12 Things Future Founders Should Know Before Starting a Company
Forget everything you’ve heard about overnight success, luxury cars, and corner offices. Starting your own business is anything but glamorous.
There will be good days where you’ll wake up feeling inspired and ready at the helm to put out fires and switch your hats at a moment’s notice.
But there will also be days where you’ll want to turn off all the lights, wear your head low, and admit defeat at every misstep.
Many of us harbour the desire to start our own companies, but few succeed. That’s because creating a business from the ground up will be one of the most turbulent journeys you’ll ever experience.
If you’re contemplating whether to go all-in, here are some things you should know before you quit your 9-5 job and make the leap into starting a tech venture.
12 things future founders should know before starting a company
1. Being a founder can be a lonely experience
There are many perks that attract entrepreneurs to a startup gig, including:
- Building innovative products
- Disrupting an industry
- Doing meaningful work to change the world
- Growing and scaling a business from the ground floor
- Seeing a green payday
- Being your own boss
But no one tells you just how lonely it can be to start your own business.
Entrepreneurs are rarely advised about the hidden cost of becoming a founder. Uncertainty pervades every decision, the fear of failure never leaves your mind, and the pressure of what you set out to accomplish can feel like the weight of your whole company is on your shoulders – and it’s because, well, it is.
All these things can chalk up to what’s inherently a lonely job. It’s no secret that tech communities and our society at large fetishize the hustle, but this constant grind can do a number on your mental health, family, and relationships.
Our best advice? Leverage the heck out of your network. Seek out advisors and lean on your mentors, especially those who’ve been in your shoes before. You need to form your own community and support system so that when the tides roll high and you feel like your head’s underwater, you can re-emerge with more air in your lungs. Surround yourself with people you trust who are a few steps ahead of you.
2. Double the difficulty, double the reward
If at this point, you haven’t heeded the warnings of starting your own company, now’s your chance to really let it soak in.
However hard you think starting and running your own business will be, it will be even harder – and consequently, even more rewarding.
But here’s the catch: you only get out of it what you put in. So rolling up your sleeves and doing the grunt work is necessary if you really want to make an impact.
No part of the startup lifecycle will go as you expect, whether it’s which version of your product that makes it to launch or the time you spend fundraising for your Series A. That’s just the name of the game when you’re chasing after milestones with fewer resources, little to no capital, and working purely on a founder’s high.
Get comfortable with the unknown. You’ll always be forced to make a decision without fully understanding what’s coming, and the best that you can do for yourself and your team is to keep your head held high.
3. Prioritize assembling your founding team
No matter how good you get at wearing multiple hats, it’s not likely that you can acquire all the skills needed to build and run a company by yourself. That’s where a founding team can help you cover the bases.
Select your co-founders carefully based on domain expertise and quite frankly, the things that you don’t and can’t offer. By rounding out your founding team, your chances of success improve by 30 percent. Check out what it takes to build a founding team that lasts.
4. Don’t delay hiring the right people
If you don’t spend at least half your time hiring, you can kiss your success goodbye. Dozens of entrepreneurs avoid this responsibility and it always comes back to bite them.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re wasting precious time on hiring when you could be doing “more important” things, like building your product, focusing on your customers, or whatever the case may be.
The truth is: every task you do is a race against the clock, but delaying your hiring process can cause you to make fragile decisions like hiring just for the sake of it or hitting the brakes on growing your team altogether.
Even when you meet the right person, but you don’t think it’s the right time to join your team, hire them anyway. It’s better to snag talent when it’s right under your nose than to discover how stiff the competition will be a year from now when you’re “ready” and they’re being courted by dozens of other companies.
At the end of the day, it’s people who give you momentum, and momentum is what it takes to scale. So even if you’re nervous about hiring, narrowing down your focus to mission-critical hires can enormously contribute to your company’s success.
5. Ignore the competition
It’s not about who’s first anymore. It’s about who does it best and delivers the most value to customers.
As you’re starting out, there will naturally be more competitors in the limelight while you stand in the shadows. Although it can be tempting to learn every little thing that makes them tick, you’re better off blocking them out.
The comparison game does more harm than good, and when you focus on what actually matters (your customers), then you’re making an impact where it counts.
6. Ditch your defences and absorb feedback like a sponge
Among top-notch leadership skills, founders need to have the openness to receive hearty feedback without getting defensive.
Feedback in the early stages of your company is crucial to determining the direction of your product, team, marketing, and just about everything else there is, so take time to listen to your customers, investors, and peers, as their opinions are the ones who pay.
When it comes time to iterate and improve, learn what you can do yourself and what should be delegated to others. Too many CEOs get caught up in things they shouldn’t be involved with and that’s the fastest way to drain their productivity and lose traction.
7. Understand customer needs and put them at the forefront of your product design
There’s no point in creating a product no one wants or needs, so make sure you have a firm grasp on who your customers are and centring your product design based on those needs. Prove your product-market fit by rapidly iterating and testing. And lean into experimentation and customer research to inform what you build and how you build it.
8. ABC (Always Be Closing)
Selling is a crucial skill that goes far beyond product pricing and your monthly revenue. As a founder, you have to sell your company’s idea to yourself first before being able to convince others to join your legion.
Prospective co-founders, customers, employees, investors, and strategic partners will then look to you for guidance and it’s your job to communicate why you’re doing what you’re doing.
When done right, you can inspire a league of others to join you, fund you, and champion you. So always remember your personal drivers.
9. Don’t lose sight of your North Star
People do their best work when they get up in the morning and are excited about their job. Founders are no less part of this philosophy.
Ideally, you should be getting out of bed because you believe you’re doing something big and important in the world. By the same token, you may have a hard time falling asleep, keeping track of all the things that are left to do.
This is what gives you the energy you need and the ability to hire people and convince investors to roll the dice on you. To be a successful founder, you’ll need to align your vision with your team. One of the effective ways to overlap your goals with others is to make people feel like they’re going on the same journey as you.
It’s up to you to ensure that every person on your team knows just how important a task or project is, and how it directly gets your company closer to your vision.
10. Constantly worry about cash
Yet just another thing to get used to when entering the startup world is burning through cash. No one wants to think about securing your next round of funding when you’ve barely had time to celebrate closing the first one. But you need to.
It’s on you to map out the future and consider backup plans when things don’t work out in the neat and tidy way you imagined, as they rarely do. Don’t underestimate how hard fundraising will be. You’re guaranteed to get a lot of no’s, much less a maybe. And only when you’re really special (like one in 300 pitches kind of special), a resounding yes.
But until that day, you need to worry about money ‘til the cows come home. So be smart about follow-up financing and include a debt line in your runway calculations to give you that added peace of mind if you need to dip into it.
11. Know when to let go
Building a business is incredibly exhilarating. You’ll always feel close to the product you create because it’s your brainchild. However, this also means you may struggle to have the right perspective about your business.
Being so close to something can skew your judgment and become a distraction. You can bet that no one is looking at your work as closely as you are, so it’s imperative and healthy to know when exactly to let go and move on to the next decision or when it’s time to hand off the project to someone else.
When you turn over your core competency to someone else, you’re taking the reins of your company and focusing on the bigger picture, which allows you to be the best leader.
12. Find balance
Finally, what it takes to become a founder lies in your ability to make sense of the information you’re given and what you do with it. There’s no shortage of advice out there, although some is admittedly better than others. It’s now up to you to apply your knowledge and let your own convictions guide you.
- It’s a no-brainer that you need to do your research when starting a business, yet there’s no science behind trusting your instincts.
- You’ll want to actively seek guidance, but you need to detect when that advice conflicts and how to manoeuvre the right decision-making.
- While you should be proud of what you’ve built, you need to recognize and accept that perfection is an illusion.
- It’s important to keep an eye on the competition, but you don’t want to lose sleep over it.
- Be direct with your team, but stay empathetic and self-aware.
- And don’t take yourself too seriously, even if you’re trying to change the world.
It’s when you can strike a balance between all these things, you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and are in the best position to lead an all-star team to the finish line.
Have you made it this far?
And there you have it: 12 cold hard truths about starting your own company. If you’ve made it this far, you may just have the chops.
Being your own boss has its major perks, but doesn’t come without its thorns. Entrepreneurship is about mental fortitude, persistence, and not throwing in the towel when the going gets tough.
For every step forward, there may be 10 steps back. But in the end, it’s all those steps that add up to the world-changing innovation you could introduce to make life better in every way.
As with any rite of passage, you will experience setbacks and it won’t be pretty, but beginning your own business might just be worth all the trouble.
Still think you have what it takes? Check out the founder roles available with Harvest.