How do you actually DO a startup?

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This weekend there was a flurry of discussion about how to run a start-up company, prompted by Jason Calacanis who more or less suggested that startups needed people who would dedicate every waking hour to the business (pictured pictured are some people in Europe who’ve done it including Tariq Krim, Marc Samwer, Loic Le Meur, Niklas Zennström, Martin Varsavsky and Brent Hoberman).

. Calacanis got into specifics – like buying cheap tables and expensive chairs, buying staff free coffee, etc. Here’s a brief breakdown with some interesting points (I’ve edited them for space):

• Buy Macintosh computers, save money on an IT department
• Buy second monitors for everyone, they will save at least 30 minutes a day, which is 100 hours a year… which is at least $2,000 a year…. which is $6,000 over three years.
• Buy everyone lunch four days a week and establish a no-meetings policy.
• Buy cheap tables and expensive chairs. Tables are a complete rip off.
• Don’t buy a phone system. No one will use it. Everyone else is on IRC, chat, and their cell phone.
• Outsource accounting and HR—such a no brainer.
• Don’t buy everyone Microsoft Office–it’s too much money. Put Office on three or four common computers and use Google Docs.
• Use Google hosted email. $50 or free per user…. how can you beat that?!?!
• Buy your hardest working folks computers for home.
• (Most controversially) Fire people who are not workaholics. don’t love their work… come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. don’t work at a startup if you’re not into it–go work at the post office or stabucks if you’re not into it you want balance in your life. For realz.
• Get an expensive, automatic espresso machine at the office. Stock the fridge with sodas—same drill as above.
• Allow folks to work off hours. Commuting sucks and is a waste of time for everyone.
• Go to each of your vendors every 6-9 months and ask for 10-30% off.
• Don’t waste money on recruiters. Get inside of linkedin and Facebook and start looking for people.
• Really think about if you need that $15,000 a month PR firm.

Robert Scoble largely agreed with Calacanis. But Calacanis was then criticised by TechCrunch’s Duncan Riley for being too harsh, pointing out people also need to have a life and that this is healthy, and ultimately good for the company. A follow-up article by Michael Arrington at TechCrunch balanced both of these with an over-arching view that hiring the right people was ultimately the most important thing.

Perhaps the funniest was the post by Tony Wright entitled “Every Piece of Startup Advice is a Lie (including mine)”. His advice boiled down to: “Build something people want… 2. Don’t stop. Persist. Keep going.” VC Fred Wilson added his thoughts here and here.

Various bloggers this side of the pond have also weighed in on this whole issue.

Jens Lapinski – currently creating a startup in stealth mode – has a thoughtful post outlining three fundamental aspects that will determine the success of a company. They are what the company does, how it does it, and who actually does the work. Breaking that down, it’s about seeing the next opportunity and getting the right people: “the ones you would have wanted to have next to you in the trenches in Word War I.”

MaxRoam’s Pat Phelan gives more advice including:

• No company cars
• Put your HQ in the suburbs to save 50% on rent
• Blog instead of hiring a PR firm [I have to say, I now subscribe to startup RSS feeds to check on what they are doing – Ed]
• Keep conference calls to a minimum [Amen to that!]

Paul Sweeney of VoiceSage chimed-in with some suggestions (again, I’ve edited this down a bit):

• Not all your hardware has to be new
• Put the money into making the product great;
• Every meeting has to have a purpose
• No company credit cards;
• Build Social Capital with everyone in the company
• Conferences are for customers, not ego.
• A two hour lunch can be the best executive meeting you’ll have if you run it the right way.
• You are a start up, de facto everybody works flexi-time, early late, weekends. But let people do things during the day as well such as pick the kids up.
• Bad customers close companies.
• Don’t pay anyone to do YOUR killer business plan.

And there are plenty more tips where that came from around the blogosphere right now.

The while discussion is highly relevant to the UK and Ireland because right now lots of startups are figuring out HOW to startup. Last weekend about 100 startups went to the Sun Microsystems organised Startup Camp London (an unconference) to figure all this out. TechWeb sent a camera to the event (video below) and I’m sure you’ll find the themes mentioned familiar.

Meanwhile, feel free to add your thoughts to this debate in the comments below, especially regarding the particular issues you face with starting-up in the UK, Ireland or Europe.

For my part I can only add that – talking to a lot of startups – people are the most important thing, after that it’s strategy, and the other stuff, like free coffee, you figure out as you go along.

(NB. Congrats to Fav.or.it for winning the startupcamp competition, and runners up WebCanvas and Mapness))

UPDATE: I’m going to continue adding some more interesting links on this subject, e.g Mark Cuban‘s rules for startups…

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