On an email list I’m on, someone was recently accepted to an incubator program. They asked for advice about startups. I couldn’t resist!
I wrote this (lightly edited) and wanted to post it here so it’d have a permanent spot on the internet.
I’ve been a founder or early employee/contractor of six startups over my two+ decades. Some are still kicking, but none have had an exit. Please consider that when contemplating my advice.
When building an early-stage startup:
- talk to customers, talk to customers, talk to customers
- revenue > funding
- know your business domain. If possible, co-found with someone who is an expert in the area if you are not
- choose boring technology whenever possible
- choose technology that you know whenever possible
- be prepared to consult or find other ways keep the company alive if you don’t have immediate revenue
- take advantage of in-person support systems to keep your spirits up
- exercise: it’ll help you be a better founder
- when you have an ask for someone, make it easy for them to say yes (be specific, do your research, scale the ask to the relationship strength)
- remember, building a company is a marathon not a sprint (but sometimes you need to sprint!)
- VCs and founders have shared incentives (both want a successful business)
- VCs and founders also have misaligned incentives (you get one bet, they get N bets; you need $X, they need $10X-100X)
- understand your financial runway
- understand your emotional runway
- if you have a spouse or partner, make sure they are on board with the big decisions you make
- being lucky is usually more of a factor than being good
- you can sometimes make your own luck through hard work
- all founders should take part in the sales process, no excuses
- your company’s biggest competitor is customer inertia (or Excel)
- all advice is contextual, always understand the context of the giver
- talk to customers
- talk to customers
Best of luck!
PS Talk to customers.