When asked what the first year of a startup is like, seasoned entrepreneurs like Steve Case, Jack Dorsey, and Elon Musk, have all given a seemingly contradictory list of adjectives. It is the “most difficult." The “most fun." The “most dangerous." The “most exhilarating." The "most exhausting." If there is one thing that these descriptions have in common, it’s that they all seem to be true at the same time.
So, coming off my first full-time year on my startup, I wanted to share a few things I wish I could have shared with myself a year ago. These 3 things take the form of milestones, which are important for startup founders not only for the company's timeline, but for their sanity on the roller coaster ride that is trying to start a startup.
Whatever you are building, get something out there and start testing it. Call it a Beta, call it an Alpha--no one cares. Just get something together and start figuring out what your customers actually care about. Because you don’t know what your assumptions are (and how far off they probably are) until you launch. It will be ugly, buggy, and you’ll hate the thought of it once version 2 comes out. And that’s ok! The best way to make real, meaningful progress in the right direction is to learn what your customers/users want; one slightly-less-crappy version of your product at a time.
When meeting someone new for the first time, regardless of who you are talking to (be it a customer, a business partner, or an investor) you often have only 30 seconds to let them know 3 things: who you are, what you want, and why they should listen. The key to all three of these things is to be transparent and genuine about your intentions. To sell your product you not only need to be solving a real problem, you need to genuinely believe you have the solution to that problem.
First things first, understand what you are getting yourself into. Most VCs invest in 1 out of every 300 companies they see. Then, even if you are the exception to the rule, only 10%-20% of those companies end up being successful. Let those numbers sink in. Because like it or not, that is the reality of entrepreneurship. But more often than not, some form of venture funding is inevitably required to grow a startup, so here is one piece of advice: Investors invest in people. Don’t get defensive or too caught up in your “5-year pro forma” or 25-page business plan. Things change. Companies change. Direction changes. Acknowledge the risks and assumptions, and work through reasonable plans to mitigate these potential problems. The company you have now is going to be very different than the company you have a few years from now. Above all else, a VC wants to know: “Is this the type of person who can build a successful company?"