In the course of starting two companies, I’ve received a lot of advice. Now I work at a VC firm that has backed companies like Uber, Cruise, BuzzFeed, and Thredup and I’m asked to give advice. There’s no “secret manual” to building a company. No “one easy trick.” No roadmap. No two companies are ever the same.
#1: Work on something new. The low cost of starting a company means too many people chasing the same old things. This will confuse your customers if it’s not really clear why you’re different—radically different. To be new for your customers may mean you build frontier tech (e.g., a system to drop drones out of the sky) or apply an existing concept to a new vertical (e.g., CRM for healthcare).
#2: You win or lose based on customer delight. All the pitching and cool tech cannot save this. Sometimes you have to get creative to make people want what you can offer in the early days. (Note: if you have a terrible customer experience but people use your service anyway, that may mean you have picked a good problem to work on.)
#3: No one cares about your little startup. Get over it…and relish that it makes you free to iterate and try things. As Brian Chesky from Airbnb says “if you launch and no one notices, launch again.” (And if not your company, the good people you meet along the way will care about you.)
#4: A library worth has been written on fundraising. Read Brad Feld’s tour de force on term sheets. Read Mark Suster’s take on dilution. Read Fred Wilson on “small ball.” If you’re in SaaS, David Skok and Jason Lemkin are must reads. Bryce Roberts counsels founders to think about building their business on a single round of funding. Look at the pitch decks of dozens of billion dollar companies. VCs and entrepreneurs have shared a tremendous amount of data and wisdom over the last decade. Use it. A few other notes: