Last summer I decided that I would try my hand at blogging. A few things had come together in my startup journey, so with this first post I was in business.
Almost a year (and a few hundred readers) later and I’m still really enjoying it. Each writing session allows me to organize my thoughts about an important startup founder topic, but - more importantly - I believe that I’m helping new founders...especially ones in less mature startup towns (like Atlanta).
So I couldn’t be happier with my blog and plan to keep it going for a very long time.
The best piece of advice that David Cummings gave us about starting a building was that we’d be surprised by the amount of information flow that came our way. New startups. People looking for jobs. Investors. Every day is like a firehose. As a result, we are seeing some very common trends with local founders.
These days I’m meeting two new founders every day, so some pattern recognition is starting to happen.
So to mark the occasion of my fiftieth blog post I wanted to take a minute to highlight the most common mistakes that I see with first-time founders in Atlanta...
Not understanding their space in a deep way. The best founders that I’ve ever known are absolute experts on their space (and even adjacent spaces). Ask them about a player and they’ll tell you about three others and the small ways that they are different. They know all about their products,founders, funding history...pretty much everything. I believe that the best founders do this to de-risk a startup-sized opportunity in the space.
Focusing on getting the product built. It’s human nature to think about problems in terms of wireframes (or how you’d construct a product). I advise new founders to fight this urge and spend way more time in the pre-product phase. Talk with trusted advisors and friends to figure-out why this product doesn’t exist yet. Spend creative time & energy on this point of friction. Then use all of this to develop a product that’s 10x better than what exists. It’s incredibly difficult for “me too” products to get traction because consumers don’t get excited enough to tell their friends - this word-of-mouth growth is required for consumer products to get initial momentum. Google the last few batches of Y Combinator. These are some of the best startups in the country. Every single one has created a business model that could be 10x better than what exists. This is super hard, but the best founders hold their ideas to this standard.
Loving the problem I would encourage all founders to really love the problem that they are trying to solve. The best founders I know gush about the problems of their customers. They are activists. They are okay wallowing around in the space, but they are constantly making progress. And they know it will take 18 months to see decent traction so they embrace the process. How do you know that you love the problem? It’s pretty much all that you want to focus on until your product is in the world.
Focusing too much on marketing. If you have a consumer product that people love, they should tell their friends about it and this will drive new sign-ups. If I were starting a B2C startup, I wouldn’t do any paid marketing until I knew customers loved my product (defined by ongoing engagement and word-of-mouth growth). Paid marketing - in the very beginning - will dilute your results and that time/effort is better spent on product. Get your initial users through free (hustle) marketing and then see how your super users (the top 25%) act. The behavior of these users is more important than what any potential customers tell you ahead of launch. And using this feedback to create a better product is almost always a better decision than addition marketing (to get users that act in similar/worse ways).
I decided to use my 50th blog post to focus on these topics because I see them so often - I hope none of this is interpreted as criticism. Only 1% of startups ever get any real traction. Avoiding common problems is one of the best/easiest ways to increase your odds of being a high-growth startup in that top 1%.
Thank you so much for reading and sharing my blog posts each week. I look forward to my next 50 posts!
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Email me privately at email@example.com or let's discuss publicly at @davempayne.
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