I’ll admit that I’ve been a long-time admirer of Southwest’s business model. As I’ve written in the past, they are a model of operational efficiency. I’ve always experienced top notch customer service, both on the ground and in the air, when I’ve flown with them. Their fares are always competitive, and often the lowest on the routes they fly. I’ve been impressed with Southwest as both an observer of their operations and as a passenger on their planes.
I got my first exposure to them through a case study I read in the mid-nineties while in business school at UCLA. The case study exposed and dissected their operational efficiencies. Shortly thereafter, as I began traveling regularly for business, I got to experience the flight experience first hand. I would watch with interest how quickly they would turn planes when they landed. I would notice how the little things they did allowed them to best the competition – things such as open seating, flying 737’s exclusively, handling their own reservations, and flying to the smaller airports in a city. I’ve always been interested in learning more about how the company was run.
A couple of years back while reading The Startup Playbook, one of the interviews in the book mentioned Nuts by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg. It was presented as a way to learn how Southwest has used culture to build a great company and to deliver outstanding service. Given my desire to learn more about Southwest’s business practices. I added it to my reading list. It took some time, but it finally reached the top.
One of my favorite books from last year was The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. It was one of my favorite types of business books, a third party account that chronicled the building of Amazon. In the comments to my book review, one of my favorite bloggers, Rohan (author of the blog A Learning a Day), mentioned In the Plex – How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy. Since the book fit my theme of a biography/story-based business book and came recommended from a trusted source, I decided to let it jump the queue in my 2015 reading list.
In my earlier startup lesson posts, I wrote about team diversity and team chemistry. In this startup lesson, I am going to focus on another important team concept for startups – roles. Assigning roles can be uncomfortable, especially during the early stages of a startup. However, it’s important to make sure people know and understand what’s expected of them, as well as who is in charge. While it would appear this lesson applies only to startups with multiple founders, it is just as important for those with a single founder. As a lone founder, it’s absolutely critical that roles are defined as the company and team grows.
As part of running my own company, I’m always looking for ways to improve various pieces of the business and my performance in it. Since one of the most important parts of any business is the sales process, I am constantly on the lookout for resources that will help me to understand the process better and to identify ways to improve it. Amazon must know it too, because their recommendation engine suggested the following to me – Same Side Selling: A Radical Approach to Break Through Sales Barriers by Jack Quarles and Ian Altman. Even though I’m not in love with the Amazon recommendation engine, I went ahead and picked it up.
I am on a quest to continuously improve my understanding of software development, particularly as it applies to agile development practices. I started it by reading one of the classics on software development, The Mythical Man Month, which I found very informative. While good, I wanted something that would help me understand the concepts behind agile software development. I read a couple of books on creating user stories a few months ago, but I still felt like I was missing critical pieces to the puzzle. Then I read User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product by Jeff Patton.
One of the startup blogs that I follow is written by Sean Murphy, who does sales and business development consulting for startups. A recent post he wrote contained a great passage in response to an article by Morgan Housel titled “I’m Just Now Realizing How Stupid We Are”.
Sean Murphy highlights one of Housel’s lessons learned:
I’ve learned that people’s expectations grow faster than their wealth. The country is richer than it’s ever been. I don’t think it’s as happy as it’s ever been.
and relates it to a startup:
Too many entrepreneurs think that wealth will solve their problems or make up for other shortcomings. I have watched a lot of people get wealthy, very few were improved by it. If they were unhappy or held back by bad habits wealth enabled them to engage in worse behavior and only pointed out the need for personal transformation.
It got me thinking as to why people become entrepreneurs.
I’m not going to claim to be an expert on lean startup methodology. However, I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions about what a lean startup is and how to run one.
I recently saw a post that summarized some of the most important concepts around the lean startup. It was put together by Jeff Bussgang, a general partner at the VC firm Flybridge Capital, for a panel on product-market fit and customer acquisition. It’s a presentation/panel I would have loved to have seen in person. I’m sure there was a lot more substance to the talk than what comes through in the slides.
One of the most overlooked factors of a championship sports team is chemistry. People like to focus on the superstar’s performance, but they neglect to acknowledge that winning a championship is a team effort. A great case in point is last year’s NBA champs, the San Antonio Spurs. They had a solid nucleus of players in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, but they didn’t have the star power of the Miami Heat and their big three of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. By playing as a team, the Spurs were able to win, and win convincingly in five games.
Like a championship sports team, team chemistry in a startup is vitally important. It’s just as important as my previous startup lesson on team diversity, if not more so.
I have had great success with reading recommendations from Brad Feld’s blog. The latest is Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0 by Eliot Peper. It’s the lead title for a new entrant into the publishing industry – FG Press. They are an outgrowth of the Foundry Group venture capital firm where Brad Feld is a partner. According to FG Press, the book publishing industry will change radically over the next five years, and they want to be at the forefront of this change by “experimenting constantly in order to build a strong community around long-form written content in the domain of entrepreneurship.” With Uncommon Stock, they picked an excellent work to serve as their lead title.
There are very few startups that can be run by a single person. While a company may have one founder, it normally takes a team of people for the company to succeed. People need to develop the product or service, someone needs to do the sales and business development, and someone needs to handle all the minutia required to keep a company operational.
Since many different skills and disciplines are required to run a business, team diversity is very important in a startup. By diversity, I’m referring to different types of knowledge and skillsets. People talk about diversity all of the time, but here are some of the more important aspects of diversity that I’ve found in my ten years running a startup software company.