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  • 5 Skills Each Entrepreneur Should Learn from Project Managers

    This article was originally published at https://nordicfounders.com/5-skills-each-entrepreneur-should-learn-from-project-managers-b72e0362bfab#.2r0vdh268

    I took a job of leading engineering and product development in an internet startup, after being a PMI certified project manager in Nokia for 4 years. It has been great to switch from a usually slow corporate environment to a fast-paced “get the things done” mode. However, after getting to know many early stage startups, I have noticed that very frequently even basic project management technics are not used. This is where I realized, that a formal corporate project management experience is a great asset for any entrepreneur. Here are 5 PM technics I have been heavily relying upon for the past 3 years as head of product @Eliademy.

    1. Treat your product as a set of projects with clear goals

    Product development never ends in a startup. It simply should not because every day brings a new idea, requirement, or a suggestion from a user. The ability of frequently iterate and improve the product is an essence of any successful startup.

    On the other hand, as a project manager, each project should have a very concrete goal and an end. This makes leading engineering and product development in a startup is equivalent to a program management in a corporate environment. By definition, a program is a continuous activity which consists of finite projects.

    Ability to chunk startup product development efforts into concrete and measurable projects (which lead to a better overall result) is the first useful skill each entrepreneur needs to have. Divide and conquer.

    2. Define what you will not do

    Lean startup MVP concept teaches entrepreneurs to describe finite set features that need to be implemented in a product. This principle goes especially very well if your startup follows Agile principle and center the work around user stories based on concrete requirements.

    However, project managers usually take this concept much further with a project charter — a document which describes not only the features that need to be implemented (in scope) but also everything which should not be implemented or considered (out of scope).

    An example — “User should be able to login with a social profile” story needs to be translated in more formal:

    • In scope — conversion to a regular account if a user lost access to social network
    • Out of scope — an automatic merging of accounts if user signed up with multiple social accounts.

    Clearly stating all limitations is a practice that leads to a higher success rate and allows seeing all dependencies even before project/product development starts.

    3. Estimate better

    Getting and accurate development estimates is a science on its own. However, very frequently problems occur not because of incorrect estimates, but because of dependencies on various people on each other (or 3rd parties if you decided to outsource part of your product development)

    PMI project managers usually employ PERT method to make sure the project gets done on time. It employs 2 main concepts.

    First, ask development team to provide 3 estimates instead of 1 — an optimistic, pessimistic and most likely (honestly it takes almost the same amount of time as asking for a one). The “expected” time then calculated like this:

    t = (optimistic time + 4 * most likely +pessimistic time) ÷ 6
     
    Typical PERT chart https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakeholder_management

    Second, build a “scheduling” diagram that takes into account all dependencies your team has and expected a time of each task. For example, it is not possible to start developing of the frontend, until UX design in done. At the same time, UX designer can’t start work until most of the requirements are fixed. Thus, developers can focus on backend until design spec is ready.

    Visualising each task duration and dependency against a simple week scale (it is usually an x-axis) gives a very accurate outlook on the project duration.

    4. Fight deadlines

    Being late with a product is a typical situation in a startup, which most frequently result in everybody working day and night just to meet the deadline.

    Formal project management always sees such situation as a failure in planning (see bullets 2 and 3) and sees only 2 solutions:

    • Crunch the scope
    • Crunch the schedule

    Crunching scope means removing certain non-critical items from the product. Trust me, most MVPs always have something non-critical and such stress testing is the best way of really seeing what your MVP is)

    Crunching the schedule is add people to the project in order to help. However, it is considered to be largely ineffective during the later parts of the project and should be done as early in the project as possible.

    Hacking up all weekend is certainly fun, but remember it leads to substantially decreases ability to focus, creativity and productivity in a long-term, which you definitely will need in any startup.

    5. Manage stakeholders wisely

    As an entrepreneur, you most likely will end up talking with many people every single day — your users, clients, employees, investors etc. It is very frequently overwhelming and even more frequently you don’t see the help all of those connections can offer to your project.

    On the other hand, as a project manager, I learned to classify each person has an interest in a project into 4 broad categories (with matching to startup roles):

    • High power, interested people (in a startup this is your paying customers)
    • High power, less interested people (those could be your investors and board)
    • Low power, interested people: (advisory board and employees)
    • Low power, less interested people: (reporters, to some, extend your free customers)
     
    Stakeholder engagement matrix https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakeholder_management

    Understanding your stakeholders, placing them in a right quadrant of engagement matrix and choosing the right form and frequency of communications not only will keep everyone involved up to date with the progress (instead of being annoyed by a barrage of emails from you), but will also free up lots of time which can be spent on making your product better.


     

    Written by Sergey Gerasimenko

    Sergey is an engineer and project manager turned social entrepreneur. He is a founder and head of product at Eliademy. On his free time, he runs Nordic Founders - a support group for first-time entrepreneurs in Helsinki and helps growing project management community as a director at PMI Finland Chapter.   

     

     

     

     

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  • Steps to Prepare and Run an AGM for Startups in Finland

     This article was originally published at  https://nordicfounders.com/preparing-for-an-agm-in-finland-a9bd6a7980f3#.qrjsdj6ip

     

     

     

    Every company (startup or not) registered in Finland have to conduct an Annual General Shareholder Meeting within 6 months from the end of each financial period (with is most likely a full calendar year).

    If you registered your company during last year, this usually means your accountant will start (make sure to ask explicitly) closing books for 2015 during February/March (budget 400–800€ for this work).

    When books (tasekirja) are ready, you need to ask your auditor to “check” it and give an official statement everything is according to the law (budget another 400–800€).

    With all papers in place, you have to call for a annual general shareholders meeting with the main objective of approving accounts and appointing the new board of directors.

    Like with any other shareholder meeting, the board of directors (read startup founders) needs to deliver an invitation to the meeting at least 4 weeks in advance. Sending an invitation by email is generally acceptable, and the text usually should include the following:

    Shareholders of [Company] Oy are invited to Annual General Shareholders´ Meeting on [Date] to be held at [Address]. 
    The meeting shall cover following issues: [Agenda items].
     — Board of Directors [Date] [Signatures]

    On the day of the meeting, you will need to go through all agenda item (it is highly not recommended to change them) and document the decision. It works the best the have an already prepared template and just fill it in as you go, instead of actually taking the meeting minutes. The following template worked for us @eliademy for the past 3 years.

    0. Header

    Make sure to clearly specify type of the meeting, company name, date/time and list of shareholders (present/absent) along amount of their votes

    1. Opening of the Meeting and Elections

    [Name] opened the meeting and acted as the chairman of the meeting. [Name] was called as the secretary of the meeting. [Name] was elected to review the minutes and count the votes.

    2. Participants and Legality of the Meeting

    The Chairman confirmed the list of votes. It was recorded that the notice of the meeting was sent to all shareholders by letter on [Date].
    It was recorded that financial accounts have been available for review in the premises of the Company as required by the Companies Act and copies of these documents have been provided to the shareholders upon request.
    It was resolved to approve the agenda for the meeting.
    It was recorded that the meeting was duly convened and constituted a quorum.

    3. Annual Accounts and Auditors Report

    The Annual Accounts and Auditors Report for the accounting period [Date] — [Date] were presented.

    4. Adoption of the Annual Accounts and Distribution of Profit

    It was resolved to adopt the Annual Accounts for the accounting period that ended on [Date].

    Depending on how you did financially, you may or may not chose to distribute the dividends. Make sure to explicitly mention it.

    It was resolved to pay no dividend. OR It was resolved to pay dividend of € [Amount] per share, total of € [Amount] on [Date]

    5. Discharge of liability

    It was resolved to discharge the members of the Board of Directors and the Managing Director for the accounting period that ended on [Date].

    6. Appointment of new Board of Directors

    Legally speaking, each privately held company needs to have a chairman and at least 2 ordinary members. Thus, you need to mention their names explicitly. It is also a good time to mention weatherboard receives any remuneration for the service (some publicly traded company’s in Finland give 50–100K as a bonus to board members, but as a startup, you most likely will keep it as zero).

    It was resolved to appoint [Name] as chairman of the board and [Name], [Name] as ordinary members. It was resolved that the members of the Board receive no remuneration.

    7. Auditor

    From legal point of view, auditor bears no responsiblity if you accountants made a mistake in books, but auditor failed to see it. If there is any problem, board or directors takes the full blame. Make sure you are working with the best guys.

    It was noted that [Name of the auditor] as the responsible auditor, has acted as the auditor of the Company during for the accounting period. It was decided that the present auditor shall continue as the auditor of the Company.

    8. Closing of the Meeting

    It was noted that all decisions were unanimous (otherwise attache list of votes).
    [Signatures of all participants]

    That is it, you are done. Scan the signed document, store it in your cloud drive, upload to your website or send to all shareholders by email (the last 2 have to be done within 2 weeks after the meeting).

    Remember that content of AGM for every company is a public information, thus, you need to submit it to PRH (and translate Finnish/Swedish) together with any other company updates you have to report (for example if you changed the board or auditor).

    For more information about AGM requirements and obligation, check Finland’s Limited Liability Companies Act.

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Before you start sailing : A must have perspective when moving on with a new business idea.

    Starting a new business is analogous to sailing to an unknown destination. Many atimes we are immersed solely on how to get there quickely. Sailing requires vision, road map, team, route awareness and etc. Seldom do we bother about what's along the way-length of journey, storm, wind, logistics and etc. In as much as it could lead to an exotic experience of sucess and learning, starting up may bring about unprecedented outcomes of failure. I'll put aside the philosophy of sailing and get myself right down to imparting experiential reflection-of sailing in not just one but many of my endviours-as a founder, student, employee and advisor of "IT and services" startups. Coming up, I've summarized 10 relevant action points that we need to take in to account in the course of moving on with a new business idea.

    1)Data driven marketing 

    Long gone are the days when you could say anything and all will be taken for granted. That marketing is only about saying empty "Words" or "Statements" or "Compound complex statements " to anybody. First, define your customers or the need for your product/servcies through an in depth consumer analysis. 

    -Quantify as to how big is the market for your product/ services through descriptive and prescriptive market analysis. 

    -Understand and benchmark your competitors. Analyze the main players as well as the entrants. 

    -Edify your distribution channels. Analyze as to how you will get your product/services to customers. 

    -Identify and structure the commission plan across different intermediaries.

    -Develop your marketing action plan. Plan as to how you will get the word out across different demographic segmentations, prices, promotion and products. Quantify and iterate the plan. You are highly advised to have a marketing partner. 

    2) Startup Ethics While you may well be geninley interested in making difference through your business, you may obliviously violate a series of industry specific standards and ethics of operation. Subsequently, it's important that you take time for ethical need awareness and of listing all the possible ethical implications of your idea or startup. Carry out a holistic stakeholder analysis with regard to the possible impact that your product or service may have. Where possible, use a stakeholder mapping strategy frameworks. Furthermore; consult a lawyer or partner with one.

     

    3)Startup Accounting Document what is own by the team regularly. Determine liabilities and equities of the team. Define as to how member’s equity will mature or fade out across time, skill and contribution to the team. Avoid cooking the book yourself as it’s smarter to partner with an accounting firm.

     

    4)Team behavior 

    In early stage startups, you are in a constant challenge of finding the right team members as well as ensuring that your team stays as cohesive as possible. Play a group game. Spend time out with your team members so you know, understand and relate with each other better. The more you know each other, the easier it becomes to establish a casual depiction of circumstances and manage behavioral challenges and resources. The more you know each-other the less your perception and relationships among would be based on one sided small talk gossips, hearsay or just a subjective impression. Develop and nurture an open working environment. Get everyone in the team feel important and responsible. Avoid false hierarchies and strong boundaries. 

     

    5)Quantitative Analysis Quantify the present and future predictions of your business model. Operation costs, assets, liabilities and equities should be accounted. Where possible use Decision three, Cash flow analysis, Revenue metrics and Regression analysis and forecasting. While you can’t be 100 % sure about your quantification, quantified big picture helps design a reliable strategy.

     

     6)Startup Finance How do you value your stocks? How are you going to divide among? How are you offering stocks to an investor? How are you going to pay employee anew? What happens when a shareholder leaves a startup? How must you divide revenue? How should you arrange a safe stock ? How will you mitigate flooding dilution? How should you exit?

     

     7)Startup Operation Deals with the process by which a product or service is produced. This is where the need for being well versed in the art of the big picture -Project/Product management - would come in to play. Don’t over promise and under-deliver. Nor over plan and early deliver. Your ability to analyze your methods, manpower, technology and skill set will help you understand, plan and build your capacity. Schedule and metricize minor details as well as big pictures of activities. Maintain quality and industry specific standards.

     

    8)Startup Economics Understand the demand for what you are striving to supply. Make sure you aren’t envisioning to supply what’s surplus. Make sure you aren’t supplying what’s in demand only for a short period of time. Make sure you are not building business structures for products or services that will play out only for a short period of time. Make sure that you aren't building a business that entrants can easily copy-play and thrive on. Check and balance supply Vs demand through time, geography and competition multi-variates.

     

    9)Startup Strategy This is a very important aspect of your Startup. This is the stage that entails the make or the break moment of your your vision.

    While strategy is a broad term, it’s divided in to three key categories: - functional, business and corporate strategies. 

    Functional: - Lowering operational costs and deploying the most effective business process.

    Business: - Includes but not limited to your solid plan in competing in the industry you operate in.

    Corporate/Startup Strategy: - You decide as to what kind of business you are. What would you like to be? Then again, why?

    "The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it's about deliberately choosing to be different. The best CEOs I know are teachers, and at the core of what they teach is strategy " Michael Porter- Father of strategy 

    The Five Forces Theory of industry Structure, which was formulated by Michael Porter of Harvard suggests Substitutes, Competitors, Buyers, Entrants and Suppliers are an important factor in determining your Startups strategy.

    Substitutes : Is your product or service easily replicable or replaceable?

    New entrants : How likely is the threat of a new entrant getting in to your business.

    Suppliers : How important is the collective bargaining power of suppliers

    Buyers : How important is the collective bargaining power of buyers.

    Competitors :How is the level of rivalry among existing firms and entrants. 

    Once you have brainstormed on the five forces, you can easily formulate the survival and growth strategies for your Startup.

    Cost leadership: Deploying the lowest cost possible for the process, team cohesion and supply chain of your products and services.

    Differentiation :Getting your product or services as unique as possible.

    Focus : Solidifying on a market niche, a geographical area or a flagship.

    10) Ponder the points you walked through . 

     Up-next:- Take out a piece of paper and brainstorm on your/ your teams contemplation of each section.

    Happy sailing!

    Up-next:- Take out a piece of paper and brainstorm on your/ your teams contemplation of each minute.

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