$0 -→ $200M in nine months  [Startup lessons]
October 1, 2013

$0 -→ $200M in nine months [Startup lessons]

by Brian de Haaff

I never actually was in a business that grew sales from zero to $200 million in nine months — but I have often dreamed about it. And that counts for something. I can’t help it because I am a big thinker and my brain is always going — even when I ask it nicely to stop.

When I have these dreams, I jot down the obvious keys to success that made the jog to $200 million so enjoyable during the night. So, I thought I would share the startup “lessons” that my dreams have revealed.

When choosing your company mission, do what makes you happy
Imagine you enjoy playing Minecraft all day with clearly established snack and nap times. Or maybe you enjoy going from conference to unconference to collect schwag. Chances are that if you keep at it you will be happy, and when you’re happy, good things happen.

Spend whatever it takes on naming, branding, and your company domain
Because let’s face it, your company name will likely be around much longer than your company. Do you really want to be pitching your next company and explaining that you were a co-founder of Thingamagig.ly

Push yourself
If you drop out of college to join an incubator and they fund your business with $15,000 (for 10 percent) and the idea fizzles, start another company, because there is no such thing as failure. There are just real-world learning experiences and no top-notch educational institute can match that. And $15,000 buys lots of Top Ramen.

$200 is just as good as $200M
All hockey sticks start with slow growth and then spike. Have you ever seen a hockey stick lying down? The shaft is very long before the blade. So, $200 in sales is on the path to $200M. Don’t worry, the massively vertical growth curve can come at anytime. Likely tomorrow.

Learn to write code
Just kidding. That would be as valuable as speaking a foreign language.

Goal first
Set measurable goals for your colleagues with clear success metrics. Check in on them daily to make sure they are on track. But remember that you are the visionary — so goals would only weigh you down.

Don’t fret the small stuff
You are in this position because you’re the idea guy. Don’t ever forget that, especially when “minutiae hits” and you feel like you need to buckle down and get something done. The small stuff is for other folks. That’s what people really mean when they say “the devil is in the details.” Stay away from the devil.

Don’t worry about “monetization”
Freemium.

Learn to draw animals
If a VC asks you a question that you just don’t understand, get up and draw a cute animal on the whiteboard, grab your laptop and run. And yell, freemium.

Cultivate a strong sense of humor
Imagine your engineering team never delivers on schedule because they are not “agile” enough. Bring a few monkeys into the office for a staff meeting, hand them laptops, and tell the team that you had to hire smarter developers.

Imagine yourself as better than you are
Maybe you have always wanted to give a TED talk or speak at Disrupt. Or maybe you have always wanted to have 1,000,000 Twitter followers. Greatness starts with visualization. Imagine it. Feels good, right?

There are many more startup “lessons” that my dreams have revealed (e.g. hire people smarter than you so you have free time to build hand puppets to explain where the product is headed). But, in conclusion, the above is only true in my dreams. In reality, building a startup is hard work. And that hard work should make you happy.

However, we did build Aha! with a simple idea in mind — we wanted to create a new way for product managers and engineers to easily create brilliant product roadmaps and be happy doing it.

Brian de Haaff

About Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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