Here's my compilation of 2012's best posts about managing startups. I assembled similar lists at the end of 2011, 2010 and 2009. Many thanks to all of the authors. The generosity of the startup community is amazing, and these insights are invaluable to those of us who teach and coach aspiring entrepreneurs.
Apologies to authors whose work I've omitted. Please use comments below to suggest additional posts. Happy New Year!
- David Aycan of IDEO on the value of prototyping multiple MVPs in parallel.
- Vin Vacanti on excuses that kept Yipit from launching early.
- Entrepreneur Graeham Douglas on lean techniques for rapid prototyping of physical products.
- Emre Sokullu of GROU.PS on software that is well suited for building MVPs.
- Ben Yoskovitz of GoInstant on the value of focusing on "one metric that matters."
- Ash Maurya published his book, Running Lean; he describes the Lean Stack -- tools for managing hypothesis testing -- in a two-part post.
- Joel Spolsky on the costs of different types of software inventory.
- Glenn Kelman of Redfin on how running lean without deep product conviction can lead entrepreneurs to pivot too quickly and build mediocre products.
- Dan Milstein of Wingu in a video from the 2012 Lean Startup Conference on conducting a "5 Whys" session.
- Trevor Owens of Lean Startup Machine on different approaches for validating assumptions.
- A video from the Lean Startup Conference of Lean Startup Machine SF 2012 winner, Chef's Table, discussing their pivots and hypothesis tests.
- Other videos from Eric Ries's Lean Startup Conference.
- Bill Gurley of Benchmark, David Beisel of NextView Ventures, and Seth Rothman of Greylock on key factors for success in building online marketplaces.
- Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures on revenue models for online commerce sites.
- Rishi Shah of Digioh on optimizing freemium pricing for SaaS; David Skok of Matrix Partners on why churn matters so much with SaaS models.
- M. Wensing presents a taxonomy of different types of freemium offers.
- Entrepreneur/angel investor Brian Balfour on solving the chicken & egg problem with network effects businesses; Sangeet Choudary writes about platforms and network effects, e.g., the impact or reverse network effects on social media.
- Tristan Kromer shows how to use a business model canvas based on "Puppies-as-a-Service" as an example.
Customer Discovery and Validation
- Cindy Alvarez on applying customer development techniques with different types of customers and on when to NOT use surveys.
- Laura Klein on how to use personas, how to overcome reservations about shipping an early product version, and the importance of validating a problem, not a product.
- Brent Chudoba on using surveys to validate pricing, messaging, and other key decisions.
- Blake Masters' summary of Peter Thiel's Stanford CS183 lecture on distribution, marketing and sales.
- Rob Go of NextView Ventures succinctly summarizes marketing fundamentals and their relevance for startups.
- Renee Warren of Onboardly offers comprehensive coverage of marketing basics in KISSmetrics' "Ultimate Guide to Startup Marketing."
- Sean Work of KISSmetrics and Zach Bulygo describe best practices of high-converting websites.
- David Skok of Matrix Partners on adapting marketing and sales tactics to stages of the customer buying cycle.
- Entrepreneur/angel investor Brian Balfour offers tips for testing user acquisition methods.
- Eric Siu offers tips for structuring A/B tests; Lance Kidwell on the same topic with specific application to landing pages.
- Tyler King offers tips for monetizing a blog.
- John Koetsier shares pointers for marketing a mobile app.
Sales and Sales Management
- Bootstrapper Robert Graham offers advice on cold calling early customers via email.
- Steve Blank on the challenges of closing a complex B2B sale with multiple decision influencers; Mark Suster of GRP Partners on the same topic.
- David Skok provides a link to a Bridge Group report on metrics and compensation data for SaaS inside sales.
- Mark Suster on when to hire sales people in an early-stage startup and how to choose them.
- Mark Roberge of HubSpot on how to use analytics to build a scalable sales team.
- Brent Adamson et al. on how/why the best sales reps avoid "talkers" who superficially show enthusiasm but are unable/unwilling to mobilize organizational support for a purchase.
- Rahul Vohra of Rapportive on modeling viral growth.
- Vin Vacanti of Yipit on ways to drive virality.
- Susanna Gebauer of exploreB2B on managing PR.
- Leo Widrich of Buffer on how to get press coverage.
- Chris Dixon offers tips on interacting with the press.
- Cezary Pietrzak offers tips on naming a startup; Andrus Purde of Achoo on the same topic.
- Robert Laing presents a case study of rebranding his startup, Gengo.
- Mike Troiano offers startup branding tips.
Product Management/Product Design
- Laura Klein on dealing with customers' aversion to feature/interface changes.
- Cindy Alvarez on what you will/won't learn from usability testing.
- Martina Lauchengco of Silicon Valley Product Group on the role of product marketing.
- Marty Cagan of SVPG on time-boxed product discovery and on continuous product discovery as a natural extension of continuous software deployment.
- Cagan on the difference between old and new school product management, and on the difference between live-data prototypes and production software.
- Adam Nash of Greylock on the responsibilities of great product leaders.
- Eric Ries on the product manager's lament with waterfall software development.
- Jacques Murphy on the challenges of introducing product management to a startup.
- Ben Yoskovitz on the product manager's role.
- Andrew Chen on Square's concept of product leaders as "product editors."
- Jayson DeMers of AudienceBloom on outsourcing pitfalls.
- John O'Farrell of a16z describes how quality trumps quantity and clarity regarding mutual objectives is crucial in doing business development deals, using Opsware's transformative distribution agreement with Cisco as a case study.
- Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital (and my colleague at HBS) on scaling challenges; see also Jeff's case studies of scaling at TripAdvisor, Akamai, and athenahealth.
- Paul Graham of Y Combinator on why startup = growth, and a response from Mark Suster.
- Jeff Jordan of a16z on how eBay managed growth.
- Blake Masters' summary of Peter Thiel's Stanford CS183 lecture on the motives/methods of venture capitalists.
- Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital on passive vs. active VC seed investors.
- Rob Go of NextView Ventures on trends impacting seed funds and why VCs have a 20% equity ownership target.
- Rob's partner David Beisel on how to select investors in a seed VC syndicate and on the motives of different types of angel investors.
- Mark Suster of GRP Partners offers a primer on fundraising, discusses when investors in the same round should get different share prices, and reviews the pros/cons of convertible debt
- Suster on super pro rata rights; Beisel on the same topic.
- Attorney Scott Edward Walker offers a primer on convertible note terms.
- Dave Balter of BzzAgent offers advice for angel investors.
- Blake Masters' summary of Peter Thiel's Stanford CS183 lecture on how to pitch VCs.
- Anth Georgides offers tips for first-time entrepreneurs negotiating with VCs.
- My colleague Noam Wasserman published his book, The Founder's Dilemmas, that describes tradeoffs that founders confront when deciding when/with whom to found, how to split equity, how to divide roles, etc.
- Blake Masters' summary of Peter Thiel's Stanford CS183 lecture on the importance on early founding decisions.
- Charlie O'Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures on questions that co-founders must address ASAP and the concept of the "minimum viable team," i.e., the smallest set of skills needed to get traction in an early-stage startup.
Company Culture, Organizational Structure, Recruiting and Other HR Issues
- Ben Horowitz of a16z on the concept of "management debt" (i.e., bad people decisions with long-term consequences -- the HR equivalent of technical debt) and on how accountability separates good companies from bad ones.
- Horowitz on how to integrate "old people" (i.e., senior executives from big companies) into a startup.
- Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital on the risk of promoting managers too quickly.
- Blake Masters' summary of Peter Thiel's Stanford CS183 lecture on company culture: where it comes from/why it is important.
- Horowitz on building company culture.
- David Beisel of NextView Ventures on the importance of office space configuration in building a startup.
- Tips on hiring developers from Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot; Avi Flombaum of the Flatiron School; Iris Shoor of Takipi; and a great Quora thread.
- Recruiting best practices discussed by Fred Wilson of USV; Charlie O-Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures; Ben Yoskovitz of GoInstant; and David Beisel.
- Chad Dickerson of Etsy on the link between recruiting and company culture.
- Thoughts on firing employees from Chris Dixon and Fred Wilson.
- Fred Wilson of USV on managing startup boards.
- Mark Suster of GRP Partners on the board observer role.
- Jessica Livingston of Y Combinator analyzes reasons why startups fail, as does Andrew Montalenti of Parse.ly.
- Startup Genome infographic on causes of startup failure.
- Michael O. Church on the ethics of "failing fast."
Exiting By Selling Your Company
- Chris Dixon of a16z on the economic logic behind talent acquisitions: when/why "make vs. buy" decisions favor buying; he also offers these notes on the acquisition process.
- John O'Farrell of a16z on deciding when to sell.
- Tobias Peggs on what life is like inside a big company after an entrepreneur sells.
- Paul DeJoe of Ecquire on managing the pressure that comes with being a startup CEO.
- Steve Blank on why it matters how co-founders fight.
- Blake Masters' summaries of Peter Thiel's Stanford CS183 lectures on the role of luck in startup success and on "founder as victim, founder as god." Fascinating stuff!
- Steve Blank on the challenge of distinguishing between vision and hallucination in charting a startup's course.
- Andrew Chen on dealing with the "trough of sorrow" following a big bump in traffic after a TechCrunch story.
- Paul Graham of Y Combinator on "black swan farming," i.e., coping with the facts that: 1) the vast majority of returns are concentrated in a few startups, and 2) the most successful startups often don't look very good at the outset/
- Graham on how to get startup ideas and on generating/coping with frighteningly ambitious startup ideas.
- 50 startup lessons learned by James Maskell, founder of Vinetrade; startup lessons learned by Vin Vacanti.
- Andreas Klinger of LOOKK on how/why founders lie to keep doing things in their comfort zones
- Serial entrepreneur/angel investor Jason Calacanis on the two biggest questions founders need to ask: Will customers recommend my product, and will they remember it?
- Investor James Altucher on how to survive your 1st year as founder/CEO.
- Chris Dixon: once you take outside money, the clock starts ticking.
- Jason Calacanis with advice for seed-stage entrepreneurs facing the "Series A Crunch" [Jason wrote this on Jan. 2, 2013, so it doesn't officially qualify for this "Best of 2012" -- but the advice is just too good and too important to wait a full year before including it next year's compilation!]
Management Advice, Not Elsewhere Classified
- Mark Suster of GRP Partners on why you should never negotiate one deal point at a time.
- Entrepreneur Karl Treier on preparing a startup of technical due diligence (e.g., questions about scalability, disaster recovery, etc.)
- Ben Horowitz of a16z on how/why a CEO should deliver effective feedback.
Career Advice (Especially for MBAs)
- David Beisel of NextView Ventures offers advice for incoming MBAs who want to launch a startup upon graduation.
- Andy Rachleff of Wealthfront provides data on startup compensation levels and advice on negotiating pay packages.
- Entrepreneur Bryan Goldberg offers advice on building personal wealth in Silicon Valley startups.
- From Naysawn Naderi, the case against aspiring entrepreneurs pursuing an MBA, and a counter-argument from Mike Gozzo.
- Reflections from entrepreneur Ryan Allis on what he's learning at business school.
- A personal account from Michelle Wetzler on why she left consulting for a startup job.
- Brad Feld of Foundry Group and TechStars has published the book Startup Communities, a guide to building an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
- Beyond Steve Blank's Startup Owner's Manual, a book he co-authored with Bob Dorf, here is a list of the fantastic resources Steve has made available to the startup community -- mostly for free.