Hackernoon logo21 Tips from 101 successful founders that all first time entrepreneurs should know before starting… by@TomBlondies

21 Tips from 101 successful founders that all first time entrepreneurs should know before starting…

21 Tips from 101 successful founders that all first time entrepreneurs should know before starting… The list is the summary of an analysis of 100+ answers and articles on Quora and Medium plus the opinions of some of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time like Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Neil Patel. Read each tip that made it onto this list and see whether you are “Relentlessly Resourceful” or a “Smart Perseverer”? Read the full list.
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Tom Blondies

The summary of an analysis of 100+ answers and articles on Quora and Medium plus the opinions of some of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time like Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Neil Patel.

Did you ever hear of the term “Relentlessly Resourceful”.

It was coined by Paul Graham the founder of Y-Combinator. Then picked up by his successor Sam Altman. It is how they describe in two words the key skills of successful founders.

If you possess these then in essence you are invincible. Maybe not invincible but your chances improve considerably.

I also like to call it “Smart Perseverance”. You are able to overcome almost any obstacle and come out as the winner eventually — meaning you are in it for the long run.

Instructions — How to use this article!

Assess yourself. Be honest and do not fail Tip 3!

Read each tip that made it onto this list and see whether you are “Relentlessly Resourceful” or a “Smart Perseverer”?

Tip 1: Firstly Do It

(Falls under the relentlessness and perseverance category. Listed by more than 18. Best comments by Oliver Emberton, Ching Ho, Ryo Chiba, Auren Hoffman, Elon and many more.)

So are you doing it? Not that!

Are you working on your startup. I am not talking about refining the concept! Are you getting real stuff done that moves you forward?

Here a few examples. Did you fill in the lean canvas and then march off to talk to a potential customers. Did you write an article, promote it, create a landing page and start collecting emails for your niche? Anything like that.

Nothing is worse than hesitating. Have another meeting about it. Or even better — a workshop. Think it through. Review it another time. Sleep over it. Draw up another concept. Modify the lean canvas just one more time.

Remember that famous sentence “No plan survives first contact with customers?”

Sounds familiar?

I hope you did not fail this first tip. It is the toughest.

This brings me to the next key skill of any budding entrepreneur.

Tip 2: First Things First or Focus

(Resourceful and smart category. Listed by more than 16. Best comments by Oliver Emberton, Ching Ho, Chris Macintosh, Ryo Chiba, Auren Hoffman.)

After reading the first point you might have run away to start creating your landing page or your product description to start going to pitch it to potential customers. Good good.

There is a great quote from Steven Covey who also coined the term “First Things First”.

“Doing more things faster is no substitute for doing the right things.” Steven Covey

Pure actionism will get you only a set of half done things. Usually these comprise of half thought through concepts and a few emails to friends about your idea.

Maybe some posts not sent or published, some tweets, a registered website and a few lines of code if you can code.

So before moving on take this action! Take the time, sit down and think what should be your next move. If you are not sure bounce it back and forth with some friends that you know are honest with you.

This leads me straight to the next tip.

Tip 3: Start with brutal honesty

(Smart, resourcefulness. Listed by 12. Oliver Emberton, Ching Ho, Chris Macintosh, Ryo Chiba, Keiana and others)

Do not delude yourself. Are you a great copywriter? No then learn it or hire someone.

Do you know that most of your ideas suck? Then find out how to run a litmus test that will you help avoid those that are useless.

You cannot code? Since when is that a problem when you do not even know whether anyone will buy it.

You do not know how to prioritize and stick with something until it is done right. Wow, now you need to be creative, smart and resourceful!

You better find a co-founder that kicks you in the ass 50% of the time and puts your head right the other 50%.

Let’s face it. If you are not able to get things going and done, you cannot prioritize and you are not honest about your abilities then you will face a lot of challenges — to put it mildly.

In essence if you failed the first three tips as selection criteria you should rethink whether entrepreneurism is for you.

As long as you are getting things done and you are aware of your weaknesses then there is a good chance you will make it. Simply because you know when to ask for help and what help to ask for!

Plus you will probably try it again and again and again.

Tip 4: Have fun

(Smart, resourceful. Listed by 6. Ryo Chiba, Keiana)

Looking at all the important things you need to remember when starting out we tend to forget one simple thing.

You should have fun and enjoy what you are doing. If that is not the case then it will become just another job you are doing for a sort of paycheck.

Chances that you will fail are pretty high.

That is why it is so important that you do something that customers want (you need to earn a living) and that you can be passionate about.

Tip 5 and 6: Your passion and what customers want

(Smart, resourceful. Listed by 29. Neil Patel, Oliver Emberton, Ching Ho, Chris Macintosh, Keiana, Abhishek Anand, Deepak Shukla, Toby Dattolo, Sramana Mitra)

If you want to make your startup work you will spend a decent amount of time on it. To build a large company takes up to 10 years. This means you better like the topic. It is no fun to do something that you actually do not like and have no ties with for such a long period of time.

An example. I guess most of us love Star Wars. My girlfriend does not get it. She just cannot relate to it at all. Just can’t.

Now imagine her writing a blog about Star Wars, discuss potential developments and whether Darth Vader could have avoided falling for the dark side and so on.

Now imagine you deal with that stuff for the next 5 to 10 years. Not much fun I would say…

That is worse than your current job…

What do customers want? A lot and your first understanding should be that you have no clue about what they want. Anything else will lead you astray — remember the honesty tip!

Besides marketing and selling your product is the key ingredient. And a good product that actually solves a problem is the one that makes the customer happy.

Tip 7 and 8: Marketing and Measuring

(Smart, resourceful. Listed by 10. Neil Patel, Chris Macintosh, Ryo Chiba, Sramana Mitra)

The initial testing of an idea was not covered by anyone but what was covered extensively was measuring and not believing.

Do not try to anticipate what your customers like but measure it.

Right so.

Anything else is for the feet! — Old German Proverb

That brings marketing into play. It is the best way to facilitate measuring.

You should define your target audience. Where do those people hang out. How you can best lure them to your site to convert.

Keep in mind:

“Marketing isn’t about changing people’s minds. Your job isn’t to convince people to want what you’re offering. It’s to help your prospects convince themselves that what you’re offering will help them get what they really want.” Oliver Emberton

No matter whether you set up your sales funnel, customer personas the whole lot. Or you pitch in person your B2B SaaS offering one customer at a time. You still need to measure. See what works and what does not.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/michellerial/is-your-startup-idea-already-taken

Tip 9: Your idea is not unique and competition is good

(Smart, resourceful. Listed by 6. Neil Patel, Adam Berk)

This is the most worrying of them all. Think again. We live in an economy where most niches have been found and are being worked by very competitive and skilled people.

Why should they all have missed the one you are looking at? Did they miss it or is this a niche with no market?

If there is no competition there is a very very very good chance that there is no market.

You better be triple careful and put big focus on validating the market. If your idea is so good and there is no competition then it should not be a problem to sign up a few people and get them to pay — even in advance.

Every founder I talk to (there are very few exceptions) never asks for the money. Why so scared? If people really think that your product is value adding they will pay or sign up to pay when it is ready.

It means that you are solving an actual problem they need solved. If they run for the hills once you ask for money you better find that out now before you waste more time and more of your money.

Tip 10 and 11: Kill uncertainty and finish things

(Smart perseverance, relentlessly resourceful. Listed by 9. Steli Efti, Deepak Shukla)

This might overlap with “Firstly do it”.

I still think it is worth pointing this one out. A lot of people DO start a lot of things and end up with too many lose ends and open tasks.

So you need to finish them. If they are important finish it.

And very closely linked to this is uncertainty. Not all can be eliminated but most of it.

Great examples are customers that will not commit or investors not answering.

Why should you eliminate it? Simple. You can spend more time thinking about things and their potential outcomes then actually acting on them.

Look at it like this. Once you know whether that customer will buy or not then you either have the sale in your pocket or you know you can move on and focus on the next customer.

Eventually time is better used and you are more focused!

Get clarity and move on.

Tip 12: Be prepared that you might fail or at least make mistakes

(Perseverance, relentless. Listed by 10. Peter Baskerville, Deepak Shukla, Keiana, Ken Boyd)

Personally I do not think this is the right attitude. And failure comes in many variations. Is a pivot smart or a failure?

It is smart because you realize something is not working and you pivot or close shop. Take a breath and start new.

Remember all the experience and contacts you have gained that you can leverage. You will be much faster to market and at your customer’s (virtual) doorstep the next time.

Nevertheless failing is an option and you should embrace mentally that it can happen.

It happens to the best. Not all YC startups take off. And those guys have one of the best track records. Or remember Fab.com or let’s see where evernote and dropbox are going. So you are not in bad company and in most cases you lost much less cash.

Tip 13: Business Plans vs. Lean Canvas vs. whatever

(Smart, resourceful. Listed by 6. Keiana, Adam Berk, Peter Baskerville)

So there you are. Great idea. Nothing validated. But you are projecting sales and cost for the next 5 years and know exactly how you will conquer the world.

It depends but in most cases a business plan does not make sense.

You simply know too little about customers, the market in general and you have no or only a very basic product.

So in most cases a lean canvas will be more helpful. Why?

You get your head around your idea.

When filling in the lean canvas you will often notice that your idea has different components and complications where you did not expect it.

It will also help you to explain it to potential customers or to test it by summing up the key benefits and customer problems you are solving.

You should check whether there is a potential market at all. There might be demand for a curated and authenticated babysitter site but not sure anyone needs an UBER for babysitters.

Tip 14: Have a gameplan

(Smart, resourceful. Listed by 11. Auren Hoffman, Kevin Xu, Leonard Kim, Sramana Mitra, Ryo Chiba)

Not pushing the planning too much given the unpredictability but you should have a game plan that you are following until there is need for a change or adjustment.

It is simply good if everyone understand what they are currently working on and how it fits into the big picture.

Targets and guidelines t get more email signups are very unspecific. They might lead to the wrong sign ups and then what? I read a great article from Jason Zook who threw away a list of 25,000 emails because it was the completely wrong audience.

Tip 15: Avoid founder drama

(Smart, resourceful. Listed by 8. Tom Webster, Jason Lemkin, Brian Gill, Wendy Soon, Paul Graham)

It is a classic topic and you can find it repeatedly in the history of startups to the point that you cannot ignore it.

As a solofounder you are safe. In case you are a small team of 2–x founders it is better to be safe than sorry.

Make sure your company does not tank because of founder quarrels, misalignments, people leaving whatever. There is a whole hall of fame where companies got into a deadlock because both founders have 50% and cannot agree anymore on anything.

Same for vesting. You need to work a certain period of time to actually get your equity. 4–5 years seem pretty standard.

Finally all the legal implications. You better make sure that wherever you are that your approach is legally sound. In lots of countries a few emails outlining the principal agreement are fine and basis enough in case there are any disputes. That is not everywhere the case so better check it out.

Tip 16: Mentors and not being afraid to ask

(Smart, resourceful. Listed by 4. Leonard Kim, Tom)

Not sure why so few mentioned this but it is quite key that you have someone to set you straight from time to time.

They will not be always right. Given their experience they will show you different perspectives or confirm the course you were considering.

I recently talked to a mastermind friend of mine. He was getting his new idea in the B2B space started. He was not sure how best to proceed. So he asked me whether he should refine the concept or start talking to potential customers.

He knew the right answer but simply wanted to confirm whether the other members of the mastermind thought the same. So the next day he started talking to customers. Got the confirmation that they were interested and would pay for the tool he had in mind.

Tip 17: Venture capital and funding

(Smart, resourceful. Listed by 7. Matthew Kane, Sramana Mitra, Adam Berk, Bill Reichert, Chris Macintosh)

So consensus is to avoid funding and not to focus on chasing funding. Also clear favorites are bootstrapping and ensuring that your business model works.

There is not one right way but it certainly helps to have proven that customers are paying for your solution. It also help to have talked to customers and sold a good few products or services.

Then all the pitching for funding is only half the trouble. In the end a business angel or VC is just another type of customer.

The German copycat Rocket Internet is a good example for going too early for lots of funding. They had a few successes but they also had a fair amount of failures.

Companies were scaled with lots of money just to find out that the business model did not work as expected. Recently quite a few of their copies had to shut down or reduce operations.

Tip 18: Hire slowly and fire fast

(Smart perseverance, relentlessly resourceful. Listed by 8. Bill Reichert, Chris Macintosh, Paul Graham, Elon)

A classic. AirBnB took 6 months to hire their first employee. At an early stage one wrong employee can have a huge impact.

Therefore make sure you have a fit and that you are building a great team. Also an asset when raising money.

If the hire turns out to not fit in for whatever reason then end this as quickly as possible before all turns sour.

Tip 19: Rules are meant to be broken

(Smart perseverance, relentlessly resourceful. Listed by 6. Leonard Kim, Ching Ho, Paul Graham)

Paul Graham mentions that he is looking for naughtiness in founders. Look at the disruption AirBnB and UBER have caused in their respective markets.

You do not have to be a game changer but sometimes small tweaks can have a tremendous impact.

If you read the answer from Ching Ho then you will understand how relentlessly resourceful someone can be!

Tip 20: Sales solve everything

(Smart perseverance, relentlessly resourceful. Listed by 6. Scott Mcgregor, Toby Dattolo, Stel Efti, Marc, Peter Thiel)

I personally would have expected it mentioned more often. It is important to understand your customer and work close with them. It is though not a guarantee that you will be selling to them.

It is important to make sure you get the actual sales and that can be more challenging than simply building what the customer wants.

You might be up against an IBM sweeping in with a task force to save the business. Or you might be competing with some Silicon Valley heavyweight over your B2C customer base.

In either case it helps to read “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie to get the right mind set.

Tip 21: Miscellaneous

(Smart perseverance, relentlessly resourceful. Listed by 12. Yann Girard)

There are a lot of things any founder needs to pay attention to. Not only first time entrepreneurs.

Some of these depend on where you are geographically and how you are starting up. Someone with a good seedround in the US has to pay attention to different things than someone bootstrapping in Europe.

Therefore here a few other tips that got mentioned but did not fit very well with the previous main points:

  • Don’t quit your job — when bootstrapping with no product market fit and no traction
  • Avoid risk — one thing is trying to be disruptive the other to take unreasonable risks
  • Don’t get too hooked up on designs and logos — just make sure you look professional enough. Usually much less is required than you think
  • Don’t waste time attending conferences and similar
  • Stay healthy — you might be at it for a few years

Closing Words …

“Not everyone can be a great entrepreneur, but a great entrepreneur can come from anywhere. The world needs innovation more than ever before and the next great minds don’t have to be people with MBAs or Ivy League degrees” Toby Dattolo

Thanks for reading

I’m Tom Blondies. An entrepreneur, doer, improving writer and passionate learner.

I work with start-ups and founders. I help to develop the idea and puzzle together product and marketing to achieve growth. You can read more about me on my website…

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Best
Tom

Some more helpful articles I like to revisit to remind me of the right mindset.

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