It’s been nearly a month since my co-founder, Kim Keller and I returned from C100's 48hrs in the Valley. It was not our first 48hrs; in December, 2013 we volunteered at the event along with GrowLab F13 cohort. After our first taste of 48hrs, we were determined to come back as one of the top 15 companies.
Last month, we joined fellow Canadian startups that had been selected to spend 3 days in Silicon Valley. The days were packed with workshops, meetings and networking sessions. There was so much wisdom and knowledge and we absorbed as much as we could. This is how we implemented our key learnings from 48Hrs in the Valley.
On building a team and defining culture
Culture is a big topic at 48hrs and it is something that really resonated with us. Farm At Hand is a young company and we have just begun building our team. Naturally, we are invested in shaping and defining our culture.
But what does that even mean…? And how do we go about that?
From a fireside chat with Mike Dinsdale and Alan Black, we gathered we could start by recruiting people who want to be a part of the journey of building something from the ground up. Startups don’t have the luxury of stability; there are a lot of ups and downs and you need a team that can adapt and deliver. “Divide and grow. You cannot own it all as your company scales,” said Black.
As we grow, transparency and accountability become more important. In order to implement transparency and accountability as founders, you need to stay connected with your team. At FarmAtHand, we do team socials (which are valuable, but it is by no means definitive of culture) and stand-up meetings twice a week that both Kim and I partake in. In addition to the standups, we regularly meet with team members one-on-one. One-on-one meetings provide a valuable opportunity for us to listen to and learn from our team as we all share and give feedback.
We have empowered our team to take ownership of their projects and take initiatives as they see fit. It is a lot of risk to assume, but we need to trust our team to execute on the company’s vision. To quote Brian Chesky: “Culture is a shared way of doing something with passion. When culture is strong, you can trust your team to do the right thing.”
On investor and board relationships
Building relationships is as important as maintaining them.
We learned the importance of building relationships early, way before we even approach potential investors for the next round of funding. We initiated many conversations with later-stage investors and started building our relationships with them. This way, investors get to know us as entrepreneurs and are able to follow our growth trajectory. Mark Suster wrote a good post to elaborate on this point from an investor’s perspective.
During the BDC lunch session, many shared their experiences building and maintaining the relationship between investor and entrepreneur. We were reminded that investors and board members are not involved in the day-to-day operations and our monthly updates are one of the ways for them to stay in informed.
Keeping investors and board members informed is more than just reporting key metrics. It is also having the guts to share with them what your real challenges are. When things get tough, it is always easier to only share the good news. However, by doing that, you are losing out on everything else your investors and board have to offer you; experience, know-how, and network. We learned first-hand that investors appreciate honesty, even when you come bearing bad news. The following is a response we got from one of our investors after we had to deliver some not so good news:
“I appreciate the fact that you are being entirely candid with your investor group. No business is grown without bumps in the road. The (fact) you took quick action to rectify the situation demonstrates good leadership.”
On Silicon Valley
Innovation and success isn’t exclusive only to Silicon Valley and Jonathan Ehrlich’s talk on ‘debunking the Valley myth’ really drove that home.
Ehrlich’s talk did re-assure us that we made the right decision to stay put in Vancouver, B.C., but partaking in 48Hrs gave us a big reality check. Witnessing the velocity and tenacity of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is a good kick in the butt to pick up the pace. It’s a good reminder that yes, I can f$^&*# do this too!
As entrepreneurs, we often pride ourselves to think big and outside the box. However, a few hours with the mentors at 48Hrs showed us that we could think even bigger. Nothing makes you want to get back to work and work harder, more than when you are surrounded by inspiration and people building amazing product.
Silicon Valley does not have monopoly over innovation or disruptive thinking. Every startup has the opportunity do something great and make a difference. It is Silicon Valley’s velocity and tenacity to achieve new heights that we need to bring back and embrace in its entirety.
Himanshu Singh is the co-founder of Farm At Hand, a farm management platform that allows farmers to record and track operations from seed to sale. Prior to Farm At Hand, Himanshu founded Quintapps Software Solutions Inc, a professional web and mobile development company. Follow him @Singh_H_