Helen Yu & The 5 Disconnects All Startups Must Overcome

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Business strategist Helen Yu gives us the lowdown on 5 blindspots many startup founders miss.



Kim Folsom


This is part one of a three-part series based on a conversation with business strategist and author Helen Yu. 


I recently spoke with Helen Yu, author of Ascend Your Start-Up, and got lots of insights that I wanted to share with entrepreneurs and founders. Helen is the founder and CEO of Tigon Advisory. She drives growth for tech companies from startups to global titans such as Oracle and Adobe and has helped CEOs achieve multimillion dollar revenue growth and record profitability. She’s an avid adventurer who has climbed to Mount Everest Base Camp. If you read Ascend Your Startup, you’ll see there’s a correlation between trekking up one of those amazing mountains like Everest and ascending your startup. 


Helen has a wealth of business experience, which has grown at every stage of her career. She began as an accountant and financial analyst. She learned to code as a Hyperion consultant and went on to design and implement more than 400 financial planning applications. At Oracle, she ran a consulting practice and learned the nuances of enterprise sales. She learned marketing and SAS at Adobe and led startup-to-scale-up challenges at Marketo. She is passionate about driving marketing and customer experience. 


“My journey really led me to recognize the critical gap patterns in growth driven technology start-ups,” Helen said. “It’s not really a traditional progression within the career ladder. I would say that it’s part serendipity, grit, curiosity and learning. And I always get myself out of my comfort zone.” 


Helen worked for marketing automation software company Marketo when it shot off like a rocket, growing revenue from $60 million to $280 million. I asked her what led to that kind of astronomical success. 


“I really attribute that success to the capable executive team, culture of accountability, flawless product market fit, and our ability to expand the revenue stream along the way,” she said. “But most importantly, we figured out a repeatable success and then we also were able to drive the cross-functional alignment all the way through.”


The idea of repeatability is something we preach in our accelerator programs at Founders First as well. The more you can repeat a successful process, the more you can succeed. All the better if you can develop a repeat purchase business with recurring revenues—like subscriptions.


Start with why

Start with why is a term made famous by business coach Simon Sinek for developing inspirational leadership. I found Helen’s why to be incredibly inspirational, too. 


“The why behind ascending [Everest Base Camp] was to keep a sacred promise to my grandmother, which was to leave her ashes on the tall mountain,” Helen said. “I felt unstoppable. I made up my mind that nothing would hold me back from my climb. My destination started not on any map but in my mind. So, making the decision to write Ascending Your Startup was no different. I felt it was another way to honor the grit and resilience grandma taught me growing up and honor the grit and resilience you take to scale a startup.”


Five disconnects that stall startups

We also talked about 5 disconnects, or blindspots, that prevent startups from developing an exceptional customer experience and scaling to repeatable, dependable, predictable growth. The disconnects have to be overcome if companies are going to realize their true potential. Per Helen, here are the 5 disconnects you must conquer to accelerate your growth: 


Product market fit disconnect

The first is the product market fit disconnect. As a startup, you have to align your product-related design with market demand. If your product market fit is off, or you can’t overcome this disconnect, you won’t be able to scale. 


Minimum repeatability disconnect

The second is the minimum repeatability disconnect. Every startup founder understands the concept of defining a minimum viable product (MVP). But often the minimum viable team that helps achieve that MVP is overlooked. Most importantly, the minimum viable repeatability is often missing. That’s why 90% of startups fail. They figure out a minimum viable product, but they don’t have a minimum viable team that can figure out the minimum viable repeatability to scale.


Voice of the customer disconnect

Third is the voice of customer disconnect. Most founders understand products super well, but have you really listened to the customer? Customers can tell you what they want. You’ve got to create an active listening path to listen, then also hire someone who knows what to listen for and adjust or adapt your strategy and execution based on what you heard from your customer. 


Process disconnect

The fourth disconnect is a process disconnect. These are the steps you take to systemize your success. You can have success if you’re small with 5 people but once you have 500 people, you have to systemize your success in order to really have a repeatable success. 


Measurement disconnect

Lastly is the measurement disconnect. If you want to create a culture of accountability, you have to be able to measure the performance by function. Making sure that there’s not only functional metrics but a unified, consistent success metric being defined across your company so people understand how they’re being measured and how they can contribute to the overall customers and the company’s achievements. 


Founders, if you want to accelerate growth, you have to overcome each of one of these disconnects. There’s no way around it. 


In part two, we’ll talk about finding your Sherpa—or hiring the right people you need to take your growth to the next level.


Kim Folsom is the founder and CEO of Founders First Capital Partners, which has helped accelerate the success of hundreds of small, service-based, business-to-business companies since 2015. Visit our website to learn more.

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