Quite a bit of my time lately has been tied up chatting with companies in all stages.
Some are barely into the idea phase, others have just started to raise seed or friends and family rounds and others have been drudging through the grueling M&A process.
Through all of it there’s not a solitary reminder of the path I’ve chosen in life, but each of the founders I have worked with lately remind me of just a few things I think all of you out there who think you WANT to be founders should consider.
I’m using this post to compile a list of tips, tricks and thoughts for you all to consider before making the leap.
Spend twice as much time talking to users as you spend thinking about what they want - This seems obvious, but there is seriously no need to wonder what users want when people out there are more than willing to listen and give feedback in most circumstances.
Pivots are hard, but if you decide to make one, go all in - There’s nothing more damning to a founder or a team than a company with no mission or a misguided purpose.
Trolls are everywhere and you can’t fight them all off - When your TC article hits the front page of HN or your Mashable release makes it to the masses, for lack of a better terminology “Haters gonna Hate”. The most important thing you can do is two-fold.
1. Take in the feedback, write it down, copy and paste it, put it on your office wall, in short, do whatever you have to do in order to remember the negative things people say about your product, if it just makes you sad, you’re probably not cut out for this whole “Founder” thing anyhow.
2. Don’t respond to completely negative remarks. I know this one seems tough, and I am not saying ignore users giving you critical feedback. I am saying when someone is pitching their product and telling the benefits of it over yours or saying you write shitty code its just not worth your time, chances are if they spend their time heckling founders and you spend yours writing more code you’ll be in a much better place in x years.
You’re going to make a LOT of hard decisions - Make them with conviction and don’t look back - There’s no time for crying over spilled milk.
Some days are worse than others - It’s inevitable, you’re going to wake up one day and wonder if taking a dive out of that fourth story window is better than continuing on the path you’re on. It may be about money, layoffs, personal problems related to work etc. But the one thing you have to remember is that people are counting on you. Even if you don’t know who those people are yet.
Your company is small, your professionalism should always be BIG - There is no excuse for printing your own business cards or not having a professional pitch deck.
It can be a template but it MUST be well put together. It does not matter how smart you are or how good your product is, you still need to market it ultimately (I do think there are some very slight exceptions to this rule).
I’d much rather see a disheveled looking founder with a clean professional site, deck etc than vice versa.
Most startups fail, so you should have a reason other than success that you’re doing this - This is another one that seems kind of obvious, yet it seems like every time I talk to a new founder its almost always about “making lots of money” or “making a huge impact”.
That’s all well and good, but you should also be prepared to go to your high school reunion telling your friends that its really “not that bad” living in your parents' basement.
It’s great to have lofty goals, but if they’re not met with a passion for what you’re doing, you’ve probably already started to fail.
Raise more money than you think you’ll need - This, as a rule, is always good advice. Sure you’ll give away a bit more of your company, but keep in mind 100% of 0 is still 0.
It will inevitably take you longer than you think to make an impact, and if it doesn’t I doubt you or your investors will care too much ;)
Reach out to anyone and everyone - Startups are a small world and being afraid to reach out to someone you think could be useful to talk to just doesn’t make sense.
The worst thing they can say is no and even then it certainly doesn’t leave you with egg on your face.
Tasks are Bullshit - Either get shit done or don’t but assigning tasks and checkpoints in a startup is a waste of time.
If you’re spending time arguing with your co-founders or employees over who did what you’re on the wrong track.
Everyone in the company should have the same goal success if there is ever a doubt that someone doesn’t share that, its probably time for them to go. Other wise keep the bullshit to a minimum and get work done.
Late nights != to Sleeping in - This one gets me all the time. So often people hear about the long nights at the office founders put in and they try to mimic it not because its their natural intuition but because they think its “cool”.
Newsflash, its not “cool” and if you’re doing it at a net production loss its just stupid.
If you’re one of the people who can put in the long hours and still beat everyone back to work in the morning then you probably fit the founder mold who can pull it off.
If that’s not you its ok, just figure out you’re most productive hours and make sure you’re working during them.
And if you’re in a B2B business for the love of God do not sleep until the afternoon.
Every founder should be a product person - That doesn’t mean all the founders need to code but it does mean they should all know the product inside and out, there’s no excuse for it to be any other way.
This list is just an inkling of the advice I have for fellow founders, but if you only take one thing away from this post it should be this:
Startups aren’t for everyone, and if you think its going to be easy you’re probably in for quite a surprise.
I truly believe the best founders have it in their blood. They wouldn’t know what to do if they weren’t doing what they’re doing now. They live and breathe what they do because its what they love. Not all successful people fit that mold, but there’s a reason many of the most successful do.
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Checkout what I’m building these days, because there’s plenty left to hear from me.