100 employees. 100 lessons. Part 1: Before the startup, Ideation phase & Co-founders.
This is part of a series. You can find a link to all the parts here.
🌱 Before you start
1. Be sure that you want to start a startup
Most people’s think that they will get rich, be their own boss, have impact and change the world. Let’s unpack these.
2. You probably won’t get rich
Most startups fail and during the early years you typically have to accept a lower salary than you would do working for another company.
3. Your real boss is the VC market
Yes, you will be your own boss, but consider the following. If you follow the typical startup path, you will make losses for the first ~5 years and then make lots of money later. This means that the ‘boss’ is in effect the VC market as you will need to raise money each year.
4. Good bosses serve their employees
Also, if you’re a good boss, you will care about your employees deeply and be working for them as much as they work for you. This comes with challenges like firing people you like.
5. A startup doesn’t automatically translate to impact
Yes, you can change the world and have a tremendous impact, but often starting something new creates less impact than joining something that is running e.g. the 200th employee of Facebook created the Like button! This is also the reason that it’s normally more effective to donate to a charity rather than start your own.
6. Creating and growing a startup is one of the most exciting and rewarding things you can do in your professional career
But it’s going to be a tough journey! A great book on this is “The hard thing about hard things.”
7. Even if you do everything right, you still might fail
That’s just how it is.
8. Understand that even if you fail, it’s not time wasted
It’s a great thing to have in your CV! We love hiring people who have entrepreneurial experience.
9. Don’t start building too early
Most founders have a build-bias — they like to jump in and build things before properly validation. Don’t do this! Invest heavily in validating your idea. The Lean Startup is a great resource for this.
10. Don’t pick an idea just because you think it’ll work
Pick an idea that will work AND you are super passionate about it. This will be the next 5 years of your life!
11. Accelerators and incubators are often a great idea
This is especially for first time founders, but pick wisely as the quality varies massively. They will give you structure, critical feedback on your idea and most importantly network and investor opportunities.
Tell everyone about it and get their feedback.
13. Seek out people who have viewpoints you don’t want to hear
Not just people (like your Mom) who will say how great you are.
Have a hypothesis and believe in it deeply, but be flexible to switch to the next hypothesis as you ideate.
15. Don’t get too emotionally attached to your idea
I wasted a lot of time on previous startups by doing this. It will cloud your judgement and lead you to jump to conclusions too early.
16. Look for people who…
a) can get shit done b) have high resilience c) have a high capacity for growth and self-improvement AND d) you love spending time with
17. Do a project together before you found the startup
Would you get married to someone after the first date? A great idea for a project is some user validation e.g. creating a landing page or interview 10 potential customers.
18. A co-founder leaving is not the end of the world, but plan it!
Just like in marriage you should have a prenup, even if you can’t imagine breaking up now, think through how a split might look and make a a plan.
19. Get a technical co-founder on board
You should find someone who can live and breathe your tech no later than the end of the MVP phase.
20. Take time to understand the values and motivation of your other co-founders
What are the overlaps? What are the differences?
21. You don’t need co-founders to start your startup journey
There are programs that you can join where you find co-founders along the way e.g. Founders Institute (a good list here)
22. Being a solo founder is possible, but it’s tough.
Lots of VCs don’t like it. There’s a truck index of one! Also, it’s a massive challenge and you will appreciate having someone to share it with!
23. Tension between co-founders is healthy to a certain extent
But make time and space to explore this in a healthy way. Thing left unsaid tend to grow in size and significance over time.
24. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Joerg and I used to argue about small details of the office. We should have been arguing about more important stuff.
👋 Hi, I’m Ben. I support Seed to Series B companies to grow and scale. Connect with me here.