It’s been a year since I left Twitter to start my own company. Within a year, I have been through the startup rollercoaster: joining an accelerator, discussing with corporate development about aquisition offers, and of course, fundraising.
During Techstars, a repeated startup founder/CEO told me this truth: “A startup CEO has three jobs: explain the vision, hire and fire, don’t run out of money”. One year after, I firmly believe this is true.
Reflecting on this year, there are a few takeaways.
Think first principles
When starting a company and going through an accelerator, you get exposed to hundreds of opinions from the accelerator itself, other founders, employees, advisors, mentors, investors. It’s your responsibility to evaluate them and make sound decisions for your business. It’s easy to get lost in the myriad of opinions others have about your company and product, especially so early.
You need to walk through this jungle of advice, weed 90+% and keep the best. To do that:
- Think first principles and come back to your core ideas.
- Base your strategy on metrics and not what some random person told you to do.
- Take decisions that follow the culture you want to instill in your company.
What I just explained seems essential, and still, I see many founders getting distracted and lost by bad advice. One book that helps think with first principles is Principles from Ray Dahlio. I read this book in 2021, and it helped me get back on track when lost under hundreds of opinions.
No hire is better than a bad hire
Hiring is hard. This is one of the most challenging problems in the startup world, especially at the very early stages. One bad hire can ruin your culture, team, and runway. One good hire can work hard and do their best to deliver a delightful product your customers will love.
You need to have the conviction that the people you hire are among the best to work on the problem you are solving. If you do not have this conviction, you waste your time and money.
When choosing an employee or co-founder, you need to admire this person for what they can deliver in their domain. Like a relationship, you do not need to agree on everything, but you need to (1) admire and recognize them as an expert in their domain and in the value they deliver and (2) ensure that they fit with the company culture.
As the french saying goes: “Mieux vaut être seul que mal accompagné”.
Don’t get distracted and learn to say no
Don’t get distracted. You often get distracted by an opinion from an investor, a specific ask from one company, or just by the flow of meetings people want to have with you. It’s a trap.
If an idea comes, evaluate the value it can bring to your business. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole to implement a new feature, product, or hire a specific person. But if this proposition does not bring value to your business: say no and move on.
Football players do not get distracted on the field. Be the same: you are here for the home run.
Focus on PMF, build something people love
One main takeaway from Techstars has been focusing on Product-Market Fit (PMF). Put it in simple terms; it just means people want what you are building.
Make a product people love, delight customers with valuable, carefully crafted features. Your primary focus at the seed stage must be to get to PMF. If you get to PMF, sales will (normally) follow.
Some companies do not have PMF. Some raise giant financing rounds without having PMF. All of this is great, but one day, the reality of the market comes back, and the company has a hard time closing any sale. To avoid that trap, don’t get distracted and focus on PMF.
There are some books that help me navigate this first year as a founder.