Last week @robfitz asked me on short notice to join a panel at #foundersexchange about what first time founders shouldn’t do. I quickly took a moment to write down some suggestions into my moleskine to prepare myself. Things I witnessed in our company and things I noticed in other startups.
That “some suggestions” became a full page and that full page became a monster that had almost no free white space left. It was so full of stuff we did, it was ludicrous. It was dark like the night and microscribbled as if I hated that poor moleskine page.
My message at the panel was simple: “Don’t be a first time founder…” – or at least not the kind of first time founder I used to be ;)
After a gentle push by Rob and Sal I decided to share those first time founder mistakes we did publicly. I hope you can learn a thing or or two (to avoid) from this. If you have been through your first startup maybe you see yourself in some of them as well :)
Don’t be a first time founder…
- First time founders confuse getting feedback with convincing people.
- They question you only about VC/investment instead about product development.
- They seek too much advice from too many sources with too many conflicting views.
- They plan details about sh*t that never sees the light of day.
- They are clever and come up with great combinations of solutions.
- They do mental incest by bouncing ideas off the same people every time.
- They do meetings until all hypothetical problems are solved and all wishes are included into the product scope.
- They do social and/or marketplace startups.
- They have a society vision not a product vision.
- They get very philosophical about their startup vision.
- They have no clue about their market.
- They are too proud to simplify their startup because “then it would just be [insert their real problem here]”
- They don’t know what’s the core of their product.
- They do “aspects of customer development, but…”
- They do “lean, but…”
- They confuse certain customer assumptions with facts.
- They don’t double-check, ever.
- They pitch to other startups most of their time.
- They pitch to local investors instead of flying 2hours to startup hubs.
- They don’t get feedback on VCs from portofolio entrepreneurs.
- They don’t get it’s one global scene and that you can reach the best people if you do your work right.
- They spend hours of pitching to VCs that don’t invest into startups in their stage.
- They cannot name failures in their product iterations.
- They optimize their ToS before launch.
- They have a CEO and two Strategy/Bizdev people plus one guy working on the product.
- They found an “GmbH, SARL, OOD, DOO, LTDa, A, BVO, Sp. Zoo, SRO, TAA or OOO” and wonder why international VCs don’t bother.
- They pay shitloads of legal fees to make their exotic legal company entity form VC ready.
- They convert it to an LTD for even more money anyway.
- They write 100 pages to apply for state funds and get 15k for that.
- They work with – and even worse believe – local Investment consultants.
- They pitch to russian family funds at the red square for millions of euros before having one line of code written.
- They hire people for future position and roles and not for actual needed jobs that need to be done.
- They have a growth plan and execution strategy but not a proven product.
- They believe the Techcrunch posts about large investment rounds apply to them.
- They underestimate everything apart of one thing: Themselves.
- They don’t get that a low burnrate and being prelaunch doesn’t mean you have more time to waste.
- They spend more time on fundraising than on their product and value investment over traction.
- They validate their customer hypothesis with investors.
- They improve their product based on investor feedback.
- They write a business plans… and when they are done they rewrite it (in another language).
- They do financial models that consist of 14 pages A1 and are capable of accounting and balancing.
- They tell you that they first need to get to their “right“ customer.
- They are arrogant and ignorant to any feedback they don’t want to hear.
- They desperately try to increase their social media footprint. (Agree? Tweet this!)
- They are unaware of how little they actually know and cannot change that.
- They launch ‘in one month’.
- They spent too much time to speak with everyone but their customers.
- And last and most important: They think they won’t make the same mistakes as other first time founders and ignore their advice.
Been there, done that…
I have to admit that some of the items are a little bit more specific to what I did wrong. So maybe you didn’t see yourself in all of them. Although several of those mistakes contradicted my instincts even back then - I still did them. And this simple fact shows me how much I fundamentally needed to learn.
We have been working on our Startup for 3 years now and there were more reasons that it should have collapsed than I can think of. But we have survived and have (hopefully) grown a lot since then. Maybe that is why it feels like I work already in my second company. But maybe I am just still very naive…
Commercial Break: A new event format for London
I strongly advocate speaking openly about things I did wrong - and I advise you to do the same. Maybe it’s because I am better in seeing my mistakes than the things I did right. And maybe it’s therefore easier for me to share at least the things you shouldn’t do instead of things you should do. But learning from failure is imho always worth sharing.
If you want to share you own failures or want to learn how to avoid those, join the upcoming meetup of London’s new event format Failboat. It’s no VC, no Press, no bullshit. Just founders talking straight honest.
I am pretty sure you did some of the things I mentioned above. And I am quite certain you did some other ones as well…
Until then. Go play. It’s only failure if you don’t stand up ;)
Edit2: Until now I had only two kinds of feedback: “I did a lot of these…” and “Those things are obvious aren’t they…” guess which feedback was by first-time founders ;)