Most founders have been through a stage of questioning themselves and the way they see the world. Should I leave my job and work on that idea I had? Will I be able to make it work? How long will it take? How will I build a team? Will I be able to raise funds? Will anyone buy my service/product? Are just some of the questions they all struggled to answer.
And with no doubt, there is a myriad of articles and books out there underlining founders’ challenges or portraying how to’s. But along the years, we’ve seen that some of the most valuable insights are coming from those who have been in this stage of questioning their future themselves.
The below takeaways are from interviews the team has had in the last months with founders with very different backgrounds, pursued career paths or industries they are performing in. So with no further ado, here are the top ten pieces of advise they are giving to those who are thinking of becoming entrepreneurs and/or to new founders.
Failing comes with the territory
“I fail every day. All founders do. We’re half scientists, half artists. That’s how our brain gets wired once you become an entrepreneur. Scientists and artists know that only after hundreds of experiments and ugly paintings you can truly achieve something good or have an ‘a-ha’ moment, or find your unique style. It’s hard, because only a few people see failures or constant change as incredible opportunities to learn […].It takes lots of hard work and courage and discomfort to fail in order to succeed.” – Roberta Lucca, co-founder of Bossa Studios games and BAFTA winner.
You don’t need to have extensive funding to build a great team
“Our biggest challenge […] was to find top talent that would like to join the company, despite the fact that you are an unknown name and brand. Also in our case, we did not have any funding so couldn’t offer high salaries which makes it even harder to convince top talent to join the company. I overcame this by giving a lot of responsibility and being transparent, so people can be part of the journey of the company. Furthermore, we strive to give our employees a lot of training and learning experience, so there is a lot of professional and personal development” – Ann-Christine Roope, Ethan Partners’ founder and CEO.
There aren’t any limits to what you can accomplish
“My advice would be not to put any limits to yourself, and just go for what you want to do, but very importantly, to make a realistic plan and set the right expectations. Support is very important, and I could not have done anything without the people around me. There will be many bumps in the road, and asking for help is ok, and it’s very much needed. Life is a constant compromise between all that’s on our to-do list, and what works best for me – a continuous prioritization of those to-dos. There is always something that can wait and something that needs to be done first.” – Svetlana Kordumova, CEO of Pixyle.ai.
Scaling is all about processes
“It’s true, I’ve certainly been around the block when it comes to entrepreneurship! I’ve experienced four spectacular failures in the past, but each one has provided its own unique learning opportunity, from selling door to door, importing sporting equipment from China or tinkering with biometric payment technology. Scaling up a business effectively relies on thinking tactically and strategically. As an entrepreneur you will face daily successes and failures, but scale is about designing and deploying effective processes. Is that solution you’re putting into place going to scale effectively in line with the objective you’re trying to achieve? What processes are you going to put in place to make that work? These are the sorts of questions you should be trying to answer with your strategic focus and tactical planning in the early days. You need to live and breathe your user experience.” – Devan Hughes, founder and CEO of the grocery delivery platform Buymie.
Always ask why and then ask again
“Building a fintech company, like most new businesses, is a journey of endurance and resilience. Build on what works, understand the value clients are looking for and differentiate based on this. Listen but listen deeply to their needs, and not their specific requests, and ask why until it feels awkward – and then ask once more. Then you’ll really start to understand what’s going on. Lastly, remember that despite what is said, only a small fraction of your success or failure is actually attributable to you. You can make decisions about strategy, you can focus on execution but we’re all playing in a rapidly changing market with so many forces outside of our control: so if you can navigate those and luck aligns behind, you’ll be successful.” – Eugene Danilkis, CEO of Mambu.
You can survive in a crisis
“Embrace the new normal and focus on building a problem-solving business in the post-COVID reality. With fewer resources available, you need to concentrate on your value proposition and stay passionate about building an economy that will survive this crisis.” – Bolt’s co-founder Martin Villig.
“A Series A fundraising round typically takes several months to be closed. We started the fundraising process before the corona outbreak and finalized it during the pandemic. The key to making any fundraising process a success, during or outside a crisis, comes from clear communication. The investor needs to believe in the founding team and they really need to understand the company vision and mission. Organizations that can prove they can bring the business forward, even though in this crisis, will get funding. It’s important to have slides explaining how the impact of COVID changes your industry and how your company is actually going to help with that.” – Perttu Ojansuu, Co-Founder and CEO of Happeo.
We’ll learn mostly from the Nos
“The hardest most universal aspect of raising money for a startup is the overwhelming number of “Nos” that you will get. What is even worse are those who don’t have the courage to say no, but rather keep you in a holding pattern of optimism by saying, “if you fix this one thing, I will give this idea serious consideration”. My advice is to always be a student of the universe. Getting a meeting with an experienced investor is itself quite an accomplishment. Therefore, I say, don’t just get a no, get a lesson. Chances are the feedback you receive is borne out of the money they lost based on the less than optimal investment decisions they have made in their past. Listen, learn and try to incorporate the feedback.” – Paula Groves, Co-Founder of Impact X.
Adjust and listen to what our target group has to say
“The most important thing is to ensure that you have adjusted the focus of your business as needed to address changes in market demands. Investors are going to want to understand how you can provide your product or service to consumers who are likely to have different needs than before the pandemic, and how well you react to their behavioural changes. For example, moving forward, consumers may be more cost-conscious for a period, and they will almost certainly value businesses that enhance a sense of wellbeing and community and reduce anxiety. How can your business work to address those needs?” – Jeff Lynn, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Seedrs.
Remember to keep it simple
“The main thing for founders to consider is keeping it simple. Investment decisions are still going to be based upon the core fundamentals of a great team, a strong market and a viable product. What has changed is that these days investors want to have both massive upside potential and a realistic and not-too-distant path to profitability (or at least healthy gross margins) if funding dries up. Investors are worried about a future where capital is less abundant as it is now and they want to see founders prepared.” – Oliver Holle, CEO and co-founder of VC Speedinvest.
And after spending some years in the startup and innovation ecosystem, one very straight forward piece of advice is: get out there and talk to directly to other founders. Have a coffee or a call one day. Reach out to your network and find mentors. And for those of you who have made the decision to start, do join existing communities, hubs or accelerators in your cities or remotely – most of them offer the possibility to join no matter where you’re based nowadays. It’s the easiest and fastest way to learn and see if entrepreneurship is for you.