As I was reading a collection of Mother Goose rhymes that I bought to eventually read to my new granddaughter, I was reminded of a great book titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. While my exercise is definitely more light-hearted, it is in that same spirit that I’ve discovered several startup lessons from the narrative and underlying messages in these rhymes. I did the same thing with various Dr. Seuss books and you can find that article here. I mean, how much more fundamental and principled can you get than Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss? I hope you enjoy this article and decide to pass it along to others.
Jack Be Nimble
Jack be nimble, Jack be spry,
Jack jump over the apple pie.
Jack be nimble, Jack jump high!
Jack fly up into the sky.
Lessons for Startups: You may not know that this poem originated in the early 1800’s because of a tradition at weddings, markets and fairs in which participants jumped over a candle, trying not to extinguish the flame because it suggested a year of bad luck. Being nimble is a secret weapon for every startup when competing against much larger competitors (see related article titled “An Unfair Advantage All Startups Have Against Big Companies”). Jack also needed to have focus and drive to accomplish his objectives.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
Lessons for Startups:
- Think about how much risk you should take and what is the worst thing that can happen if those risks don’t work out the way you expect?
- If you wait until you’re in big trouble to bring on experienced advisors or board members, it might be too late to save your company. (see related articles titled “Selecting an Advisor” and “Your First Board Meeting”)
Little Boy Blue
Where is the boy
Who looks after the sheep?
He’s under a haystack
Will you wake him?
No, not I,
For if I do,
He’s sure to cry.
Lesson for Startups: The CEO is always accountable for what happens in a company, not just in the early days. But in the early days, the CEO must also be actively involved in many tasks, including mundane and simple ones that must get done.
Old Mother Hubbard
Lessons for Startups: Most startups face regular stress by seeing and smelling their upcoming cash fume date (when they’re projected to run out of cash if they don’t raise money). For starters, don’t wait until you’re 60 days away from your cash fume date to start raising money because it almost always takes longer than that. And even if you’re successful, the balance of negotiating power will lie with the investors. Additionally, make sure to have a forecasting model that regularly gets updated to best predict when you will run out of cash.
Jack and Jill
Then up got Jack and said to Jill,
As in his arms he took her,
“Brush off that dirt for you’re not hurt,
Let’s fetch that pail of water”
Lesson for Startups: Teamwork is critical for all companies but especially for early stage startups when most employees have multiple responsibilities. And with the stresses and risks associated with the startup phase, there will regularly be times that someone on the team needs to give encouragement and drive to continue forward.
The Itsy Bitsy Spider
The itsy bitsy spider
Climbed up the water spout.
Down came the rain
And washed the spider out.
Out came the sun
And dried up all the rain,
And the itsy bitsy spider
Climbed up the spout again.
Lesson for Startups: Determination and perseverance are critical personality traits and survival skills for startup founders and early employees. Failure abounds and should be used for learning and motivation.
Said the pieman to Simple Simon,
Show me first your penny.
Said Simple Simon to the pieman,
Indeed, I have not any.
Lesson for Startups: Most tech startups and certainly most software startups offer free trials to interested prospects. Unfortunately, some of those prospects never intend, nor can afford, to pay for your product. If you don’t have incremental costs to support such customers, then maybe it’s not a problem. But usually there is at least some cost, even if just some hosting or support costs. For this reason, understand that a Freemium model (a free offering that hopefully lead to paid upgrades but don’t require it) is different than offering a free trial (free for some short period of time leading to a purchase decision).
For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost,
For want of a horse, the rider was lost,
For want of a rider, the battle was lost,
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Lessons for Startups:
- Every startup makes mistakes and usually they serve as great learning experiences. But the ripple effect of some early mistakes turn out to be fatal. Examples include not solving a real problem, not having a viable customer acquisition model or teaming up with the wrong co-founder. See related articles titled “Avoiding Co-Founder Conflict” and “Is Your Potential Co-Founder Already in the Bonus Round?”
- Certain things you either do or don’t do in the very early days can severely impact or kill your future acquisition exit. See related articles titled “Don’t Accidentally Kill Your Future Acquisition Exit” and “Misuse of Open Source Software Can Kill Your Acquisition Exit”).
Jack ate all the lean,
Joan ate all the fat.
The bone they picked it clean,
Then gave it to the cat
Lesson for Startups: It is typically extremely valuable for co-founders to be different while also complementing each other – both in skills, personality and approach.
Old King Cole
Every fiddler he had a fiddle,
And a very fine fiddle had he.
Oh, there’s none so rare
As can compare
With King Cole
And his fiddlers three!
Lesson for Startups: Strive to build a world-class team of talent and equip them with the tools they need to be successful.