7 readings to save yourself from first-time entrepreneurial mistakes

Discover the 7 readings that helped me take up the challenges of the entrepreneurial adventure, for which various studies did not entirely prepare me.

Published on 04/28/2021Sébastien Vassaux

I started my entrepreneurial adventure after a varied training (civil engineering, law, finance, pastry, php & javascript, etc.) and two years of strategy consulting.

However, there is no substitute for a trial by fire: I made many mistakes as a first-time entrepreneur. I would have spared myself some of them if I had benefited from the following readings earlier. They are obviously more reasoned when you are confronted daily with the problems mentioned.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

Recruitment:  Who, the A method for hiring

To meet all the challenges of a startup, it is repeated constantly, the key success factor n ° 1 is to succeed in surrounding yourself well. I made many mistakes, which were probably inevitable given the low maturity of our recruitment process. To recruit, you must not innovate , at least not innovate with each recruitment. A rigorous process must be put in place which allows:

  • to precisely define our expectations through a  scorecard  that brings together mission,  outcomes  (expected results and not anticipated tasks) and skills;
  • to  source  talent through our network and partners (their effectiveness depends on their type);
  • to  select  in full knowledge of the facts through 4 complementary and professional interviews;
  • understand what the candidate expects and sell him   the job.

Who  describes how to professionalize the recruitment process around these 4 pillars in order to successfully surround yourself with  A players . An  A player  is not a capricious superstar, he is the candidate who matches your scorecard the most  .

Link to the book: https://www.amazon.fr/gp/product/0345504194

To advance on the subject, I invite you to discover another essential book:  First, break all the rules .

Management:  First, break all the rules

It is an illuminating book that allows you to understand what a good manager is and therefore how to become a good manager. The book is extremely rich and offers very concrete actions. I cannot justify in a few lines everything we learn there, I am content to emphasize a few lessons.

What is the role of the manager?

The manager's role consists of selecting the right talents, offering them the conditions for achieving optimal performance, leading them to optimal performance and retaining them. The leader has a more inspirational role and is outward facing while the manager is inward facing.

What is a talent?

A talent is a pattern of recurring feeling or behavior. You don't teach someone attention to detail, patience, or the desire to accomplish: these are talents.

On the contrary, someone can acquire or be taught knowledge and skills which together with talents constitute the set of skills.

An extraordinary corollary is that everyone has talent: everyone has recurring behaviors or feelings.

Everyone also has weaknesses and we can compensate for them by acquiring knowledge or know-how, or in the case of  non-talents , by relying on a process or a partner. People don’t change that much.
Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. 
Try to draw out what was left in.
That is hard enough. 

What do talents need?

Talented people are distinguished from others in that they specifically expect 12 things and respond positively to the following 12 questions when their work environment is optimal:

  1. Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  2. Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  3. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  7. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission / purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
  9. Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do you have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  12. In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

How to grow and retain talent?

The corporate world is such that we push talented people (who express their talents in a role that suits them wonderfully) to change roles and we drag them inexorably towards non-performance.

To avoid this, it is necessary to define  levels of progression  which allow to be accomplished without necessarily changing roles and to celebrate champions in all roles (in particular by allowing for example the best salesperson or the best individual contributing developer to earn more than his manager. ).

It is also necessary to maintain a significant proximity with its teams. You have to know what each person's talents are, help them become aware of them and challenge them in the search for their optimal performance.

Solve problems:  Case in point

Case in point  is dedicated to the preparation of interviews in the field of strategy consulting. These interviews almost always consist of solving a problem, through a  case-interview.

Understanding and assimilating  Case In Point is therefore learning to solve problems.

The work presents the typologies of the most recurring problems in the field of strategy consulting and formalizes decision trees. In the background, one learns to pose hypotheses, confirm or deny these hypotheses by asking questions of the interlocutor, and  deep-divering  in the direction that seems to have the best ROI.

Someone who understands the method will be able to avoid certain behaviors that limit performance, among which I count:

  • get stuck in front of a blank page without knowing what to do;
  • to launch headlong in a direction without taking a step back which would make it possible to identify pitfalls or a path with a better ROI;
  • make hasty conclusions without gathering knowledge from colleagues.

Link to the book: https://www.amazon.com/First-Break-All-Rules-Differently/dp/1595621113

Building a Dirty Machine:  Predictable Revenues

The book is written by the former  Head of Sales  at  Salesforce .

After a quick inventory of the different acquisition levers, he explains in detail how to set up an outbound marketing strategy  ie how to ensure that prospects who are not aware of your business become your customers.

He distinguishes a first paradoxical phase of  cold calling 2.0  which does not require that we harass prospects at random but rather that we set up an automatic mail process requiring a referral  to the best possible contact from a relevant target.  . With a response rate of 10% and a next stage of qualification against the  Ideal Customer Profile  (ICP) to be defined, we manage to generate in a predictable and recurring way enough   qualified leads that we transmit to the sales team  .

In a second step, the sales team   seizes  qualified leads and develops  an authentic and not artificial sales pitch to convert them into paying customers. The specialization of teams increases their efficiency. The marketing team qualifies and is interested in the number of qualified and converted leads while the sales team   is interested in the   converted leads .

The author disseminates many advices on the organization of the CRM, the manner of writing emails, the conduct of a call, the organization of the teams, their profitability and the measurement of the results.

Link to the book: https://www.amazon.com/Predictable-Revenue-Business-Practices-Salesforce-com/dp/0984380213

Thinking  lean  :  The Gold Mine

The Gold Mine illustrates the principles of  lean  and  just in time  à la Toyota through the turnaround of a high voltage electrical box manufacturing plant. The book is not the most accessible but allows you to grasp the fundamentals of  lean  and ensure that it truly lives in you.

Despite the chosen sector, almost everything that is mentioned can be transposed to your industry, in particular to the development of digital tools.

It is also a difficult book to synthesize given its richness and I will therefore only mention a few interesting principles.

Minimize stocks to make real problems visible

It is tempting to keep a large stock of spare parts to deal with failures in one part of the chain, just as it is tempting to put the tickets of a sprint into production every 2 or 4 weeks (these tickets constitute a stock of added value).

If, on the contrary, we operate just in time, we risk encountering problems. Productivity gaps, bugs and regressions, etc. The lack of stock highlights the real problems that must be corrected.

Anything that looks like inventory hides shortcomings. All the stored elements on which we have worked correspond to added value not sold to the customer.

Build quality into the product

Rather than seeing the quality process as a way to make up for mistakes, we build quality in the product: we clearly define the specifications to which the product must meet and we reject downstream what comes upstream and is faulty. If what comes from upstream is defective, since we have no buffer stock, we stop working.

The inactivity of employees seems unbearable but it reveals a problem of process, load, design, etc. Buffer stock and leniency on upstream work from one stage to another in the development process disguises mediocrity which is paid for later and then much more complex to identify.

Example: don't prepare more tickets than necessary for the next sprint. Your PO will not store any added value and will have to prioritize and specify what is planned with much more quality.

Another example: I will publish this article very quickly after writing it because otherwise it would become an element with added value stored and therefore not exploited when I could have concentrated my efforts elsewhere in a pure lean spirit  .

Other tracks

  • Set up recurring cleaning processes to save yourself the usual  down-time  which is nothing normal;
  • Remove resources as soon as a process is running to power it on and identify other failures;
  • Organize everything with a pull: downstream pulls upstream instead of having upstream pushing downstream.

Link to the book: https://www.amazon.com/Gold-Mine-Novel-Lean-Turnaround/dp/0974322563

Become Agile:  Scrum In Action

Scrum in  Action reports in a fictionalized way (like The Gold Mine) of a software development company entangled with a large client to whom it presents a new version of its software every 3 months.

Every three months the company is behind on its schedule, the customer's needs change and the presentation that is not a delivery is a failure, we leave with new imprecise specifications and we sink into a circle infernal.

The CTO meets an Agile coach who introduces him to the scrum methodology: develop over short iterations of 1 to 4 weeks and continually deliver a new version of the software to the client. Stop making specifications.

Melba went through the same story and came out very grown up. Discover our adventures in the following two articles:

Link to the book: https://www.amazon.fr/Scrum-en-action-Guillaume-Bodet/dp/2744066656

Getting straight to the point:  The Pyramid Principle

The Pyramid Principle is the work of a former McKinsey consultant on how to structure your communication.

It is often the case that someone who has to present their work does not go straight to the point but presents all the steps that led to the result: this is ineffective, especially if the audience has little time and analyzes quickly.

Start by presenting the result

Getting straight to the point will maximize your time with your audience and get them interested in you much faster. It is very frustrating to receive so many arguments in defense of an unknown cause.

Question: “What should we do?”. Answer: “We have to do X. Because…” 

Group and summarize your arguments

Arguments that support a belief, result or hypothesis should be grouped in an order that is easy to remember.

“Ideas in writing should always form a pyramid under a single thought”.  This  single though t denotes the answer to the audience's question. Each main argument that comes to defend the answer can be broken down again into lower level arguments.

Organize your ideas logically

The groups mentioned above must have the same level of importance and the ideas which decline them must obey a logical structure easy to identify. For example, these ideas can:

  • follow a  temporal sequence  : they follow each other over time
  • listed in  order of importance.
  • constitute the  parts of a sum  : the totality of these ideas constitutes something which is  MECE  (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) 

The notion of MECE alone is worth dwelling on for a few hours. It allows a subject to be cut out exhaustively without repetition. It is a great analytical tool.

Link to the book: https://www.amazon.fr/Pyramid-Principle-Present-thinking-clearly/dp/0273659030

Conclusion

I draw many important lessons from these readings. Here are some examples to anchor them in reality:

  • Thanks to  Who , we have strongly structured the recruitment process. The questions I ask follow the same framework from one candidate to another and my notes are shared with the whole team in a  Trello board  . Candidates find the process pro and know what to expect.
  • Thanks to  First, Break all the rules , I know that it is illusory to try to teach someone to pay attention to detail because it is a talent and therefore we do not teach it. On the other hand I can associate a person who is lacking with a colleague who is provided with it and transform the weakness into non-talent without impact. In addition, I will no longer recruit juniors before experiencing strong growth: I waste too much time training them, identifying their talents (they themselves do not know them) and do not have a precise idea of ​​the progression that I am can offer them.
  • Since my consulting years,  Case In Point  has helped me analyze many problems quickly. The method allows you to build an analysis framework for each problem. Combined with the philosophy of  The Pyramid Principle  and a MECE cutout  , we do wonders. Melba, for example, collected more than € 1 million in grants by responding brilliantly to calls for projects from the BPI and other bodies.
  • Since reading  Predictable Revenues , we have had meticulous and highly automated marketing and sales processes. You save a lot of time by not just looking at each prospect. It is easy to take action. The information is written, everything is transparent.
  • With  The Gold Mine  and  Scrum in Action , melba went from a project / cycle mode in V with a large group to a super agile mode. We put into production several times a day. 

Photo © Jan Piatkowski on Unsplash