Tip #5: Be Picky, but only about the right stuff

And just like that we’re at tip #5 in my top twelve startup tips from Techstars last summer. I’m shooting to pick up the pace and get them all done before Techstars starts again this summer.

Tip #5 has to do with being picky, but with the important caveat that you should be picky about the big, scary, important things. For me, this list includes stuff like:

1) What my company will do.
2) Who my co-founders are.
3) Who the early employees are.
4) Which advisors and investors we bring on board.
5) Which customers/partners I choose early on.
6) Usability of my product.
7) How I treat my customers.

And it doesn’t include “little stuff” like:

1) What the letterhead will look like (do companies even have letterhead anymore?)
2) Which font point size we’ll use on the web site.
3) What my title is going to be.
4) Which shade of orange we’ll use on the logo.

The key difference between the “big stuff” and the “little stuff” is that big stuff is hard to change, while little stuff is (relatively) easy to change. With the little stuff, you get feedback, and you change it. As with most things, getting early feedback is key to avoiding major “change costs” down the road.

Being picky starts on day one, when you’re deciding which market you’ll enter. Certainly not picking a sensible market has killed many a startup.

Being picky continues on day two when you’re selecting co-founders. These are people that you’re going to spend more time with than your family. And we know that team problems are a major source of startup failure.

Being picky keeps being important when it comes to how your product looks and how your customer interacts with it. Not being picky about your product is a surefire way to make sure that it completely sucks.

Ben‘s excellent point that entrepreneurs must harbor a strong bias towards action must be reiterated here. In a startup, you simply can’t be so picky that you never made a decision. There are lots of cases where “good enough” is just that. It’s a talent to know intuitively when something is good enough and when it warrants extra time, diligence, and effort.

What’s on your “big stuff” list and what’s not?

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