Make Your Startup Stand Out — 5 Tips for Founders Who Want to Make a Difference

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You launched your company because you wanted to make a difference. So why do you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall, unable to drum up the traction you know your enterprise deserves?

Maybe you’re going about it the wrong way. If you’re serious about making your startup stand out as it targets the next phase of its growth, you need to make serious investments in its future. 

Investments that might not yet be on your radar.

Here’s where to begin.

1. Dedicate Your Organization to Effecting Change — and Follow Through

Put your money where your mouth is, as the saying goes.

Whether you’re investing in financial empowerment software for kids or supporting community-building initiatives in your hometown, you need to show — not just say — that you’re dedicated to effecting positive change.

These investments might not contribute directly to your bottom line. But they’ll do wonders for your brand, which could help you raise money or attract talent — or both — in the near future.

2. Have a Diversity Strategy From the Get-Go

Implementing a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy (DEI) is a little different when you’re a small company. If you’re not a human resources expert, the prospect can feel overwhelming.

That shouldn’t stop you from having a DEI blueprint from the get-go. The modest investment you’ll need to make in a DEI consultant will pay off many times over if you’re able to hire talent that might not otherwise have given your company a second look.

3. Hire for Growth, But Don’t Get Over Your Skis

You’ve heard that you should staff for the sales you want in 12 months, not the sales you have today. But it’s important to make realistic projections rather than wild-eyed pronouncements that have no basis in reality and serve only to get credulous investors onboard.

The more unsupported hires you make, the more right-sizing you’ll need to do if you don’t meet your lofty revenue targets. That’s painful, of course, and could damage your firm’s brand too. If that damage proves sticky, good luck attracting the same caliber of talent the second time around.

4. Check in With Your Team Regularly, But Don’t Overschedule 

Unnecessary meetings are kryptonite for productive teams. At the same time, you need to check in on your direct reports from time to time to make sure they have everything they need and aren’t straying too far from their directives.

And your direct reports need to do the same with their direct reports — or will when you’ve grown to that point.

What’s a leader to do?

Simple: Make sure every scheduled meeting has a purpose that can’t be achieved in any other format. If it makes more sense as a mass email or text message, or as a quick one-on-one phone call, go that route. Don’t waste any more time than you need to — you all have things to do, after all.

5. Be Humble and Ask for Feedback

It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for feedback. In fact, it’s a sign of strength, and of confidence in your team’s judgment.

How you choose to ask for feedback is up to you. Many founders and executives keep an “open door” policy, which these days means giving out their personal phone numbers (or a Google Voice number that rolls over to their personal phones) and email addresses. 

But most employees won’t take advantage of that open door, and it’s not totally clear you want them to. An alternative is a centralized, totally anonymous feedback channel that uses one or more intermediaries. Perhaps not as direct and effective as a phone call, but also not as disruptive or awkward.

Most Startups Fail. Will Yours?

You know the statistics — that most startups fail before they turn five. You don’t need to be reminded of the odds you’re up against.

Maybe it’s helpful to think about why startups fail, though. Maybe it’s useful to remember that many founders aren’t truly committed to their causes. Maybe it makes you feel better to realize that, as a true believer, you’re already ahead of the pack.

But all that means nothing without action. By making these investments now, before your enterprise outgrows your ability to set the tone, you’ll set it on a course for sustainable growth — growth that draws the attention and approval of potential investors, strategic partners, employees, and others you’ll come to depend on. And that’s impossible to put a dollar figure on.

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