My first startup Bambu has now made it well clear of the first 12 months, so we are now only at 90% risk of immediate and catastrophic failure. Phew! I can already sleep with the other eyelid closed.
Do I know what to do right? Am I suddenly declaring myself an expert? Most definitely not, but I have observed a lot of startups and heard their stories. I have second-guessed a lot of our own decisions. We’ve talked at length about potential outcomes. A lot of what we’ve done right was partly happenstance, but I can see how an alternative outcome could’ve slowed us down or even stopped the whole show.
So here’s my two cents. Take it or leave it, but comment below anyway.
#1: We’re focusing on R&D
If you haven’t launched anything during your first year, the chances are you’re doing something wrong. The market may have moved on already, while you were busy defining a legal framework that will allow you to draft initial requirements for a potential go-to-market strategy, to protect IP you haven’t yet built. Under strict NDA, of course. Being in the market is all that matters. Build on results, not spreadsheet projections of results.
Who is your customer? What problem are you solving for them? Why will they pay you? Why will they stick with you? Don’t write a single line of code, until you can summarize these in 30 seconds to a stranger.
Here’s a novel approach for startups. Put the above on a Powerpoint. Pitch it until you find a customer. Build a prototype. Pitch it until you find another customer. Build an MVP. Pitch and sell. Build the next version. Pitch and sell. Repeat until exit. At least then you can afford to pay your intellectual property lawyer now.
Mo revenue, less problems. – Notorious B.I.G.
There aren’t many things that more revenue won’t solve. Can’t afford to hire the right people? Revenue. Can’t raise money? Revenue. Can’t get partners? Revenue. Can’t get Twitter followers? Revenue. Can’t find your car keys in the morning? Revenue.
#2: We’re in Stealth Mode
Recently we polled a group of our B2B startup peers, and out of 20 companies zero had a marketing expert on the team. Meanwhile, many of our peers wonder how Bambu is seemingly everywhere at the same time. Online. Offline. Events. News. Hackathons. Blogs. Panels.
Our first employee was our head of marketing. Don’t underestimate the value of “top of mind”. It matters with customers, investors, partners and hires. Momentum builds, cross-pollinates, and creates new momentum babies. If you’re in “Stealth Mode” see point #1, I’m guessing it applies to your situation. Thank me later.
#3: Business plan paralysis
If you’re starting from zero, as most startups tend to be, you aren’t going to be able to forecast anything with any relevant amount of accuracy. So don’t bother. The time spent on projecting your IRR on Q4 of Year 3 could have been spent hustling.
Hustle > Planning
How does one hustle? What are the conditions for peak hustle? Bambu CEO Ned Phillips often tells the story of the dentist. The dentist is a specialist, that comes in once the receptionist has taken in the details of the customer, and the dental hygienist has set up the space chair and tools. Enter dentist. Comes in, does his thing, and out in 5. A whole orchestration happens before and after this most valuable piece. Be the dentist. Build a team around you to orchestrate, and allow you to maximize the volume of your high-value pitches. Hire that team early, not once you can afford it. This is not a chicken and egg situation.
NOTE: Networking does not qualify as hustling.
This was driving me nuts two years ago. Now it’s two levels above ridiculous. I’m pretty sure the word is ridonculous.
If you could design a vacuum cleaner with machine learning, you would get funded. I mean, say that it has machine learning. You don’t actually need to have it. Nor understand it. Nor intend to ever understand it.
#deeplearning > #machinelearning
It’s almost like saying cloud. By now everyone assumes you have it anyway, so saying you DON’T have it would be weird. No harm done, amirite?
Don’t build your house on a deck of cards. Build tech that addresses a use-case, and if that works, you can spend time sprinkling some magic dust on top. Do Steve Jobs magic, not actual illusions.
Everyone knows a few bags. Douche. Sleaze. Scum. Tea? There is a persistent myth around the founder who makes his own luck by elbowing their way into success. One cold-called 5,000 investors to get funded. Another stole the key employees from his competitor. Some guy didn’t pay freelancers on his first deal. Some lady faked data to impress investors. Lots of fist pumping action. Until they strike out big time, that is. Think Bernie Madoff. Does it have to be like that? Isn’t there an alternative?
Good guys win. Not as in when you arrive at the pearly gates, but as in next quarter. You may douche your way into your first deal, but that streak ain’t running long. That customer will know you pushed them, and will not renew. Investors will spread the word if you pull a fast one. If you remain humble and open, you will win the second, third, fourth, fifth and every deal after. Being a good guy never goes out of fashion. People do business with people. That goes for customers, investors, partners and hires. Being a good gal/guy matters.
How to do keep going
If you’re passionate about something you understand, you will find a way to win.
It really is that simple. You will find a way.