EDIT: This blog post has been featured on Wamda with a few more details about the closure of Wizards.
It is a challenging task to try and summarize 4 years of experience in a single blog post, every time I thought about writing this post I had no idea where to start, so I decided to start by writing the random thoughts I had and see how that goes.
There are two main reasons for this blog post, one is to share the important outcomes after 4 years of co-founding and working at a startup, which at some point was one of the biggest gaming startups in the region, with everybody else in hopes that it benefits those who are starting a new company or thinking of setting one up, the 2nd reason is to have them written down somewhere where I can come back to them and remember them when needed.
Please note that these points are the outcome of running an online gaming business for 4 years, so it may not apply for all types of businesses but I think some of these points are common between all types of start ups. These points are not ordered by importance, its just a listing of what came to mind 1st.
Discuss the vision!
You may be surprised that in many startups, the big vision that the company is established to achieve is something that not all founders have discussed or agreed on, I am not talking about the fancy two liner vision that you wrote down in your business plan, the natural outcome of a successful start up is making money which most founders will agree on but the ways and means to that outcome is not always discussed, the money should be the outcome of achieving the vision, when the money doesnt start rolling in as expected, thats when issues start to arise.
Agreeing on the vision from the 1st day with your partners and then with your investors down the road is critical, if the place your going towards is agreed upon by everyone, anything else becomes details that lead to that vision, the vision should also have an extended version which outlines the main points of how your going to achieve this vision, this also should be agreed upon from the beginning, these details can obviously and will probably be changed during the course of the startup, it is critical to discuss these changes with partners/investors to minimize any issues that may arise later on.
Deal with issues immediately!
One of the biggest mistakes any co-founder can do is not dealing with issues he/she knows are there immediately and hoping it would go away on its own, not dealing with small issues especially between co-founders and employees can turn them into big issues, this also leads back to the vision point, if everyone agrees on the vision, everyone should also agree what each co-founder is going to do, which is one of the issues that startups may run into, define responsibilities and agree on them from day 1.
Build a top notch team
One of the worst things a startup can do is compromise in the founding team, make sure your founding team covers the main aspects of the business, if your a tech startup you should have a technical engineer on board, if your developing a B2B app and its critical to land deals with enterprises then make sure the founding team includes a kick ass sales and marketing guy, there are allot of ups and downs in startups and retaining this main founding team is critical for your success.
Invest in scalability
I see allot of start up doing this mistake, this was an issue we ran into in the early days in Wizards and I continue to see this happening over and over which is in many ways understandable, startups sometimes cant afford to invest in a scalable application and have to rely on open source or custom built applications that dont account for fast growth, the success of the website/application/service becomes the downfall of it when it cant cope with the demand. Try and make up for this by bringing in a tech guru as a member of the founding team or even as an advisor and get his/her help on the best way to approach building a scalable app!
Surround yourself with supporters
Startups are tough, you will go through allot of ups and downs and if you don’t have supporters around you you are doomed to fail, to clarify supporters shouldn’t agree with everything you say, on the contrary they are the ones that try to find flaws and issues in your plan so make sure you accept any constructive criticism and dont turn on the defensive, it is in the times where the business starts to run into issues where you truely know who your supporters are, so make sure to keep them around and get rid of the others!
Pick your partners and investors carefully
Not everyone willing to give you money is a good investors and not every partner with a big brand is a good match, a big partner might be too slow for an agile startup that is looking to launch a product quickly, and an investor that is willing to give you cash when your doing great might be the one that lets you down when you need him for something else (mentorship, connections, support your plan and vision) especially if your on the down-run pick your investors carefully and bootstrap your business for as long as possible, this enhances your chances when your negotiating an investments and makes sure your on solid grounds.
Prepare for the worst
Plan for the worst, if you build a marketing plan, launch plan or revenue projections, always plan for the worst, this will come in handy with investors, if you do better then your over performing. Account for delays in development, under performing marketing and delays in collecting cash in the market.
Don’t over promise anyone, not your partners, investors or employees, you might think that I’ll convince them with over promising on delivering a certain milestone, achieving a certain target or make an adjustment to the company, two things might happen, they will know your bluffing and you’ll look like a jackass, or they’ll believe you and when you dont deliver you’ll lose their trust, and respect.
Build a hard working/high reward environment
And set an example of that! dont ask your team to work there ass off without at least matching their effort, this is your company after all, bootstrapping startups is tough and you cant do that without such an environment, the high reward part is also important, celebrate small achievements on a daily basis even if with a high five and celebrate big achievements with a dinner, bowling night or whatever.
Share everything with your team
One of the mistakes we made in Wizards was that we kept allot of things between the management team and didnt share it with the rest of the team, how the company is performing, both on the ups and downs, which investors are investing in the company, how did the last board meeting go and what was discussed, new investors and partners your talking to are all things we should have shared, increased transparency is always good, to start with it increases the understanding of the team of why thing like bonuses or vacations are delayed, why stock options have still not been issued etc.
Know your users, keep things simple
If something is working, generating revenue, don’t mess with it unless your know who your users are and what they want extremely well, keeping things simple and not complicating your product is usually a safer bet, to be more specific, let me give you an actual example of what happened in one of our games and how we learned this lesson the hard way.
We had a big hit on our hands, Arabianhitman was extremely successful and at some point i can safely say it was among the top 5 browser games in the Arab world, we had a technical issues with scalability (point above) which forced us to rebuild the game from scratch, the problem occurred when we enhanced on the game and added new features that we were sure that its users would love, sadly that didnt happen and we ended up losing most of the user base (there are allot of minor details and I am summarizing, but this is one the main reasons why the game never got its former glory back) we should have rebuilt the game to be scalable but kept the game features and functionality un-touched.
Hope this has been a useful post and I hope it benefits some of the aspiring new enterprenerus, please leave a comment and let me know what you think, if you have any other advise do share it with us.