Surviving the start-up bushveld


Herman Singh says that in order for start-ups to be successful, they need to have a resourceful team.

The start-up sector is like the wilds of Africa – the bushveld – where it’s survival of the fittest and most resourceful, and death comes in an instant. In this world, you live day-to-day and never know how or where your next meal will come from.

This is best epitomised by the leopard, which isn’t as strong as a lion, as fast as a cheetah, or as enormous as an elephant. It doesn’t have protecting herds like the buffalo or horns like the rhino. The leopard learns agility and wiles to help it survive.

What you need are similar team members – people who have fought to win and carved out a niche that they defend viciously. These people survive and thrive alone, with only their wits to count on in an environment of high uncertainty. They know if they get hurt, they starve, and if the lions catch them off-guard, they die.

Individuals in corporate jobs often have a different mindset. Most of their daily needs are already met – like a zoo. These corporate animals survive by learning how to navigate a complex and slow-changing environment. They form alliances and cliques and learn to cope through words and posturing, but no action or delivery. After enough time in this environment, they can’t ever be returned to the world. They lose their killer instinct and can only survive with a massive support system.

Start-ups are exciting and vibrant enterprises. I have been involved with dozens, including some that went on to become unicorns. If you talk to any venture capital firm, pick up any research on start-up success, or view any of the numerous TED talks on what makes these businesses successful, you will be left with one conclusion: it’s the team.

The biggest driver of success in these nascent ventures is heavily influenced by the founding and executive teams – not the idea, the technology or the funding. It is the abilities of these few people.

The primary objective of any start-up is to achieve a product-market fit before they run out of cash. Therefore, they need to engage in a process of accelerated learning at the lowest possible cost. The probability of achieving this is largely a function of gathering key skills into the core team to perform three key roles – all three starting with the letter “H”.

It is critical to figure out which one is you.

The Hacker
The Hacker is someone who can solve any problem and build anything. They specialise in turning ideas into reality. This individual is a highly competent and resourceful creator. They can also manage a technical team and have access to a broad network of technical partners and service providers to get the job done. They will often be the innovative engine of the business who can answer the all-important question of “Why”.

The Hipster
The hipster is the one that makes the product look market ready, sleek and cool. They bring design and flair to the product that flows through to the overall business. They are the designer and creative genius of the organisation who crafts the creative vision and makes the products or services highly desirable. They achieve this by finessing the output, the firm’s tone and even the exact shade of blue needed to create audience resonance.

The Hustler
The hustler is the businessman who can create real human relationships, walk the walk and is the voice of the business. They have ruthless business acumen, are silver-tongued, are a superb communicator, have strong marketing intuition, and are an effective fundraiser and business plan presenter. The hustler is the chief salesman and gets the deals done, keeping the business ticking over. They often play the role of the CEO and can be larger than life.

This triad creates critical mass for success. When the hipster brings the creative design and cool factor, the hacker brings their utility belt of technology solutions, and the hustler finds the right way to package it all up and take it to the masses in the form of sales and partnerships. It’s a combination that is tough to beat.

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