What does it take to be a successful startup? Some reflections on Lancaster Civil’s first birthday.
If you are the type of person that quits the comfort and security of your day job and ventures out into startup land, then you might be the type of person who’s tempted to think that you can (or should) do it all yourself. A bootstrapping mentality, combined with the desire to make sure it’s done right might tempt you to tackle your incorporation documents, your website, your vision/mission, your business plan and your marketing all on your own. Resist that urge! I found that by working with professionals to help me with my incorporation, my website, my accounting and my logo, I was better able to focus on the things that only I could do – my vision, my mission and my business plan. Oh…and I didn’t do those on my own either!
We often get an image of a freakishly-intense, sharp-tongued, obnoxious startup genius who treats people poorly and gets ahead on the brilliance of his or her ideas and the shrewdness of their dealings. Sure – you can do it that way…and maybe you’ll be successful. But if you REALLY want to build a solid foundation for a business, I’d recommend the opposite approach. JC Penney is quoted as saying “The Golden Rule finds no limit of application in business.” Despite the raging technology that we’re all buried in, most businesses are still people businesses. And I like to work with nice people. So does just about everyone else.
A business plan is often based upon the notion that if the business does A, B and C, then it should expect X, Y and Z in return. Spend $100 in marketing and get $200 in sales. Attend 5 trade shows and sign up 50 new customers. You get the picture. But over this first year I’ve found some of the most rewarding aspects to be when I’ve invested my time and efforts into areas where there is no quantifiable return on investment. If you can find some worthwhile activities that fit with your mission for your company and can invest your time there, you’ll meet some great people who share those same interests and use your gifts to help your community. Will that result in a bump in the bottom line at the end of the year? Who knows? If that’s the only reason you’re in the marketplace, then this piece of advice isn’t for you.
I’m a pretty competitive person. I want to be the best at just about everything. That drive is part of what spurred me into starting this business, but it can also breed unhealthy competition if not kept in check. We just naturally want to get ahead of the next guy and we gain our significance and identity from doing so. One thing that has helped me to avoid that trap so far has been to remain solidly focused on my mission – to bring great people and ideas together to get things done. If I’m really in business for the benefit of my community, then I should – no I MUST – work with “competitors” to do so. Some local engineers are FAR better at certain aspects of this business than I am – and to try to outdo them would be a disservice to my clients and our communities. “A merchant who approaches business with the idea of serving the public well has nothing to fear from the competition” – also JC Penney (and also perhaps slightly out of context, but I just love the quote.)
These reflections might seem somewhat counter-intuitive to startup success, but each one is rooted in the concept of “community”. Maybe your business could survive without community, but this one can’t. Lancaster Civil is designed for community. My goal is that it’s the focus of all we do, so it follows that the success of this venture is based on how well we work together. This first year has been an overwhelming success and has far exceeded my expectations in all areas. It has absolutely been the most rewarding and fulfilling year of my entire career and I look forward to many more years like it. But it wouldn’t have happened without many of you reading this post. You’ve helped me in so many ways that I couldn’t even begin to number them all. And I’m so very thankful for all that you’ve given to me – personally and professionally. Thank you for being part of the Lancaster Civil community – and for letting me be a part of yours.
And now…on to year two.