By Amy Buckner (Co-Founder & CEO, AnswerLab) Editor's note: Amy Buckner was was one of 10 women honored to receive Ernst & Young’s 2011 Entrepreneurial Winning Women Award. Here is her advice for Women 2.0.
The road to building the most trusted brand in user experience research has been one of rapid growth accompanied by huge-payoff decisions along with a few blunders. I've learned some major entrepreneurial lessons over the past 6 years as the Co-Founder and CEO of AnswerLab. Reflecting on that experience, I compiled 5 tips for entrepreneurial women:
- Don’t raise VC money just because everyone else is -- It’s tempting to get caught up in all the hype of raising venture money. Ask yourself if you really, truly need it. Could you raise some cash from friends and family? Could you get the product started while still working for an existing company? Could a potential customer help you fund it?Now, imagine a world where you have 100% control over your own destiny and major decisions for the direction of the company. Bootstrapping done right can pay off in the long run, both in terms of company control and your net worth.
- Think BIG when picking advisors -- A valuable lesson I learned from Lesa Mitchell of the Kauffman Foundation just last week while at the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum: Identify the 3 people in the world who could have the greatest impact on moving your company forward and invite them to your board of advisors.
If you limit your circle of advisors to be mentors from past companies or in your current network, you won’t learn big ideas that dramatically propel the company forward. Your company will only make incremental change.
- Work on the business, not in it -- In the early days of starting a company, all you have is you. When you start hiring folks, it can be difficult to let go of the activities in which you’re now an expert. However, getting out of the weeds is absolutely essential to scaling the business.
- Every hour you spend on something tactical is an hour you're not spending on strategy.
- If the company can't exist without you, the company doesn't have value.
- Doing tasks that aren't your core strengths drains your energy for the tasks that are.
- Have some compassion for the limits of others -- Not everyone has your stamina and endless ability to obsess over making the company better. More and more, Gen Yers demand a healthier work / life balance. Don’t expect every rock star you hire to have a natural inclination to work 12+ hours a day. Build reasonable expectations for what your team can achieve and deliver.
- Invest in the right legal documents -- (Yuck! No fun!) When you first start a business with co-founders, the last thing you care about is paperwork. It can be a drain on the excitement of developing your product and growing the business. However, you should invest EARLY in a corporate attorney to prepare a decent set of articles of incorporation with fair buy/sell terms. Negotiating these major issues when the company has value or when someone wants to make an exit is an excruciatingly painful process that can be costly and time-consuming. Take the time to do it during your first year.
The lessons for getting started are endless, but by focusing on five fundamentals, you’ll have a much more successful first few years. Good luck on your journey!
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Amy Buckner is the Co-Founder and CEO of AnswerLab. As co-founder of AnswerLab, Amy sets the vision, culture, and strategic direction for the company, and inspires employees and clients to reach their goals. Prior to founding AnswerLab, Amy built and ran the West Coast research practice at Vividence (now Keynote). Amy graduated magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University with a degree in English and East Asian Studies. Follow her on Twitter at @amybuckner.