Starting a brand new company from scratch can seem next to impossible, and yet every year, thousands upon thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs give it their best shot. Those early days are brutal, and most startups won’t live to see their second year. You might wonder how the ones that do make it through. That’s why we asked eight successful founders: “What’s one piece of advice you would give to a founder in the first year of their startup?
1. Don’t Worry About “Perfect”
One piece of advice at the very beginning would be: “Don’t try to perfect your product too much before launching it.” The more time you spend building your product without getting feedback from real users, the higher the risk you are taking. At some point, you might even realize that your customers want something very different from what you have just given them.
You will find that most early adopters are more than happy to use a new product, even though it may still need some tweaks to work optimally. In fact, I’ve come to see that most of them just love to be part of the process. That makes it your job to align your expectations and be open to their feedback.
So, basically: Build your MVP, ship it, get your early adopters on board, and establish a good rapport with them. From there you can just focus on improving your product, or even pivot – remember, there is really nothing wrong with pivoting.
Co-Founder & Head of Product at Monetus
2. Get Some Rest
Sleep is more important than you think! Of course, sometimes you have to grind out work, but a big part of your job is to make really good decisions. The decisions that you make early in the startup process can be especially important. That’s why getting enough sleep consistently will give you the best chance of having a clear and well-rested mental state for making conscious, decisive choices – and making them quickly.
Founder & CEO at Signal Sciences
3. Teamwork Matters
There are three important things that must be in place when you start a company. The first (and most essential) is having a team that is completely aligned in terms of your vision. That’s because building a company is not about building a personal brand – it’s about building an entity that outlasts you, and that cannot be accomplished by just one person. Your team members should all have complementary skill sets that enable your vision to come to life.
The second thing is the idea itself. It needs to be one that you feel can materially change the way that things are done now and in the future. Building a company is a long-term commitment, and the worst thing you can do to yourself as a founder is to waste those early years on concepts that might not ultimately be worth your time.
The third part is your support system. A support system can range from your family to your friends to your business ecosystem, and even to early investors who might provide funding. These are the people who will support you and help you stay sane while you’re going through the complex process of getting your company off the ground.
CEO & Co-Founder at CowryWise
4. Fundraise Wisely
Firstly, in the initial phases of fundraising, try to pull together as much as you possibly can, because your actual expenses are likely to be three times as much as you predict. It is very normal to pivot based on the success of your fundraising, and do not hesitate to do so if it makes the most sense with your given resources. In fact, keep everything relatively loose. Rather than set multi-year goals, start with a target for six months only. That way you can grow in a more controlled manner, so that your expenses match your revenue. Lastly, do not be upset by rejection, which is a natural part of the fundraising process.
CEO & Co-Founder at AUMET
5. Find Strong Mentors
I’d say the most important thing is to surround yourself with people who can mentor you. In your first year, you’re constantly throwing yourself headfirst into new challenges that you’ve probably never dealt with before. Getting a few core mentors that you can bounce ideas off of and get really candid, experienced, feedback from is often the difference between success and failure. Nearly all of my success has been built on the wisdom and kindness of my mentors.
CEO at Prodigy
6. Eyes on the Prize
Focus. In your first year of running a company, you can get caught up with so many distractions: Networking events, speaking engagements, etc. While these can be important, it is vital for you to understand what it is really going to take to elevate your startup to the next level. Knowing the milestones that you need to hit, and having those milestones present at all times as your guiding star, will help keep you on track.
COO at Morning Brew
7. Think Like a Customer
Too often, founders work on an unproven idea for months before taking it to the market. That’s a mistake. The single condition for having a real business is to have a paying customer. If someone is willing to pay for your idea, it means your solution solves a real problem. This is why you need to think and act like a customer-first company from day one.
Test your assumptions on real clients with real needs in the real world. Don’t spend too much time strategizing, because real world feedback will either crush your initial idea or force you to tweak it in order to be viable. I like to say “plan to change the plan” because execution eats strategy for breakfast. Bringing customers inside your company and inviting them to the drawing table will be your best decision ever. Chances are the problem you are solving for this client is universal, and experienced by most companies who share similar traits. Do unscalable things first and then take these learnings to build your path to scale.
8. Build Your Community
The best advice I can give to a start-up founder is: It takes a village. Surrounding yourself with a solid founding team, mentors, advisors, and investors is mission critical when you are getting off the ground. Don’t be afraid to give up equity to get good people behind you early on. You won’t have the money to afford real salaries, and therefore will need to over-compensate with upside.
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