A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Big Data, Big Business event organised by the Universal Startup Centre at the Node5 accelerator in Prague. While I was there I had the opportunity not only to talk about my thoughts on the future of big data, but also share some of my experiences as a founder and business leader.
The thing about leadership is that nobody will tell you how to do it; ultimately, you have to figure it out yourself. But after more than 20 years in the game, I’ve learned some key lessons, which I’ve listed below.
1) Find Your “Product/Market Fit”
The most important task of any founder is to find harmony between their product and the markets’ demands. But 99 percent of companies cease to exist because they fail to correctly find their market fit, and align their products to it. Entrepreneurs struggling with this should read Peter Drucker, who has some amazing books on the subject.
2) Set Up Goals and Get Out of the Way
The enthusiasm of a group of smart people working together to achieve a certain goal is what makes a great company. Founders of successful companies should set goals, but shouldn’t dictate how to reach them. They should give feedback where needed, but always allow the talented people that they’ve hired the freedom and trust they deserve to get the job done.
3) See to Company Values
Ten years ago, no one cared about company values; today, they are often what attract people to a company. Strive to be your best self, and have your company strive for the same. Just remember, the company value of a small or big company is defined as the worst behaviour of your managers you are willing to tolerate.
4) Have a Mission
When I ask my employees what our mission is and they don’t know (or I watch them struggle to think something up on the spot) that’s bad. Each businessperson should know where they are heading. Each company must have a clear mission to know what it is doing. And each employee should know that mission, and if they don’t know the mission teach them until they do.
Having a vision and mission doesn’t mean anything unless you’re able to communicate it to three key entities: your team, investors and customers.
Take investors, for example. You have to be able to persuade them that if they don’t invest in you immediately, they’ll lose money. You’ll know you’ve nailed this communication skill if investors start calling you back soon after you meet with them; if they don’t, they’re simply not interested.
6) Focus on Your Customers
Too often, I see technology companies over-concentrate on their products or on their founder. It is absolutely critical that founders focus on understanding what, why, when and how customers buy, as during a business’ startup phase it is usually the founder who brings a new product to the market. So my advice is to serve your first 50 or 100 customers yourself, to really get to know their needs and what your business can do for them.
7) Know How to Say Yes/No
Effective leadership is like playing sports. You might not know what will happen three plays later, but you can’t just stand there saying you don’t know where to throw the ball. You just have to play the game.
Similarly, a founder or manager will always feel that they have too little information to make a decision. Often, they will say they need additional studies, analyses, etc. But this isn’t what your employees want to hear; they need to hear a clear yes or no. And this same principle applies to investors.
8) Focus on Opportunities, not Problems
Problems never pay out in the long run as much as opportunities do. So don’t let problems consume so much of your time that you’re unable to do anything else because of them.
9) Organise your Time
As a founder, time can be your most precious resource or your worst enemy. If you don’t take control of your time, it will take control of you and you won’t manage anything. Make sure you reserve time to clear your head, even if others want something from you.
10) Finish your Work
Too many people start fifty things and never finish anything. A prerequisite of successful founders is following through.
11) Enjoy What You Do
If you do something because someone else wants you to do it, or if you do it for money, you can do that for a month or two. But not for ten years. Work is hard, success is harder, so to make it worth it you had better enjoy what you’re doing.
12) Do not Search for Consensus
It might sound counterintuitive, but companies that always act in consensus sometimes find themselves in a complicated situation. This is because they are missing disharmony, which can be a driving force for doing things differently or better. It is important to create some disharmony, because this gives birth to new ideas and innovations.
13) Let the Ship Sail
If you have started a certain project, or set your teams on a specific course, do not regret it the next morning and change it; see it through.
14) Energise your Team
Really working with your employees is critically important. A founder should be in touch with their team, motivating them and sometimes sharing common activities (I love to go cycling with members of my team.) This not only keeps your team motivated and makes them feel lead rather than commanded, it keeps you in touch with the pulse of your company in a way that you just don’t get otherwise. I’ve known many managers that didn’t talk to or interact with anyone on their team, and then were surprised then they finally found out their team had broken up.
15) Measure Everything
If you do not measure, you will get nowhere. Good founders and managers should use metrics to understand how they are performing, although it is sometimes difficult to find the right people for the problem. Even using the wrong metrics can provide valuable lessons, and as you move forward you can reevaluate what you measure.
16) Be True to Yourselves
If a person becomes a founder, they should remain true to themselves and should not pretend to be anything else. It’s impossible to live under a false pretence for any significant length of time; inevitably, people will see through to the real you. So make sure the real you is worthy of of being seen.
A version of this article was originally published in the Czech edition of Forbes Online.