5 Things to Never Hack In Your Startup
Today we’re talking hacking.
Not the cybersecurity/mainframe type, but the “cutting corners” type of hacking (sorry, cybersecurity junkies!)
The term “hack” has become common in the startup world. It’s essentially the industry’s way to describe cutting corners, with a slightly less negative connotation. With businesses — especially startups — having to be exceptionally lean and scrappy, it’s becoming far too common because … well … that’s kind of what you have to do. The expectation for startups to do a lot with a little is only going to continue to grow.
It can be tempting at times to take the easy way out or to take that ever-tempting shortcut, but there’s a time and a place for hitting that “easy” button. Growth hacking isn’t always considered such a bad thing; there’s a huge constituency of people that thrive in it and make the most of it.
However, there’s some clear cut do’s and don’ts when it comes to growth hacking. There’s some areas where shortcuts even within the startup space are more dangerous than productive.
Let’s review five things that should NOT be hacked and will come back to haunt you if you try.
And believe me … founders have tried. 🤦♂️
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. When it comes to managing the finances of your business, there is NO good way to hack it. The most common way I see founders cut corners here is to just over rely on software or to simply not take the time to put together projections or a financial model at all. A financial model is the most important tool a founder has when making decisions about any aspect of the business, but it requires very thoughtful and diligent research to form accurate assumptions to base the model on. If the foundational steps are skipped … well as they say: garbage in, garbage out. I recommend that founders spend a lot of time with their models and have them reviewed often by trusted advisors. You can typically find local mentors that are willing to help with this sort of review at little or no cost. By cutting corners here and there you would be taking too big of a risk on everything.
- Legal/Legal Advice
You should always do your research when it comes to someone who professionally represents you or your business. Platforms such as a LegalZoom provide an overall template of how they work and are great foundational pieces, but they’re too broad and I advise against using them as is without legal counsel. In terms of counsel you should avoid using counsel or attorneys that don’t specialize in this field. This means saying NO to people like your cousin’s best friend who is a divorce attorney in another state to represent you. Yes, people like this can technically give legal advice from what they learned at law school, but we all know that what you learn in school isn’t necessarily practical. You should be comfortable with your attorney on all levels so you don’t end up on the hook for something that could create long-term risk.
Not as common as the first two, but a bit contrary to what a lot of people think in terms of technology. It’s important to note that when working on your MVP (minimally viable product) I encourage companies to hack away at this early stage of technology to do whatever you can to get something in your customer's hands that shows them the value of what you’re trying to offer them … and entices them to want more. Beyond that, however, you really need to take a significant and diligent approach to building your technology for your product, app, or service. To skip this step in an attempt to save money early will only mean you’re going to end up paying double later. I’ve seen it 100’s of times. It’s better to take the time to build it yourself or invest in a developer (use your seed money or equity for this if necessary!) to get it to a revenue-generating point and improve it from there. Don’t hack it!
- Hiring Personnel
Hiring is the perfect example of the simple, age-old saying: just do the right thing. You want to do a good job of hire slow, fire fast. You want to find a fit for your company based on skill level/meeting your needs, company culture, and just plain old getting along with them. Personnel headaches or personnel shortcomings early on in the process create huge headaches down the road (if not immediately). This is the nature of management and one of the many responsibilities of a founder of the company. Set you and your people up to succeed from day one to avoid a costly (and sometimes emotional) firing. One of the best things you can do here to avoid headaches is diligent background research, call connections, references, even friends to get a sense of the person you are about to bring into your startup.
Ultimately your one, five, even ten-year plan cannot be hacked together. Skipping these crucial foundational steps will mean standing up your business on a wobbly foundation and — like all the other steps above — will just end up being costly. If you feel like you’re hacking your plan together, it most likely wasn’t a good plan from the start. In my opinion: hack the day-to-day basic operations, administrative tasks, or hack enough to automate them to get them done as quickly as possible. As for everything else: take your time and build accordingly.
If there’s one thing to take away from all of this: there’s NO shortcut to becoming a billion-dollar business. You can’t hack your way to an IPO.. Running a scrappy, lean business fades away over time. It is just a simple part of the lifecycle of a startup. Roll through the lean times, learn as you go, and hack only what’s properly “hackable”.
So please: hack responsibly!