A lot of the Startup Advice is about strategy and tactics, to be implemented on a daily or weekly basis. Some startup advice, however, is more fundamental. I believe that the startup advice provided below will be beneficial to any startup.
One of the first pieces of startup advice we give to founders is that they should launch their products as quickly as possible, preferably straight away. This is mainly to immediately provide a better understanding of the customers’ problems and whether your solution is, in fact, an actual solution to these problems.
To the surprise of many, it is better to launch a mediocre product early-on and grasp the customers’ problems and needs, than it is to keep perfecting your product and launching it at a much later stage without actually testing the product out with your customers.
It is important to be diligent when choosing which customers to target. It is generally more beneficial to have a smaller group of very loyal customers than a larger group of customers who don’t feel all that connected to your product/service. This also means that in some cases you have to let go of a group of customers to invest in others who are much more passionate about your product/service.
When startups start to grow, a lot of potential distractions come up. For instance, conferences, dinners, meetings with venture capitalists, and corporates. What is important at this point is to not lose track of the most important tasks for startups in their early stages, writing code and communicating with customers.
The above also applies to non-software companies. The early stages should be all about launching something, communicating with your users to see whether your product matches their needs and expectations, and then try to use whatever feedback you receive to improve your product. Most of the focus and time should be spent on these tasks. This whole cycle never really ends for many of the great companies.
Founders will usually feel that they always have to do more to be able to succeed. Yet sometimes doing less will lead to better results. An example of this would be founders chasing big deals with large corporates. Unless this is done through an intermediary such as a VC or an Accelerator, these deals often do not end up working in the startup’s favour. The deals take up too much time and carry considerable costs.
It can be rather hard for startups to decide what to focus on as the list of things to do seems limitless. Generally, it is best for startups to focus on one or two key metrics to measure their success. Following the adoption of these metrics, the founders should decide what to do and focus on, based on whether it will impact these key metrics positively and by how much.
Growth is the preliminary focus for startups in its early stages, yet it should not always be pursued at all costs. This might sound a bit counterintuitive but there are instances where growth should preferably be postponed. For instance, when there is no connection yet between your product and customers, basically product-market fit, it makes little sense to pursue growth as you should first sort out what exactly it is that your customers want otherwise you will end up with very weak customer retention.
Another scenario where growth is not necessarily desirable is when you have an unprofitable product. Growth will only make you run out of cash faster.
Most founders would be surprised to hear that it is actually very common for a startup to be somewhat broken. The majority of startups suffer from some fundamental issues in their early stages. What sets the successful startups apart is not a lack of issues but rather how the founders were able to overcome their problems.
Founders often worry and even obsess about competition, even though this is, in almost all cases, a waste of time in the early stages of a startup. Most startups don’t fail because they were ‘killed’ by other startups, usually, they killed themselves. Competitors and the way competition affects your business becomes very important in the later stages of startups’ life-cycles but should not be a focal point during the early stages.
Mental & Physical Health
The journey of entrepreneurship can take its toll on people’s physical and mental health. Working intensely and focused for extended periods of time needs to be offset. Founders need to know when to take breaks, spend time with their loved ones and friends, and get enough sleep and physical exercise.
There are plenty of startups that fail just because of altercations between the founders. The relationship between co-founders matters a lot more than some might think. For these relationships to work, honest and open communication is a must. And to be able to communicate well, your mental health needs to be taken care of.
Startup Advice by Experienced Mentors
Experienced mentors who can guide and advise you throughout your startup journey, are invaluable. Therefore it is important to find high-quality mentors who can provide you with the startup advice and network you need.
Generally, founders are able to tell whether a mentor possesses the qualities they seek. However, something that is much harder to evaluate is how good founders are at extracting relevant information from their mentors. Founders need to be able to describe their issues and reality to a person with much less context than they have.
While a founder knows everything about his/her company, the mentor will have much less context to work with and will rely on the founder to construct the necessary context and provide the relevant details.
Furthermore, the founder needs to be transparent and honest about the issues they are facing to receive proper startup advice. Basically, you would be telling a mentor that you don’t know how to do certain things and explain why you are not able to.
Believing in yourself as a founder is very powerful. Some of the most successful people out there believe in themselves almost to a point of delusion. While it shouldn’t reach a point of arrogance and ego, it is important to be confident and trust yourself.
If you don’t believe in yourself, it becomes very hard to have innovative ideas about the future that challenge and disrupt what’s already out there.
Moreover, to manage your own and your team’s morale is very challenging. A lot of self-belief is necessary to do this successfully, as you will not be able to boost others’ morale and belief in you as a founder if you come across as insecure about your ideas and startup. The more ambitious you are the more important it is to firmly believe in yourself as you will be challenged by more people.
To make sure you don’t get carried away with your self-belief, it should be combined with a healthy dose of self-awareness. Don’t let criticism affect your self-belief heavily but do take it seriously and be open to suggestions and adaptions to these suggestions. Basically, ensure that your self-belief does not turn into self-delusion.
The list compiled above only represents a very small portion of the important startup advice out there. However, the startup advice provided covers the very basics every startup could and should follow. If you are a startup founder seeking startup advice and funding, the NEXEA Accelerator Program 2020 is receiving applications now!