Thou Shalt Innovate

GROW commandments | BCBusiness

Vancouver’s annual GROW Conference is the promised land for Canadian tech startups, dripping with VCs, founders and mentors. Here are the 10 lessons learned from last summer’s edition

Thou shalt trust your team
Hire someone you can trust completely, then get out of her way, says Top Hat COO Andrew D’Souza. If her career path aligns with the company’s goals, you’re creating a mutually beneficial relationship.

Thou shalt use the media
Get to know a journalist’s niche, read his articles and build a relationship before you pitch your company, suggests Bloomberg News’s Douglas MacMillan. Even better, get an introduction—even via email—from a trusted mutual acquaintance. Never cold-call journalists. The only thing worse than cold-calling to pitch your company is calling to follow up on an unsolicited email pitch.

Thou shalt relinquish some control to get things done
Let go and trust your co-founders or employees with some tasks so you can focus on big-picture thinking, especially when growing your company and positing it to scale, advises Vancouver-born Kiip CEO Brian Wong.

Thou shalt perfect your pitch
Having an elevator pitch prepared is crucial. Whether explaining your product/service to an investor or a potential customer, be able to sum it up in less than a minute.

Thou shalt not let smart people at your company get bored
Don’t assume that your employees strive to be managers. “Give people the opportunity to be entrepreneurs within your company—to invent new aspects of the business,” says Will Young, director of Zappos Labs (and UBC Computer Science alumni, Class of ’99). Start by taking one day a quarter and let people brainstorm what the future of their business looks like and where your company should be spending time.

Thou shalt hack human nature
Create a user experience whereby customers do a bit of work to receive benefits, usually by way of investing their time. This increases engagement because user investment can store value and create preference, Stanford instructor and “behaviour engineer” Nir Eyal told an enraptured crowd. Keep your users guessing. Variability is habit-forming and increases engagement.

Thou shalt future-proof hires
Hire with a candidate’s learning curve in mind. Identify future leaders early on and tell them to find a domain that they can own, says Tobias Lütke, CEO of Shopify. Built-in expertise will work wonders as your company scales up.

Thou shalt prioritize
Don’t dare neglect design, says Moz CRO Rand Fishkin. “Poor design negatively impacts everything.” That iffy interface could drive away users and deflate all you’ve spent on quality copy and engineering.

Thou shalt seek the right investor
Pick your investors wisely. Your choice in money guys (or gals) says a lot about your company; a smart referral from an early investor can help attract the right type of capital as you scale up. Don’t bank on an accelerator or startup competition for your big break. Savvy VCs rely a lot more on good word of mouth than demo-day prizes.

Thou shalt not waste time deciding
Give senior stakeholders super-ballots and veto-power so they can pick the right idea when they see it. Some voices matter more than others and collective idea sessions can kill time and churn out watered-down ideas.