Based in Downtown Bentonville, Arkansas, Mike currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer at Pure Charity, a nonprofit dedicated to building world class technology solutions for Nonprofit Organizations, individuals, and Community Advocacy.

31 Things I learned in 30 Days at a Start Up

31 Things I learned in 30 Days at a Start Up

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After spending 16 years of my professional career at Fortune 100 Companies, I stepped into a whole new world last month when I joined the team at Pure Charity.

After the first 30 days I’ve learned (or been reminded) that there are some core principles that are easy to lose sight of in a large corporate environment.

So, I thought I’d share…

  1. You have to start somewhere - you’ll never have all the information you want or need and you can spend a lot of time, energy and money trying to cover every detail.  However, at some point you have to start.
  2. Your work matters - you learn very quickly that people notice when you don’t deliver or deliver something that is of poor quality.  That affects the quality of their work as well creating a downward spiral.
  3. Uninterrupted time is one of our most wasted assets - Escaping the cycle of unnecessary weekly meetings and 1 hour conference calls can create time to kick out quality work.  You may surprise yourself how productive you can be by taking no meetings or calls for a day in the name of moving a project forward.
  4. Strategy matters - Being off a little on your aim can cause you to miss the target big time 100 yards down range.  Take the time (uninterrupted) to work through your strategy before you start moving it forward.  Even Seth Godin agrees with me.
  5. You have to think big about big things - It’s easy to focus on the little things that require very little effort to accomplish.  However, it can eventually cause you to take your eye off of the bigger issues at hand.  Don’t be afraid to take on the world (in bite size pieces of course).
  6. Relationships can open a door but what you’re doing eventually has to stand on its own - It may be easy to ask people to trying something new, but eventually your work will have to exist without you.  That’s the true test of what success will look like.
  7. People aren’t sitting around waiting for you to launch - The world is moving forward; keep up.
  8. Other competitors are working just as hard as you are, so pay attention - Big corporations have a tendency to focus on themselves.  Force yourself outside your walls to see what others are doing.  You may learn something.
  9. Details matter
  10. ^
  11. Not everything has to go into an email - When you find better ways to communicate outside of email (and there are many ways), you won’t find yourself staring at your Inbox waiting for another email.
  12. New tools are awesome when everyone in the company is using them (DropBox, Basecamp, Flow, Skitch, HipChat) - Big companies are stuck with big pieces of software & those can actually hurt productivity over time if you’re not careful.
  13. At some point you have to stop talking - It’s easy to spend all day talking about everyone’s ideas, trying to get clarity, understanding every detail, but at some point you will start to create circles.  Knowing when you start creating circles is a learned skill.  Once you see the circle…the meeting should be over.
  14. Time away from the office can be just as valuable as time in the office - You can spend all day at your desk, but if you don’t have time away you’ll burn yourself out.  Go for a bike ride.  Read a book.  Play with your kids.  Have dinner with your friends.  It lets your brain rest, and that’s when good ideas happen.
  15. Starting the day with a prayer sets a tone to the day that’s hard to break - Even if prayer isn’t your thing, taking some time to reflect and find the deeper meaning in your work is necessary.
  16. You can get too close to your idea - You may spend 24/7 thinking about your work, moving things forward, and talking about it.  Be careful not to assume someone else knows what you’re talking about.  Get other people’s point of view about your work because they will see things you don’t.
  17. Trust your instincts - Having confidence in your own ability to make a decision and stick with it takes practice.  Learn to trust yourself or you’ll get stuck.
  18. Have a point of view or be quiet - Everyone wants to have input, but not everyone actually has something to put in.  State your point of view or be quiet and support someone else’s.
  19. You’re not an expert on everything - If you don’t know, you don’t know.  Go find someone who does.
  20. Well done work is worth the cost - Remember, you’re not the expert on everything, so find those that are.  Just be prepared for it to be expensive (they are experts after all).  Make the investment.
  21. Your ability to articulate your idea has to be seamless - Practice, practice, practice.
  22. Spend your time working on all kinds of partnerships - Most people want to work with the biggest name in a specific field.  However, getting traction takes a lot of effort and a lot of time.  Work on those partnerships, but you will often find other smaller, growing organizations like yours will help a whole lot.
  23. Don’t be afraid to make a big ask - If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
  24. You better follow up - enough said.
  25. People count on you doing what you said you’d do - It’s easy to hide in big organizations with big teams.  However, small teams require everyone carry their weight.
  26. It’s better to talk before you show - The elevator speech is important (see #20), but you may need to break up your pitch into multiple parts to ensure you’re able to effectively communicate it.
  27. Do your research & be prepared - It’s what you don’t see that trips you up.  Make sure you set aside time to do your homework.
  28. The CEO isn’t the only place to start with presenting your idea - Knowing where to engage within an organization is hard, so most people want to start at the top.  However, if you’re not careful that can work against you.  Present your ideas to the people who would implement them.  If they like your idea and will be an advocate for it, you may be surprised what doors they will open.
  29. Clarity takes work - Writing down your ideas (and proposals) allows others to evaluate them and make decisions easier.
  30. Middle management & Corporate politics can kill progress - Things move a whole lot faster at a startup because there aren’t layers of red tape and people looking out for their own interest.
  31. You’ll always be thinking about what you need to do tomorrow…write it down and finish today’s work first - (Evernote is a great tool)

That’s about it.  We shall see what the next 30 days hold, and maybe I’ll have something new to share then.

Take care.

...tension between what is and what could be

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