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Advice for startup founders

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.