Eat and Innovate
Eating is surviving. Innovating is taking risks.
This was the strategy that we followed at Geographica and that I follow in practically every area of my life so, what does it mean?
Eating is doing what it takes to pay bills and survive.
Innovating is taking risks, trying and launching things. So that you’ll be able to eat tomorrow.
The ideal situation is when innovating gives you enough to eat, closing the circle. Can you? Yes. Is it hard? That too.
6 Determining factors
1. THE CASH. THE CASH FLOW.
This is the thermometer for everything, the key, your raison d’être. Having one tab open on your browser with your Excel of income, forecasts, months of life, clients and a second tab with your bank accounts will become part of everyday life. I’ve only seen entrepreneurs grow and enjoy success when they are obsessed with this. There’s another world where people only live off their investors, a respectable world and if only it could produce a thousand fantastic, profitable companies, but what I know works best is an obsession with being paid by your clients, even in companies with heavy external investment.
Perhaps you think you’re an entrepreneur but what you should be is a businessperson who makes his or her company profitable, honest and growing. The concept of the satisfied client is also essential. Paid invoices, as well as being a vital goal, are an irrefutable thermostat for client satisfaction.
2. Patience and patience
Lucky breaks rarely exist. It’s a long-distance race. Very long-distance. Years. Trusting people in your team, in the advice of others, talking to your clients regularly and to people who didn’t want to be your clients. It takes 9.9 months to sell a house in Spain and an average of 8.1 years for a tech startup, although it’s true this time is getting ever shorter. Patience, nevertheless.
3. Business culture
Have a unique business culture. Make people proud to work for you. Make sure they’re paid well, work in comfort and are motivated.No shouting. With a smile. You shouldn’t always be right, admit your mistakes in front of the whole team, admit your weaknesses, be VERY transparent. In my experience, you can tell the whole team about everything except for payslips.
“Make sure they’re paid well, work in comfort and are motivated. No shouting. With a smile.”
4. Work hard but be smart
An entrepreneur usually dreams of his work all the time, debates with clients and employees in his head, thinks of solutions in the shower and has a new idea while playing sports. Thinking about your company all the time isn’t necessarily a good thing. The best ideas usually come after a period of calm, so it’s important to clear your mind regularly.
A few years ago, I experienced something that profoundly changed me. I was at home with my first child, who wasn’t yet a year old. Children’s songs were on the TV, my son laughed when I gave him attention, everything was perfect… But I became engrossed in my mobile phone and almost didn’t notice the first time he crawled. It was a real revelation. I knew work would rob me of many important moments, but I was also aware that I needed to make the most of these family times to switch off. Over time I’ve got far better at this key area of my life.
5. Fire quickly, RECRUIT WELL
This is perhaps the hardest part. You’ll have to fire lots of people. Many of them will be great professionals and people but they don’t fit for one of countless reasons: changes in strategy at the company, project completion, loss of a client, etc. A hundred reasons. And it’s hard letting someone go because you have to convince yourself and your team. It’s almost an art that involves giving lots of explanations, being highly empathetic, having solid arguments and being generous and honest with people in day-to-day business. Why should it be fast? At small companies every human being is vital, and you’ll quickly know if a person can solve problems for you. Better to act fast: your company is very fragile and you need people who make a big difference.
And recruit well. This is the most important thing together with the cash register. How and who should I recruit? What I’ve seen in small companies (fewer than 50 workers) is that the best, most important recruitment is done by the founders or someone on the original team. If you’re a founder you need to get involved, choose well and have a cultural affinity with the people you recruit. But watch out! You should also look for diversity and people with other opinions. The best, high performing teams are closely aligned but they are comprised of people with very different roles and ideas. It’s essential that they are people who know how to live amid uncertainty and the challenges of a startup. The interesting analyses in “Great Place to Work” usually highlight how these diverse teams with clear but flexible objectives have an impact on the good business climate and performance of the best companies, whether they have 20 or 5,000 employees.
“You’ll have to fire lots of people, many of them will be great professionals and people but they don’t fit.”
6. Big companies are big for a reason
Big companies work with incredible budgets, have experience in projects around the world and are run by people who have spent years doing business in the public and private sectors. They’re companies that make the world go round. They have a place in the lives of millions of human beings. Your startup doesn’t.
In the community of tech startups there are people who think it’s less cool to work with Renault, Mastercard, Vodafone, Telefónica or BBVA, to name a few famous examples. That’s nothing more than a preconceived idea. A prejudice. I can assure you that by working for them you learn in leaps and bounds and it can open doors for you at other companies and lead to similar or bigger challenges.
There are conservative types at big companies, sure, but there are definitely worthwhile people too. The proportion isn’t so different to the latest hot startup. Mixing in both worlds seems like the best path to me. Let’s be realistic, startups aren’t even a drop in the ocean to the economy of a country like Spain. You can suggest proof of concept projects (without pushing it), submit ideas, make demos, invent, innovate... Don’t give up because a department doesn’t listen to you. These are giant companies and you’ll have 20 more flanks to attack. Learn and try to help and do business with the big ones. It’ll make you a better businessperson.
“Let’s be realistic, startups aren’t even a drop in the ocean to the economy of a country like Spain”
Eat and innovate mistakes
It’s a tough system, you have to fire people, colleagues, friends. It’s painful and leaves scars. In my case, several conversations were left hanging. Conversations in which there was space to say thank you more, give the person a hug and say how much we enjoyed working with them and are pained by the change. Nothing is perfect.
So remember, eat and innovate. Conserve and attack. Be sure and take risks. Have one “safe” project or product and prepare higher risk products or projects. Eat and innovate: a lifetime’s experience.