Jason Calacanis: 30 ultimate tips for startups

From Bill Gates slitting people’s throats and Zuckerberg “screwing his partners”, Jason Calacanis didn’t hold back at the Future of Web Apps (FOWA) conference this morning.

Although Jason Calacanis isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – he’s been likened to Marmite before, you either love him or hate him – his wealth of experience has taught him a few tricks. Here they are:

1. There are samurai and there are rice pickers

To succeed in a startup, you need to be ruthless and driven. Be ruthless. Otherwise, you’ll end up as a rice picker.

2. Don’t over-estimate the downside risk

You may need to swing the bat multiple times before you’ll hit the ball. If you try and fail, get up and try again. Failure is not a death sentence. Learn and start over. 

3. Pick your investors

Make sure you find the investors that will actually add value to your startup. Picking investors who won’t is wasting your time and their time and money. How? Work backwards: what have they invested in before, what are they passionate about? Does that relate to what you’re doing? Find the ones in your sector, and tell them what you want. But make sure you already have a product to show.

4. Sell promise, not performance

When you start, sell on what your startup can be, not what it is at the moment. What is your big vision? People care about what your startup will scale up to, not what you’re doing now. What will your company do when it’s a $100m company?

5. Pick the right beach to surf on

Pick something that will be big. Trend-spotting is important. If you pick the wrong beach to surf, you could work extremely hard and still come up short. Pick the right market and the right people.

6. Define your culture

State exactly what the people coming to your company should be like. Set a tone and define the culture, or you’ll get into culture wars inside the company. When you hire people, make sure they fit the culture.

7. Fire the good people

Good people are what you do not want, you want great people. Forget about bad or average people: “those people should be fired on sight, beheaded and thrown in a dumpster”. Think of your startup as an Olympic-calibre team, you need an exceptional performance level. Good isn’t good enough. Fire the good people, or they will drag down the great people.

8. Pick apples from the orchard

If you go to the source (colleges, universities, schools) to find talent, then you get them before they’re jaded and cynical. Everyone seems to be looking for superheroes in startups, yet nobody’s willing to make superheroes. By picking apples from the orchard, they won’t go rotten. 

9. Have a great domain name

You have to have a great domain name. If you don’t, investors will think you’re not a great entrepreneur. Getting a great domain name is hard – it’s a test, to see if you’re resilient enough as an entrepreneur. It doesn’t have to be the perfect dotcom, but should be good enough so that you don’t have to spell it out over the phone.

10. Have a stunning logo

It’s 2010, there’s no excuse not to. “It doesn’t have to be expensive, just beautiful or stunning. Otherwise it looks like you don’t give a sh*t.”

11. World class design and user experience

Keep it simple. It’s important to show people you are serious. In Calacanis’s words, “If you don’t, then it’s a telling sign that you don’t give a sh*t.”

12. Be the brand

You need to be the brand. Put your logo on the bottom of your email, get a shirt with the logo, put it on your Twitter background. If you don’t love your brand, why should an investor? Live the brand.

13. Talk to customers

Who is your customer? What do they want? Go to a coffee shop and show your website to strangers (“just offer them a cup of coffee!”). Put them in front of your website and see how they use it. Watch them and learn. Getting to know your customers will help innovate your product. 

14. Delight users

This is the higher level of understanding your user. Figure out what makes them happy, and do it.

15. Break bread with your team

The number of times that you eat and go drink with your team, the better you’ll work together. If there are people in your team who consistently don’t want to get involved, they’re probably not part of the culture, or there’s a problem. 

Continue reading Jason Calacanis’s top tips on page two.

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