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  • Date of publication: 31 August 2020
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  • Startup for a teapot: how to create a company and not lose all the money


    Venture investor told Forbes how to manage risks in fast-growing companies, motivate employees and partners and conquer the market

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Venture investor told Forbes how to manage risks in fast-growing companies, motivate employees and partners and conquer the market


For any start-up company, one of the most important issues is risk management and budgeting. Young team - especially if you do not have a lot of experience in building operational processes - it's easy to make mistakes in budgeting and choosing priorities. Over the years I have accumulated some practical experience in creating new businesses and putting companies into profits, which will be useful for start-ups, especially in the technological area.

The principles of risk management and budget are determined by the stage of development of the company. At the initial stage, the main reference point is MVP (from the English minimum viable product - the minimum viable product). The planning horizon at this stage is 3 months. From a management point of view, it is about planning on a monthly basis with a weekly review of the results achieved and a correction of the understanding of what the project will be. Forming longer plans at this stage is a waste of time. When moving to the alpha version of the product, the horizons are lengthened. From now on, you can apply quarterly and semi-annual planning. At the same time, after the implementation of specific tasks, the plans are completely calm and easy to be revised.


The greatest attention should be paid to staff costs. The approach is very simple. At the MVP stage, the number of employees should be minimal - an effective team of 3-4 people, the costs are very clear and fully predictable. When going to the creation of the alpha version, this article is also well predictable: it is clear how many people need to form a working product, its working version, to release in production. Based on the work hours, you can safely plan and the number of staff, and the cost of its placement, and taxes.

Often there is a question of budgetary tolerances and overruns. When planning the cost of creating an alpha and beta version, it is permissible to create a double overspending. With such a stock, the final expenses with a probability of 99% fall within the range defined by the strategic plan of the project.

It is advisable to use outsourcing, and outsourcing it is necessary to make a maximum of tasks, both at the MVP stage and during the development of the alpha version. The more work done at this stage on outsourcing, the more the project is easy to upgrade and effective as a team. It is not worth fixing the cost of works, it's better to pay off based on the result and to abandon people who do long, expensive and inefficient in favor of those who do quickly, expensively and effectively. The elementary truth: cheap and high-quality work does not happen, if the performer does not have any additional motivation. And for an outsourcer, the main motivator is money, he rarely has a secondary interest in the project.

As for the costs for employees, there are two important points. First, for developers in the IT market that have reached a certain level of well-being and development, it is important to do something that strengthens them as professionals. The programmer is scared to be in the swamp, to miss new technologies and new coils of development, to fall behind the IT industry. This allows you to use additional motivation. When you come up with a cool project, when you have enough energy to convince people of the breakthrough nature of the idea, it is much easier to find strong specialists. 

But, in order for the project to develop, it is necessary, of course, to hire specialists at a market price. 10-15 years ago, the industry was younger, people had more intangible motivation than now. It was possible to find sensible guys who, for their food and interest, for the sake of entertainment could write a game or create a project. Today, too, it happens, but it's still a rarity, an exception.

The system approach to rates and salaries in start-ups is this: you need to offer a market wage. Everything, except those positions that can not be closed in any other way, must be bought with ordinary money. If there is a vacancy that is critical, and the development of the whole project depends on it, and around there are no candidates that you can lure an idea - for this one particular job, you can offer a bet above the market.


As for non-material motivation, it is now difficult to save on this. But the question of what we mean by economy is not trivial. Today in Moscow a good programmer costs from 150,000 rubles a month. The top of the market is a salary of 250,000-300,000 rubles, the leader in the team can cost 600,000 and 1 million a month. 

At the same time, I repeat, for the leaders of teams and key programmers is very important task and a good environment. Most of them would like to work on a large project in a strong team when it comes to involvement in something bigger, interesting. Additional material motivation in this case - bonuses or bonuses, tied to the success of the project. Due to non-material motivation, you can save up to 50%. And money not spent is money earned.

There are a lot of variations of motivational schemes. Having created dozens of startups for my life and worked with a large number of teams, I came to one fairly efficient model. First, there are partners - people with whom you create a business, even if you have invented it yourself. They perform key roles in it, they must have "live" shares, fixed by agreement. They should motivate them and at the same time be at least 5%.

In addition to the founders, there is an additional team in the project. When next to the founders appear intelligent and active people, they should have options from the profit of the project or the direction that they lead, at a level of 5-10%.

International practice offers a wide range of tools: stock repurchases, real or phantom, registered windows for the redistribution of shares in the project, linkages to the development stages and KPI, burning options. In cases with start-ups, it is better not to play these games: the harder the conditions, the more discomfort people cause in these designs. A startup is not an army, a start-up is more a creation. People should be expected to enjoy what is happening, and not think that if they do not have time to do something, they will take a share or buy it back at a reduced price.

Buy-back from the project staff is, in principle, not a good practice, unless there is a task to reward a specific employee who deserves it for many years. In general, it is good for karma and not bad for the project, but only if it is in a mature stage. Forced redemption is appropriate only if you need to change an employee who can not cope with the task and pulls the project to the bottom. To do this, "on the shore" must be prescribed conditions under which there is an opportunity to buy it, say goodbye to it, provided that this decision is supported by all other participants in the project. This is important, since a faded or just a weak person by his behavior can destroy the whole project.

Investments and market

One of the mistakes is the use of loan funds by the founders of the project. This is a tool that should be used with great care and apply it in accordance with simple but strict rules. At the phase of MVP development, the team is better able to operate with their own money and their own time. When moving to an alpha version, it is better to find for the project not borrowed funds, but investments from an angelic or venture investor. And, even if the team does not really believe in it.

The ideal candidate will be an experienced player who knows the niche of the project and can help not only financially, but also with knowledge and skills. This will save the team a huge amount of money and time. The scenario, when the project became adequate, moved from the MVP stage to the "alpha", having received the angelic investor, and is the most successful.

Credit resources make sense to attract only when there is already a working sales funnel. When, for example, a project spends 3 rubles for marketing, and they return in the form of 10 rubles within 7 months. After that, it is already possible to attract external loans, this no longer threatens to completely bankrupt the project and destroy the start-up.

In terms of rates, the situation in Russia is understandable: for loans in rubles, it now reaches 22% per annum. This determines the appropriateness of attracting loans to stimulate development and sales - if the internal yield from credit money is, for example, 50% per annum, it makes sense to attract them if 30% - the percentage load becomes painful and will slow growth. In such a situation, it is better to involve an equity investor.

Criteria for attracting co-owners and investors in the project are very vague, but for IT, the general rule is that you can not start non-core investors. Participation of an incompetent co-owner can lead to the worst development scenario, when a team is prevented from working, does not understand what it is doing, and requires the provision of some irrelevant indicators.

As part of the strategy, it is extremely important to pricing the product, especially at the stage of entering the market. In the last decade, the Uber and Groupon model dominated the world - dumping, accompanied by a loss of $ 600-800 million a year, for the sake of market capture. I do not really believe in this model; it really allows you to quickly and effectively capture the market, but today, it seems to me, even in America, in the Silicon Valley, to find financing for such projects is more and more difficult. The already launched companies and projects using this business model still manage to attract new rounds of funding, often from investors and funds that participated in the previous financing. But the news about new large-scale undertakings, which would assume loss-making not only at the investment level, but also at the operational level, appears less and less.

One of the big temptations for a startup is binding to an anchor client. Whether this is a successful solution for an IT startup depends on the type of project: anchor clients do not fit into the B2C model, their presence leads to defocusing and the inability to focus on the service for a large number of consumers. Ultimately, this leads to the loss of its strategy. For B2B services, confined to a specific niche, the presence of an anchor client is useful, since it allows you to automatically gain a foothold in the market and generate a minimum amount of financial flows.