I have the good fortune of meeting and spending time with early stage companies that are trying to solve big problems that can help to positively impact the world and working with a great team of partners. When in conversations, I find myself repeating the same advice, which I wanted to outline in the hope that it could be helpful for others. I am not claiming originality for any of it, as I have had and continue to have amazing mentors myself – links provided to original inspiration if I can remember.
These are in no particular order, designed by theme, hence bullets vs. numbers.
- Pick a large space. You are going to do a ton of work to learn how to surf and once you do, it would suck if you do not have an opportunity to surf a large wave.
- Solve problems that matter that are one step away from current workflows. I know that you have a vision of how your product will replace X, but in the meantime if you want quick adoption move one step adjacent to current workflows – and then once adopted, its on you to make your widget replace X. Most of the times users are not ready for a spaceship.
- Get the wind at your back via product market fit. You can out hustle other companies or you can put your sail up and have customers knocking down your door. I have seen companies do both, the ones with the wind at their back are a lot less stressed! (see Rinse & Repeat)
- Reject custom/ consulting work (if you can survive w/o it). Big companies will get wind of what you are doing and will want you to do something for them. It will come with short term revenue opportunities, but will always lead to long term implications. If you are going to be a billion dollar entity, is $10,000 from a customer focusing on something non-core going to help you get there? and I know.. “it is only a week project…” Even the bandwidth that you extend to contemplating the action could be used towards getting another customer for your current product.
- Half of the battle is internal. Co-founders will argue, service providers will make mistakes, board members will be tough, team members will unexpectedly leave. This remains true no matter the company that I talk to, just know that it is par for the course and that you are not the first to go through these challenges. Get through the issues and move on. (Thx. Scott).
- You can not have several customer types at an early stage. I know “its the same product”, but your approach to the customer and relationship with the customer looks very different. Do one thing, do it well and then move on to the next.
- Different teams for different stages. In the early days we looked for self taught programers and then transitioned to team members more comfortable operating with processes as we grew and thought about scalability.
- Good things happen when you leave the house. Travel is one of the most difficult items to manage, but it is required for some roles – although it is rumored to have been solved for several industries it is not quite there yet. Don’t travel unnecessarily, but it is hard to close your first enterprise customer, or raise that round of funding without building an in-person relationship.
- Valuation is not the end all. The goal is to stay alive, period. If you like a prospective venture fund, get on and build your business. This reminds me of the old saying “you can set the valuation, if I can set the terms” (although terms are more reasonable these days).
- The roller coster it takes a while. As an early stage company at all stages you are a quarter inch from spectacular success or spectacular failure. You need to never get off until it becomes a former.
* Work in progress, I intend to continue to update this and I know, its a crappy title.
Photo credit, link.