Startup Lessons: How to Build a Company

One of the reasons I joined Ubiqua was the incredible opportunity to learn; mainly, how to build a company. By joining Ubiqua at such an early time, I’d be able to experience this first hand. Here’s a brief on a couple of the things I’ve learned so far.

Q: What I am looking to learn at Ubiqua?

How to build a company {

  • How to plan and operate strategically (Strategy)
  • How to build a great product (Product)
  • How to code with quality (Software Development)
  • How to build relationships with customers (Customer Development)
  • How to build empathy with users (Empathy)
  • How the distribution industry works (Industry)
  • How to run an effective operation (Operations)
  • How to develop people → What do they need to grow? (People Development)
  • How to run a sales team and process (Sales)
  • The nitty gritty, but necessary stuff (Admin/Legal)
  • How to build an empowering work environment (Culture)
  • How to define problems and create opportunities (Product/Market Fit) }

A: What have I learned so far?

Operating Strategically

  1. Envision one company North.
  2. Break it down by departments and teams. Define each’s contribution to that north.
  3. Set short-and-long term goals. Establish input-and-output based metrics.
  4. Review progress weekly as a team and monthly as a company. Adapt accordingly.
  5. Keep the eye on the North.

Building a Great Product

  1. Begin with a very clear understanding of your user, his problem and his needs. Understand the “job to be done”,
  2. Develop a product vision, a view of how your team will address that need.
  3. Continuously learn and refine your understanding of your user’s needs. Test your assumptions and incorporate new information.
  4. Evaluate competing needs on a framework. Prioritize and allocate based on impact.  

Building with Quality

  1. Building great software is in part a result of having a great process to build software. i.e. A well-organized assembly line with QA checkpoints.
  2. A big part of high quality coding is possessing a strong technical understanding of the intricacies and dependencies of the overall code base. i.e. Knowing if and how component X affects component Y.
  3. Find the right balance of speed vs debt.
  4. Document the decisions and tradeoffs that are made.

Building Relationships with Customers

  1. In a B2B environment, relationships are personal. The best solution doesn’t always win.  A lot has to do with the fact your customer know you or like you more than they like the competition.
  2. Your customers are paying you for your product, but they’re hiring you as a company. They want to know they count on your team to solve their problems.
  3. Great relationships are built over time, and sustained by continuously adding value. Fail to water the plant and the plant will die.

Building Empathy with Users

  1. It’s difficult to develop a deep sense of empathy for your user, unless you’ve done the job and been there with them first-hand. Empathy begins with listening and observation.
  2. Deep empathy comes from a more fundamental understanding of the context and emotions in their day to day life, beyond the task at hand.
  3. Empathy is the foundation on which a great product and great customer service is built.

The Distribution Industry

  1. Wholesalers run complex, tightly-coupled operations. A failure in one step of the operation has amplified implications in later steps. i.e. The bullwhip effect.
  2. One of the biggest opportunities to add value to wholesalers is supply chain coordination; effectively integrating and managing the flow of informations and goods along their value chain. This drives the bottom line of their profitability. “Costs”.
  3. A bigger opportunity for wholesalers is enhancing their sales and marketing capabilities. Wholesalers represent brands and suppliers. Enabling them to increase market share or capitalize on sales/brand recognition opportunities drives their main economic driver. “Revenue”.

Running an effective Operation

  1. An effective operation comes from a well-mapped process. Having a consistent way to do things minimizes guesswork, rework, missed-work.
  2. KPI’s drive improvement. Your team won’t be effective unless you have clear performance indicators in place, assessing effectiveness at every step of the process.
  3. Processes lose sharpness over time. There is always an opportunity to simplify the operation and achieve higher levels of productivity.

Developing People

  1. Every individual is different. They have different needs. One may need guidance and one may need space. Understanding this is fundamental to unlocking other’s potential.
  2. People need the right level of challenge. The work they do or are given will provide the opportunity for them to apply their problem solving and creativity.
  3. People need people to grow. A bit part of personal growth is being surrounded by peers with whom you share ideas, discuss, and innovate together.

Running a Sales Team and Process

  1. Sales is more about people than product. It’s an exercise in empathy and communication, understanding the pain points of your target audience and catering to those needs.
  2. The sales cycle is most effective when treated like a core process. You can hone in on the various stages of customer interaction and iterate to increase the likelihood of closing a deal every step of the way.
  3. A strong sales team leverages each other’s strengths during customer interactions. One person might be the clear and direct type, while the other might want to play to the customer’s more conservative side and address their concerns.

The Necessary Stuff

  1. There’s a lot of internal stuff that needs to get done.
  2. Some are quick and easy, like getting a contract printed and signed. Others bulk up as the operation grows, like receipt handling and bookkeeping. Some should be managed internally. Some outsourced. 
  3. Getting these task done well and efficiently allows your team to focus on the work that adds the most value. 

Building an Empowering Work Environment

  1. People must value the work they do. Everyone must come to work excited to solve problems and do meaningful stuff together.
  2. People must value the people they’re with. Individual empowerment is in part a result of a strong sense of community.
  3. A strong community is built upon a collection of shared values, shared beliefs, and complementary personalities. Find the right mix of team players to build yours.

Defining problems and creating opportunities.

  1. Pick a meaningful problem. The “wealth creation” opportunity is a function of the problem chosen to be solved, not the solution. Customers will pay you little to solve a small problem. This seems obvious. But it’s important to point out that a fantastic technical solution to a small problem will still be valued based on the problem’s size.
  2. Be aware of your assumptions. Keep in mind the initial assumptions on which your product/market fit was built upon. Periodically test the validity of your assumptions to ensure there is still a healthy market opportunity to be addressed. A change in any of the underlying assumptions poses a serious risk to the sustainability of your company.
  3. Continuously seek and integrate any new information. Refine your understanding of the problems of your customers in order to better address their needs. This is key to sustaining and expanding product/market fit.

These are just a few of the things I’ve learned so far. It’ll be interesting to look back in a couple months and see what else I’ve learned.

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