Formulating your Startup DNA

DNA usually refers to the fundamental and distinctive characteristics of someone or something, especially when it refers to those properties that are regarded as hereditary or unchangeable. The study of DNA is becoming a major field of science, and the study of manipulating an organism’s DNA is becoming more and more possible. In business, we sometimes use the term DNA to describe an organization’s essential qualities and therefore study its non-organic DNA as a way to try to improve an organization’s behavior as well as to be able to predict, or sometimes even change, those qualities that lead to its success.

A Company’s Startup DNA

Each entrepreneur behind a start-up has his own DNA composition. These sequences, when combined with the project of building up a business venture, creates an organization which is very much defined by its parts, where each person’s own DNA combines to make up the company’s startup DNA. As a group of entrepreneurs, this DNA is usually a combination of the best and the worst traits of each person involved, the more dominant partners of each field are usually the ones who contribute more meaningfully to the organization’s conventionally structured DNA. In other words, every new company has a start-up DNA that is usually a mirror refection of the DNA of its forming members.
Sometimes a small change will occur when adding employees or partners to a company, but usually this will do little to change the overall structure of an organization’s startup DNA unless this happens early. Later on, as more members join and contribute to a company’s DNA, each new member will have to adapt and behave according to the company’s predefined DNA structure. For better or for worse, the introduction of different DNA by new employees and investors will usually have very little impact on changing a mature company’s DNA structure as a whole. Therefore it is crucially important to discover and change as much as you can of your company’s DNA in the early stages of its development before it is too late.
How to formulate your companys startup DNA, which includes predicting some problems and spoilers of good ideas that get killed before a startup gets up and running.

How to Find Out What a Company’s Startup DNA Is

Since the startup DNA of a company is usually made of its founding entrepreneurs’ DNA, you need to find out as much as you can about the members of a company before getting too involved with it. By understanding the background of its founders, that is, who they are, what have they done in the past (not only in the startup field), what have been their successes and failures, and what their overall vision and ethic is, you can better understand what a company’s startup’s DNA is. Take the time to collect as much information as you can about a company’s entrepreneurs and founding members. Look at any external references you can find that might shed some light on understanding what their personalities are like, as well as looking at what can be gleaned from one-on-one discussions. Perhaps this strategy will help give you a good solid understanding of what each founder of the company’s character is like, which in turn will tell you more about what the overall company DNA is.

There is no right formula of DNA for making a successful venture, just as there is not a right or a wrong kind of DNA for any human being to have. When looking at the characteristics of founding members, one should be open-minded as possible. Avoid trying to find an exact match of any previous startup DNA to an abstract formula for success, just because something has happened in the past, this does not always indicate what will happen in the future. However, there are several clues and indications that you should pay attention to you that can help you to figure out what characteristics of a company DNA can lead to failure, and which of these are major issues that might spoil your startup’s DNA and lower its chances for success. In anticipation of these risks of failure, it is important to be able to identify and locate them as causes that spoiling success. Perhaps by focusing on them more clearly, we might have a better opportunity to prevent them from taking hold and reverse these spoilers before it is too late.

How Can you Change a Company’s Startup DNA?

We all make mistakes, and so do startups. If a company were to never make any mistakes, it would have less opportunity to grow by learning from them when then happen. This is one thing that makes startups fail in the short-term. Because making mistakes is part of the process of coming to understand where you should take your company and what you should do with your venture, this article is not meant to only be critical or to only suggest strategies that try and avoid any and every mistake that comes along. Rather, it is much more important that you have the ability to understand your company’s mistakes when they happen in order to quickly change its direction because this is what successful companies have in their startup DNA. Sometimes making a mistake can completely kill your startup, but this doesn’t need to happen if you have the right attitude. Because most of the problems you will encounter can always be handled differently, it is often better that you are instead prepared and equipped with the right information so that you can anticipate in advance where your company should go and where it shouldn’t. Having the right process and approach to developing your startup, one that will help you identify and eliminate the more deadlier mistakes from your start-up DNA, is what’s important.

Changing a company’s startup DNA, if it is at all possible, usually can only happen when it is in the earlier stages of a venture and when it’s still young. As an organization grows and matures it acquires more members, who in turn contribute bit by bit to the overall structure of a company’s basic DNA composition. A mature company’s DNA that has already been set by its founders and investors. As time goes on it becomes more and more difficult to change your company’s startup DNA. At the early stages is when you need to deal with the spoiling parts of your company’s Organizational DNA before it’s too late and they begin to take root.

Changing a company’s DNA during its initial stage is only possible when its founding members are ready and able to accept criticism. Such points of view may come from an external and perhaps a more objective source, for example, from the opinions and viewpoint of a mentor. In order to change the company’s DNA, it is better that they do not stick to any predefined assumptions about the company and instead commit to a process of working lean in a way that is always ready to adapt by listening to everything that the users have to say including things that they might not even want to hear.

The Importance of Mentoring in the Lean Startup Methodology

There are two directions that can help you prevent parts of your startup DNA from spoiling and turning your venture into a failure:

The first strategy is to always work  in short cycles when building your Minimal Viable Product (Minimum Viable Product). As it progresses from one cycle to the next, remember to gather all the necessary user requirements you need and to continually test your product.

The second strategy is to use the advice of a mentor. Since most entrepreneurs are relatively young in age (most are in their 30’s – in fact, 40% are in their 30’s, 34% are in their 20’s and only 20% are in their 40’s) this may suggest that they might have some experience with the business world and have already done a few things in their life. By working with an external mentor like a CTO, or someone who has had many experiences with startups, you can gain the extra perspective that is essential to most company’s strategies – regardless of what its founders’ previous experiences and track record of successes are.

An experienced mentor is useful because his head is outside-the-box when it comes to understanding how the venture can work and because his emotions are not usually heavily involved. A mentor is in a better position to be objective, he can be helpful in identifying and locating in advance where those spoiling parts of your start DNA might reside. A mentor could also perhaps see what things are contained in your startup DNA that may not turn out well or can harm your venture and your ability to be on track towards launching a successful product. And a mentor can also be there to assist you in making these changes as they are needed and with making decisions at those times when you are hitting the wall (which often happens).

Summary

A Startup DNA is formed as a whole from the sum of the DNA parts of its founding members. In the same way that there isn’t a right and a wrong DNA to have, there is no such thing as a right or wrong DNA for any startup to have. There are, however, parts of the DNA structure that may spoil a company’s ability to get the startup off the ground. In the early stages of your startup, you will have several opportunities to adjust your startup’s DNA. As your company grows it becomes more and more difficult to change the essential characteristics of your company. By the time that your company becomes mature and acquires new workers and investors, it may be already too late to be able to change it. This article is meant to suggest some tips that may help you improve the quality of your startup’s DNA. These basically are: to use a lean approach to develop your product, to continuously gather and study the requirements provided by your users, and to seek a mentor for ongoing advice. By using an experienced mentor or a part-time Chief Technology Officer who can assist you to eliminate the spoiling parts of your startup DNA, you hopefully will be in a better position to be pointed in the right direction and he can help you avoid making fatal mistakes that can often kill your startup.

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About David Rashty

David Rashty, an entrepreneur and one of the early web pioneers, has over twenty years’ experience as a CTO and a CEO. He has been involved in several start-ups and established companies and was the founder of two successful ventures.David is currently using his proven leadership and management skills to act as a Part Time CTO or "JumpStart" CTO for several early-stage ventures; this includes helping them design and develop their product and IT infrastructure.David holds a BS in computer science and an M.Sc in educational technology. He has been a adjunct university professor, given numerous workshops, written several books and articles on information technology and received numerous innovation awards.

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