you as this maniacal execution machine.
The CEO 1) sets the vision, 2) raises money, 3) evangelizes the mission to people you’re trying to recruit (executives, partners, press, everybody), 4) hires and manages the team, and most critically 5) sets the execution bar by example.
You can figure out what to do and you can get it done.
When you’ve figured out what to do, you get it done with focus and intensity.
You identify the right two or three things competing for your attention every day, work on those, and ignore, delegate, or defer the rest.
You figure out what the two or three most important things are, and you just do those.
You say no a lot. You say no ninety-seven times out of a hundred, and you make a very conscious effort to do this.
You don’t just work really hard, you work really hard at the right things.
To figure out what to focus on each day, you have goals.
You have a set of small overarching goals for the company that everybody in the company knows.
Everyone in the company can tell you each week what are our key goals, and everybody executes based off of that.
The founders set the focus. Whatever the founders care about, whatever the founders focus on, that’s what sets the goals for the whole company.
The founders repeat these goals over and over, far more often than they think they should need to. They put them up on the walls, they talk about them in one on ones and at all-hands meetings each week.
You achieve focus with good communication.
You never lose focus on maintaining growth and momentum.
You always know how you’re doing against your metrics, you have a weekly review meeting every week, and you are extremely suspicious if you’re ever making excuses for lack of growth.
You have the right metrics and you are focused on growing those metrics and having momentum. You don’t let the company get distracted or excited about other things.
You don’t get excited by your own PR.
Co-founders are in the same space.
You work at a fairly intense level.
You have extreme focus and extreme dedication.
You have a startup and no more than one other thing.
You are willing to outwork your competitors.
You know that a small amount of extra work on the right thing makes a huge difference.
You are really intense. The CEO and founders are the most intense.
You have great execution speed and relentless operating rhythm.
You move fast and you’re obsessed with quality.
You have a culture where the company has really high standards for everything everyone does, but you still move quickly.
You move fast and break things, you’re frugal in the right places, but you care about quality everywhere.
You set a quality bar that runs through the entire company.
You are decisive.
You don’t spend a lot of time talking about grand plans but never make a decision.
You have a bias towards action.
You work on things that seem small but you move really quickly. You get things done really quickly.
Every time someone outside the company talks to you, you’ve gotten new things done.
You do big things in incremental pieces.
You pick the right size projects. Even if you have huge goals, you still break it into smaller projects.
You respond to e-mail quickly, you make decisions quickly, you’re generally quick in all of these ways.
You have a “do whatever it takes” attitude.
You show up a lot. You come to meetings, you come in, you meet people in person. You get on planes in marginal situations.
You want to be winning all the time.
You always keep momentum, it’s the prime directive for managing your startup.
If you’re a software startup, you keep growing. If you’re a hardware startup, you don’t let your ship dates slip.
You get the product right at the beginning in order to not to lose momentum later.
If you do lose momentum, you don’t give long speeches about vision for the company and try to rally the troops with speeches. You save the vision speeches for when the company is winning.
When you’re not winning, you get momentum back in small wins. You figure out where you can get these small wins and you get that done.
If you have momentum sag and there’s disagreement among the team about what to do, you ask your users and you do whatever your users tell you.
You remind people: “Hey, stuff’s not working right now, we don’t actually hate each other, we just need to get back on track and everything will work.” You call it out, you acknowledge it.
In order to keep momentum you establish an operating rhythm at the company early. You ship product and launch new features on a regular basis. You review metrics every week with the entire company. You use your board as a forcing function to get the company to care about metrics and milestones.
You don’t let competitors disrupt momentum.
You don’t worry about a competitor at all, until they’re actually beating you with a real, shipped product.
You remind your company that it’s easier to write a press release than to write code, or build a great product. You don’t let the company get down because of the competitors in the press.