4 Essential Lessons for Software Startup Founders

Be realistic about the time it will take to grow your business, establish a strong culture, and build a team you can rely on.

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a first-time startup founder, you can expect to experience a learning curve as the leader of a new business. Getting your startup on the right track and making progress toward profitability and growth, may lead you into more trial and error and risk than you’re comfortable with. Fortunately, you can lean on wisdom from members of the tech community to minimize wrong turns.

Chris Wysopal, CTO and Co-Founder of Veracode, shares these four essential lessons that he learned as a startup founder:

1It will always take longer than you think it will. Be prepared for the long haul.

Wysopal points out that the average time to an acquisition or an IPO is ten years. “Because it takes longer than you think you need to plan for the long haul with your work-life balance, your debt, and setting expectations with employees,” he says. “Building a company for the long haul also takes building a robust business that will attract a higher premium and give you more options.”

2Culture is super important and it starts with your founding team and your first hires.

You can change your business strategy, and you can pivot your technology, but changing your culture is like starting all over again,” Wysopal comments. From the outset, assure your team that they’re encouraged to take ownership, their opinions are valued, and that you trust their skill and expertise to meet challenges. The payoff will be a team that’s engaged, productive, and happy.

“A great culture will keep people around longer, and it will make hiring easier,” Wysopal says. “These all impact the bottom line.”

And that impact can be significant: Work Institute research quantified the issue of employee turnover, concluding that the cost of replacement per employee earning an annual salary of $45,000 is $15,000.

Wysopal advises, “If there are people ruining your culture, tell them to change their behavior or show them the door.”

3You are going to have to delegate, so hire great people and trust and empower them.

In the early days, startup founders do it all. You are a developer, office manager, marketer, sales rep, HR, bookkeeper, and, maybe, janitor. As your business grows, however, hanging onto all those tasks will limit your business’ ability to grow — and burn you out.

“Delegation gets things done faster and better,” says Wysopal. “It improves employee satisfaction and enables you, as the founder, to not have to worry about as many day-to-day management decisions.” Wysopal comments that delegating work frees startup founders to use your time to benefit your company the most: going out and evangelizing your company or market segment. “That is something a founder can uniquely do,” he says.

4The Most Important Lesson

The fourth lesson Wysopal shares may be the most important advice he can offer startup founders. “Develop your people. Help them be better employees, and train and mentor them,” he says.

Encouraging your employees to become lifelong learners will increase employee satisfaction, but it will also keep your startup agile as it grows and adapts to seemingly continuous disruption. Training can help you ensure your employees have the skills and up-to-date knowledge they need to be valuable team members — and give your business a competitive advantage

“Training and mentorship is a huge force multiplier,” he says.