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Successful start-ups, 5 fool-proof rules

Think big. Be honest. Start with the right team. Do not settle for the first few “wows”, look beyond. Focus on a business model and do not pivot too often: it is conducive to an early ending.

These are some of “Robert’s rules to remember” as collected by Bob Dorfhimself in an interesting post on LinkedIn. Dorf will be at MtMG on May 13thto talk about successful start-ups. Here’re his suggestions to make no mistakes right from the start.

1) Think big

In the USA, 650,000 start-ups are created every year. But some estimates say that only 12 can make an impact. Other estimates tell us that the founders of a start-up spend 20,000 hours on their creature. Dorf recommends that “first you should spend one thousand or two thousand hours improving, pivotingand repeating the idea”. So, you won’t risk “overbuilding or, worse, launching one more boring start-up that won’t work”.

2) Be honest

Business plans must be believable. “Don’t waste time writing Grimm’s fairy tales”, Dorf points out and suggests you should instead download Alex Osterwalder’s business model and spend at least 8 weeks writing more honest plans to attract clients.

3) Don’t settle for anything less than great

According to Dorf, a lot of start-ups reach a deadlock because they accept the first positive feedbacks as a sign of approval. But the real turning point is not so much the client who says “wow” straightaway as the one who says: “it doesn’t matter if the product does not work now, I still want it”.

4) The perfect team

A perfect team must include a hacker, an artist, and someone who knows how to make money. A member must be focussed on clients, on their feedback and needs. One is the developer, only focussed on the product. The third one is something in between and works on usability, on the exchange of information. “If you don’t have such a Holy Trinity, start hiring now”.

5) Do not pivot too often

Many start-uppers are obsessed with pivoting. Partly because in many cases it was a pivot that made the success of some small start-ups that have now grown into online moguls (as it was for Twitter, Instagram and Paypal – here’s a list of companies that have successfully pivoted). At the same time, though, Dorf mistrusts anyone who changes the business model “every few days, often based on three, six or ten feedbacks. That’s a diagnosis of premature ejaculation”. You’ll be better off if you take your time and, above all, out together a good amount of feedbacks.

These five rules only partly differ from the 14 rules of the “Customer Development Manifesto” written with Steve Blank in “The Startup owner’s manual: the step-by-step guide for building a great company” (published in Italy by Egea). Here’s an English version of the Manifesto, and here’s a good Italian translation by The Doers.

Click here for a presentation and a summary of the Customer Development Manifesto by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf.