I mean that in the most constructive way possible!
You’re unlikely to recruit founders, raise money, gain traction, earn revenue, get acquired or go public. You’re very likely to fail.
To beat these odds, you need to be doing everything you can to find an edge, especially pre-funding or pre-revenue.
Here are 3 of the most common questions I disappointingly ask early stage startups:
1. You’re not full-time?
It’s insulting to ask an investor for money if you’re not full-time on your startup.
You need to be way beyond the one-foot-in stage before raising a round. If you don’t believe in the idea enough to go all-in, why should investors, customers or your team believe it?
Full-time is the bare minimum. Large companies are working 40 hours a week, with way more resources. How can you accomplish more each day than them? You need to work longer. You can’t expect balance in your life, especially when the team is small. You need complete obsession over work.
Assume there is competition working on the exact same idea. Even if you don’t know about them, imagine them. They are small startups, medium sized companies, and large enterprises. They are working relentlessly. They could launch faster. They could launch bigger. Let the threat drive you forward.
Work weekends, work evenings, pull all nighters. Obsess over it.
2. Where’s your demo?
You need a demo, and it needs to be amazing.
If you get feedback on that demo, consider it then implement it right away. Stay up all night and work on it. There should be at least two of you; the CEO demoing during the day and the CTO working all night to implement. Iterate, iterate, iterate, as fast as possible.
The important thing here is momentum. You need serious momentum. You need an unstoppable train. Your momentum will attract your team, investors, and customers.
3. You have side projects?
Side projects will distract and kill your startup.
You should be working with obsessive focus on one idea and one idea only. Facebook was almost killed by Zuckerberg’s side project.
Side-projects are great for creativity. Many developers have side projects that they use to keep their skills sharp. Many companies have R&D labs or a percentage of hack time. Early stage startups are not the place for side projects.
Write all your ideas down, then get back to focus. Constantly consider priority. What is the most important thing you could be doing right now to move customer or investor relationships forward? Your entire company should be thinking this way.
You need every edge you can get
Your only edge is to find an edge everywhere. Long hours, momentum, focus.
It’s not sustainable, and that’s a good thing. If you can’t make it work then you fail fast. Pivot or fold and try again! If you CAN make it work you can hire enough people to bring back a healthy work-life balance.
Set goals for your team in short intervals. We will achieve X by Y date or we will [pivot, fold, etc].
Remember, beating the odds isn’t easy, but there are many ways to find an edge.