Warning. Verbose post ahead.
We started small. We will be big. Hopefully sooner than later. And while we are growing up, we need to be stingy with our resources. Here are few things that we did, once we decided that we are going to start. Each tip (if you may), is accompanied by an example from Cyntax.
- Work out of Home vs Work out of Office. This was probably the most important call that we had to take. Both of us stay close by (another reason I moved to Delhi - to be as close to Kunal as possible) and know each other’s families well enough to work out of either one’s home. We had to decide on the trade-off between dedicated office space and home. Office space would give us flexibility, freedom and a place to get away from all the comfort (and madness) of home. And for these conveniences, we would have to pay rent, maintenance etc. Home, on the other hand, would be comfortable, intrusive and interfering with personal lives. We would have saved cash if we worked out of home, but we would have remained small (no odd hours, no client meetings, no dedicated space for thinking, talking, arguing etc etc). Weighing pros and cons, we decided to rent a place. We were lucky enough to find space close to our homes for cheap. And we moved into our first office about a week back. And trust me, things couldn’t have gotten better. We work, play (Q3A), read, brainstorm, abuse, sleep, dream, tweet and there is no one to bother us. Or tell us to stop.
- Divide and Rule. If you have more than one founders, divide work. Make each founder responsible for a particular task. Designate him the CEO for that task. Everyone in the team contributes towards it and reports into that person. He says, do it, you do it. He says, don’t, you don’t. Helps with accountability, deadlines, planning and team building. Here at Cyntax, we are two of us (and looking for expansion already) and both of are responsible for certain things and we make sure that the “owner” pushes the other for “his” task.
- Make some cash. Fast. Cash flow is very important. At times, people argue that they want to focus on their product/service and will invest their savings in building it. And that they are not looking at “making” money right now and once they reach a critical mass, they will make money. Business wisdom. Sounds nice. But in the process they run the risk of running out of cash. Agreed that your product is miles away from monetization, look at other avenues of generating cash. Munger once said, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Teach at MBA institutes, make websites (and compete with us ;)), freelance, work with a BPO, click photographs, do something and earn enough to pay your bills.
- Don’t overdo Rule No. 3. And then, don’t overdo things. Don’t “waste” a lot of time in making this petty cash. Listen to Pareto. Cash generating activity should take just 20% of your time. Rest of the time need to go towards your core business idea. This is where we made a mistake. We put in a lot of time on money making schemes and dint focus on other ideas in the first month. From September on, this would change.
- Cash IS the king. This has been said ever since people started building businesses. Cash is king. Having the luxury of cash is nice but avoid over-saving it. You need to invest. At the right place. At the right time. There is no magic formula to know what the right time for a person/business is, but you NEED to invest at the right time. For us, investing in the office space seemed like a good idea when we were beginning, we did it. For some, it could be investing into people. For some it could be investing into server space. For some, it is investing in business development. If you have cash, DO use it. Do invest. Do make it work for you. Dont hoard it.
- Processes. Put processes in place. Very very important. Probably more important than cash management. We have an option of taking up every job that comes our way and getting it done. But we don’t. We ask every new client to fill in some 25 questions for us. So that we understand their business better. We know what exactly are they looking at. Setup up processes for handling clients, taking requests, meetings etc. We are right now investing time to work on a contact management system. Its a simple shared spreadsheet on Google Docs but it gets work done. We are debating what fields to keep and what to ignore. We will refine it. But we are making sure that it is in place. If you need help, ask us. We will gladly share our templates. May be someone can point at mistakes in there.
- Free. Our email (google), calendar (google), ideas wiki (pbworks), documents (google), blog server (wordpress), mind mapping software (xmind.net), mock-up software (balsamiq) etc. are all free services/tools. Even hosting was donated by Akshay Surve (of SocialSync.org fame). Use free software liberally. There are million of options available. Choose one that you are comfortable with (we chose Google over Zoho because we were more conformable with Google). We dint want to invest money on things that are non-core or are “support”. Once we are big, we will invest money in either buying upgrades or we will build the tools. But right now, these suffice.
- Fast and Nimble. Do things fast. We had an option of designing a real cool website. We would have invested precious time and effort into it. Some day, we will have to. However, we chose to pick a template and mod it to suit our requirements. And put it out. In one hour. For the time being, it was important to have the website up and running and we did it.
- People. Last, but not the least. People. Very very important. Since we are small, we work with a lot of freelancers. Designers, coders and writers. These freelancers are very talented and are looking for some extra money in spare time. In my experience, most businesses that work with freelancers, dismiss them as just a resource. At Cyntax, they are a part of us. The inner circle. We make sure that they are compensated adequately. AND we try and contribute to their learning. We share best practices, links, resources, lessons, mistakes, everything with them and enrich the way they work. Simple. Spread happiness and it will come back to you. And if they are happy, they come back to work for you, give priority to your work and you are rewarded with quality and satisfaction.
- And, have fun. If you aren’t having fun, you need to rethink. Apart from work (whatever we do), we make sure we have enough fun. I am trying to learn a guitar. Kunal tolerates it. Kunal plans to get a doggy to office. I don’t know if I can live with it. Both of us want to learn poker. WE play Q3, Pocket Tanks, talk about life, politics, world and pesky neighbors. We crack jokes, invite friends over to office. Stare at the moon and stars. Its a good life. So far :)
And that’s about it right now. May be you have an opinion on our approach? And yes, though we are a startup, we do work with other businesses, share what we know and learn what they know. Please write in and lets talk :)