7 valuable lessons I've learnt from running a startup

Back in 2003 I decided that I wanted to "beef" up my management career and started doing an MBA. I wanted to go to the top. This was the first step in that career ride.

Every couple of years after that I got a bigger job in a bigger business. I felt like I was on my way. But you need to be careful what you ask for - it may not be quite what you want.

Jumping into startup life

Seven years later I'd had enough. I found I needed to be in a smaller, more intimate environment where people were treated with the respect that you can't get in global multi-nationals with tens, or even hundreds of thousands of staff.

I went out on my own and started consulting to small/medium businesses around town. The spin was to be their virtual CIO and advise them on their IT needs. Cloud became a common theme and before you knew it I'd teamed up with a bunch of like-minded people and we started The Full Suite.

Working at a startup has certainly been different to my corporate or consulting days. Along the way I've learnt a few things.

1. Deliver quickly and get feedback

I've been a perfectionist for a long time. I always want everything to be just right but this comes at a cost - the cost of not delivering anything.

Instead make something that's good, get it out there, and get the feedback. If you need to make it better then make it better. Work fast.

2. You can do it alone, but that's lonely

When I struck out on my own, I worked from home in the basement. With three kids, that was the only place I could get any peace and quiet and where I wouldn't get dragged into doing the housework. But it was lonely down there (and cold). Sometimes I used to go to the city library and work, tethering my cell phone to the computer. Unfortunately other people go to the library too.

In contrast, now I work with a team of like-minded people with different skill-sets to me. Not only do I have people to bounce ideas off of, but they can execute ideas in ways I can't. This is valuable. Plus at Suite I can still avoid housework.

3. Trust your team

I once managed 40 staff where I followed up on everything they did, spent hours managing them and doing detailed performance reviews. It was draining. As it turns out, I'm not a great micro manager and have always taken the approach that if someone agrees to do something then they will do it. It's so liberating.

Let the team do their work, check in with them, provide feedback, let them iterate and make it better if that's required. Trust them to get on with it.

4. Listen then add value

I don't think what Suite is doing is unique and something that only we can do. However I do think that our edge comes from intently listening to feedback and acting on it to make the daily work experience for everyone better.

Listen to your customers regularly and with empathy. This way you'll keep making whatever you do better and stay ahead of the curve.

5. Measure the results and improve

This is something we're constantly trying to improve, and incrementally, we're seeing the results.

Find the key metrics in your business. Measure them. Keep questioning whether the metric is useful. Work hard to improve it.

6. Give regular feedback, not just when things go wrong

Feedback to the team is important. I'm yet to meet a person who is motivated by a rant or rave about what you think is poor performance. If something doesn't go quite right, talk about it of course but being nasty about it won't help anything. In fact, it tends to make people think poorly of you and not want to work for you. Yet this seems to be the most common form of feedback.

Say thanks. A pat on the back or positive acknowledgment for a good job is powerful, yet so simple and easy.

7. Go lean

Putting your systems in the cloud and not investing in infrastructure is a huge cost saver. Some systems are free but generally you want to pay for things as support for free apps is generally pretty average. Quite often cloud solutions can scale with your business (both up and down) and there isn't much that you can't do with them.

Invest in cloud systems for your business. Not only is it easy to get updates for your system, but you'll have greater flexibility around how you work and where.

These are just some of the lessons I've learnt through managing SuiteFiles. As a small business owner, maybe some have resonated with you. Add your thoughts below in the comments.