Quick note: I recently changed the format of my blog. You can read more about it here.
In the 1980s and 1990s there was a theory of policing called The Broken Windows Theory. The hypothesis was that cracking down on minor offenses would reduce the number of more serious crimes as a result of a general feeling of lawfulness in the community. As a social policy this theory was flawed, but I think of it sometimes when I see how startups execute in the early days.
I just completed a six-month period of recruiting and selecting startups for my next Techstars Atlanta class. During this process I had one-on-one interactions with over seven hundred founders and went through hundreds of applications to get down to a final class of ten. While processing such a large number of startups, I thought many times about the public-facing, small decisions that startups make when they are just getting started.
Create a LinkedIn profile or skip it for now?
Keep an active Twitter account going or not?
Start an update email for casual advisors or wait?
Over the last six months I noticed that the better founding teams focused on the small details more than other teams. Needless to say, a below average team executing poorly who had all the small details covered still wouldn't make the cut, but I did see a correlation between the quality of the founders and how much they sweated the small details that you can only see from the outside.
So What Founders Should Do?
No single one of these will be the difference-maker in getting investment or recruiting that special developer, but over time they'll all contribute to your success. And, even though it's impossible to know, maybe doing these things will be the difference between your startup hitting important milestones and losing momentum.
So if you are an early-stage founder I would encourage you to re-examine six small details if you aren't already doing them...
1) Fill out a LinkedIn page for your startup. One thing that I didn't expect before Techstars was how much I would rely on LinkedIn. If someone told me about a great startup right now (that I'd never heard of), my first action would be to go to LinkedIn to see the bios of the founders, who else is connected to that startup, read the description of their business and click-off to their homepage. No one ever told me to do this...it's just what came naturally to me as I was processing lots of startups in a short period of time. And I've come to find out that I'm not alone in this practice.
2) Make at least one outward-facing channel impressive. I believe that customer-facing things like Twitter, Instagram, weekly customer emails, etc are super important tentacles of your startup. They give outsiders a quickly way to get a feel for your culture, your brand and what's most important right now to your startup. So, in the beginning, you should have at least one of these channels looking really good and kept updated constantly. And one channel done well is worth five channels done in an average way, so don't try to do a bunch of them.
3) A short monthly update email for insiders. Another thing that I didn't expect before Techstars was how often founders would ask me if was okay to add me to their update emails. Oftentimes I was asked by founders during my first or second meetings with them. This means that these founders likely have dozens (or more) people like me on their emails. I could write a whole blog post on the advantages of email updates, but a big one that's often missed is that these folks are seeing your startup's name on a monthly basis...even if they don't read the update. Keeping top-of-mind with a very connected group of people has incredible advantages over time.
In the 2019 Techstars ATL class we used PaperStreet to send weekly updates (link to class here).
4) Setup a Crunchbase profile. For many people (particularly investors) Crunchbase is the source for startup information. Especially for information on funding rounds (how much has startups raised? from who? when?). Even if you haven't raised any money, you should setup a Crunchbase profile so at least you are listed there when people look.
5) Swag. Whether it's stickers, logo t-shirts, hats or something else, have branded stuff around for potential investors, customers and team members. The team will enjoy it and customers will love them. There's no better example for this than MailChimp.
6) Setup "firstname.lastname@example.org" email addresses. If you are a founder named John and your startup is www.rocketman.com then email@example.com should go directly to you until you get to over a dozen employees. Something related that I also found super valuable when I was running a startup was having incorrect emails coming to me in the early days. So if firstname.lastname@example.org isn't setup as an email then your mail servers should be setup to have all of those incorrect emails coming to you as well. If for no other reason, do both of these so that customers can easily reach you.
As a founder in the weeds it's difficult to appreciate how many people are looking at your work from the outside and talking with others about you. Investors. Potential employees. The media. They are all looking for breadcrumbs that something interesting is happening with your startup.
Do your best to make sure that the first breadcrumbs that they see are impressive.
If this post resonates with you please forward it to one founder (or should-be founder) that you believe in. You'd be surprised at the ripple effects this will have.
Create great startups and help great founders!