Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup, the new book by David Cohen, founder and CEO of TechStars, and Brad Feld, managing director of Foundry Group, came out this week, and the authors are in the middle of a fast-paced tour around the U.S. The impetus behind the year-long book project, according to Cohen, was "to try to capture the phrases that seem to be repeated often in the context of the program." Contributors include dozens of TechStars mentors and founder alumni. Below is the title chapter, Do More Faster, by Cohen.
Startups do almost everything at a disadvantage. Initially, most startups have less money than their competitors. Startups have less credibility. They have fewer customers. They have fewer employees, which means there are typically fewer people focused on things like marketing, sales, and product development. Resources are scarce at a startup.
But, just like in the martial arts, the best startups use the weight of their opponents against them. Bureaucracy slows down larger companies. People do less because making a mistake can be politically costly. Risk takers who are wrong get fired or lose power internally. The larger the company, the more likely it is to be slow.
If there's one competitive advantage that most startups have, it's that they can do more faster. And because they can do more faster they can learn more faster. They can immediately throw things away that don't work because nobody cares anyway. Nobody is trying to protect a brand that doesn't exist, and nobody has any reason to be afraid of small failures. Startups know that's just part of the process.
When you ask CEOs of major companies what they're most worried about, one common answer is "a couple of guys in a garage somewhere." Why? Because their larger and more established competitors have too much to lose to try something radically different. There's too much at stake for these large companies to try to blow up the market to disrupt the existing players. Relatively speaking, startups have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying radical or non-obvious things. Larger companies are often baffled at just how much a startup can get done and it scares them.
One of the things we talk about with our startups at TechStars is that they simply have to do more faster. This doesn't mean doing random stuff--they still have to be thoughtful. But if they're not hyperproductive as small, nimble companies, then they're fighting from a real disadvantage. I'm such a big believer in this that I named my own angel fund Bullet Time Ventures. It's named after the move from the movie The Matrix, in which Neo is so fast that he can easily dodge bullets. His enemies seem so slow and he has an obvious advantage over them that can make all the difference in the (in his case, virtual) world.
Cohen and Feld talk about writing Do More Faster
When Occipital was in TechStars in 2008, they were faster than a speeding bullet. As a visual search company, they tried several products before having a runaway hit with RedLaser. All of them were interesting, but what really paid off for Occipital was their ability to try their ideas quickly and throw away what didn't work while focusing on what did. RedLaser was the fourth product Occipital worked on in about six months. This may sound disorganized and random on the surface, but Jeff and Vikas were very deliberate about assessing progress at every step.
Next Big Sound built an incredibly beautiful and functional product in under three months. SendGrid figured out how to scale their e-mail delivery infrastructure to 20 million e-mails a day in under a year. Oneforty rallied a community of thousands of Twitter application developers in just a few months. Intense Debate went from concept to being installed on hundreds of blogs in the course of a single summer. Companies that work just always seem to move at lightning pace. By contrast, the ones that don't seem to always be talking about releases and features that are coming "in a few months." How do the fast companies do it? They focus on what matters, and make massive progress in the areas that actually have an impact.
At TechStars and as an angel investor in general, I've been involved with a few startups that couldn't do more faster. They were just as slow to execute as larger competitors. They employed too much process too early, tried to convince themselves that they were absolutely right before taking risks, and thought at the expense of doing. Their great ideas couldn't save them. It turns out that giving up your one obvious competitive advantage often proves to be deadly. If a startup can't do more faster, it usually just gets dead faster.