Is your startup set up for digital success in the months and years ahead?
Probably not to the degree that you’d like. And that’s okay: “setting up for digital success” is a vast undertaking. It’s not something you can do in an afternoon or over the weekend.
And especially not when you’re planning for a future that you hope and expect to stretch for many successful years. Because eventually your startup will no longer be a startup. It’ll be a mature company with an army of employees and customers and a wealth of resources to throw at any problems that arise.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A lot can and will happen between now and then. Some of those events will be beyond your (or anyone’s) control, but many others will depend on the actions you take to prepare your company for a brighter future.
These actions will take many, many different forms, so let’s narrow down our focus for the time being. This list includes only those digital and digital-adjacent steps you must take relatively early in your startup’s life to increase its chances of growth and survival over the long term.
Get ready. It’s quite a to-do list.
- Identify Google Cloud Platform Services Essential to Your Early Stage Business
Start with a layup: identifying the Google Cloud Platform services your early stage business needs to thrive in the months and years ahead. The Google Cloud Platform makes about 90 information technology products available to users, covering a vast menu of mission-critical needs and “nice to haves.” Huddle with your IT team at your earliest convenience to assess your company’s near- and long-term needs; then, build your GCP package and iterate as needed to address changing use cases or circumstances.
- Understand the Difference Between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS
As you work toward a Google Cloud Platform service package that will suit your company’s needs into the future, use the opportunity to increase your own IT knowledge. Non-technical founders often stumble on definitions that IT pros find to be a cinch, such as the distinction between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS products. Understanding each type of product increases your ability to participate in informed IT decisions while keeping contractors and vendors honors.
Briefly, these three product types can be defined as follows:
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is essentially a scalable computing stack that includes all the infrastructure components users need to run their own platforms and software.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a ready-made platform on which users can run apps or software without going through the resource-intensive process of designing a custom platform “base” for such products. PaaS products come bundled with middleware, servers, databases, storage, and other critical components.
- Software as a Service (SaaS) is a familiar concept for most consumers, even those with difficulty articulating a succinct definition for it. Think of SaaS as virtual, cloud-based versions of the applications you once installed on single-device hard drives or distributed through company intranets.
Consult with your IT team or a trusted outside vendor for more context about each definition. Remember, knowledge is power.
- Invest in an Enterprise-Grade Anti Malware Software Suite
Not any anti malware software will do, mind you. Not when your company’s future (and its good name) is on the line. Choose a solution that’s trusted by some of the biggest enterprises on the planet, not just the smaller startups against which you compete. Yes, you’ll need to pay for that sort of quality, but you know as well as anyone that it’s money well spent.
- Draw Up Digital Security Protocols for Your Entire Staff (Even If It’s Just You and Your Co-Founder Right Now)
The hope and expectation is that you’ll one way oversee a staff of hundreds, thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands. That is, if your hope and expectation isn’t that you’ll sell or go public or otherwise make your exit first.
Either outcome is some time coming. In the meantime, your company needs a plan for digital security. A comprehensive plan. One that can scale as your company grows. One that makes sense for its business needs and employee workflows. One that, above all else, is sensible and strong enough to get your employees to buy into it.
Even if you don’t have any employees at the moment. Because you will. And when you do, you’ll need them to care about digital security as much as you do.
If you don’t know where to start, review the FCC’s cyber security planning guide. It’s an impressive and impressively comprehensive document. Following that, find an external digital security partner you can trust to be there when you need them most.
- Create Scalable Operating Procedures for Every Aspect of Your Business
This is one of those “digital-adjacent” items mentioned above. Not all of the operating procedures your business uses will be primarily or even incidentally digital. However, given the digitized nature of the world in which you do business, it’s likely that almost all of your operating procedures will have some digital component.
In any event, procedure is your friend. It keeps your team on the same page, despite differing management and learning styles. You’ll need them as you grow, if only to ensure that everyone on your team knows exactly how to do what’s expected of them in any situation they’re likely to encounter.
- Standardize Your IT Hiring and Contracting Processes
This is another important aspect of procedural standardization that does mainly concern your digital activities. As your company grows, it’ll need a lot of help on the digital side. Some could come from internal hires or incidental team-based expertise, but much will have to come from third-party contractors, especially if you’re taking a resource-light approach to growth.
- Identify the Third-Party Collaboration Software You’ll Need to Succeed
The number of productivity and collaboration apps on the market is truly overwhelming. Lists of these apps are everywhere to be found, and it’s difficult to impossible for non-experts to know who they can trust.
The best you can do is read reviews like nobody’s business and ask non-competitor peers for their two cents about which apps work best for teams (remote or otherwise). Your Google Cloud Platform partner can help as well. Always choose software that’s easy to scale or de-scale (or to cancel outright) as your needs, expectations, or results change.
- Get More Cloud-Based Storage Than You Think You’ll Need
Cloud-based storage literally makes the modern business world go ‘round. It is impossible for most founders to imagine a world without it.
What else is impossible? Rapidly scaling a startup without adequate data storage to fall back on. For this reason alone, you shouldn’t compromise on storage volume. Invest in that “enterprise” plan when you’re still a wee startup and you won’t have to go back to the well later, when you have a million other things to worry about.
- Invest in a Comprehensive Cloud Backup Solution That Goes Beyond Data Storage
Cloud-based data storage is vital for your startup’s contingency plans, of course. But a consumer-grade cloud backup solution is not adequate to serve the full range of an ambitious startup’s contingency plans. After all, growing businesses face a far greater number of contingencies with far greater potential consequences than home users. A ransomware attack is a nuisance for consumers but an existential crisis for pre-revenue businesses; other examples are, distressingly, plentiful. Choose wisely.
- Use an Enterprise-Grade Virtual Private Network Solution on All Your Business Devices
Another enterprise-grade software solution on which you absolutely shouldn’t compromise is a virtual private network that covers your entire “device cloud,” especially those pesky “BYODs” that spent nights in your employees’ living rooms and days at their office desks. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, BYODs are part of the way we work now, and they need to be protected just like your office-bound desktop computers.
- Create and Hold Third-Party Vendors and Contractors to Rigid Digital Security Protocols
You hold your own team to rigid digital security protocols. Why should your vendors and contractors be any different?
Make it an ironclad rule that every person or company looking to do business with yours must adhere to a strict set of data protection and IT security regulations that your IT team draws up and keeps current. Some of the biggest corporate data breaches in history went down because vendors played chicken with their own security vulnerabilities. Their laxity cost much more than their own reputations.
- Buy Up Defensive Domains
This is one digital security to-do that you probably can complete in an afternoon. It’s also kind of fun. The idea is to prevent people who might now or in the future feel the urge to attack your company’s reputation or extort you for cash — or both. When you own every variant of your company’s “exact match domain” and domains with common variations on your company’s name, you protect yourself against both eventualities and spare your team embarrassment at the same time.
- Claim and Professionalize Your Company’s Social Media Properties
Your company’s social media properties are basically giant, neon-lighted billboards advertising its products or services. If you allow them to be.
That won’t happen unless you claim and professionalize your social media properties. A sparse profile here or there won’t cut it; your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram handles must be active, engaging, and most importantly on-brand. You’ve got an image to project.
- Standardize Your Top Employees’ LinkedIn Accounts
Your employees’ LinkedIn profiles need to be active and engaging as well. Not to mention professional. Each should have a standardized, company-subsidized professional photo, a complete and legible work history section, and endorsements from as many colleagues as possible. Give new meaning to the concept of “representing the company.”
- Create Multiple Online Forums for Thought Leadership
LinkedIn is a great forum to showcase your employees’ thought leadership. So is Medium, a high-visibility blogging platform, and your company’s own blog. Even Quora, not always thought of as a “reputable” place to find information, has mighty power to enhance employee credibility. Assign each employee a domain and set the expectation that they’ll create content that cultivates their expertise within it.
- Invest in Email Marketing Software
Email marketing is far too big an undertaking to manage without the help of a first-rate automation tool. Certainly not at the scale your company needs to reach an audience wide enough to advance its conversion, revenue, and growth goals. Take the same approach here as you did with other productivity and collaboration tools, putting data and outcomes above anecdotal evidence. And get the job done sooner rather than later; email marketing is vital to early stage growth.
Own the Digital Decade to Come
Your startup has a bright future ahead of it.
That’s the hope, anyway. Every founder familiar with the sting of defeat knows that it’s very difficult to remain optimistic through thick and thin. The startup life is full of emotional highs and lows, a roller coaster with much more at stake than a few minutes of cheap thrills.
Part of what makes the job of a founder so difficult, and founders themselves so praiseworthy, is the competing demands of the multiple timeframes on which every founder operates.
Much of the time, founders can’t allow themselves the luxury of looking past the present because of the magnitude of the immediate problems they must solve. And yet they must pick up their heads and scan the horizon frequently to avoid missing vital milestones around funding, revenue, hiring, and more — milestones measured over spans of weeks or months, not minutes or hours.
It’s a difficult job in the best of times, and founders rarely work in the best of times.
Whatever you do, don’t lose hope. Keeping a small measure of focus on this digital to-do list could be just what you need to maintain perspective and balance the tension between your immediate concerns and the myriad longer-term projects that keep you up at night. Each and every time you cross an item off this list, you make your startup stronger than before.
At the end of the day, that’s all a founder can ask for. Here’s to giving your growing company every advantage it deserves as you look ahead to a decade of digital success.