25 "logical" advice to startup creators from the best investors. Part one

    Unlike typical talk about startups and investors, these tips require you to make a choice. And often this choice is really perplexing.

    Having been developing startups for several years, I managed to communicate with many investors, both Russian and foreign. Here is the most complete list of tips that investors gave the team of our project Grrow.me I emphasize that the tips are addressed to the same startup. Many of the recommendations are wandering quotes from one of the great ones.

    1. MVP versus “Perfect Product”
    “By launching a project, you can never tell in advance how the market will react to it. Your vision of your product is a hallucination. No fantasy needed. Start with MVP (minimum viable product) and then use Lean Startup (a set of short iterations). Only in this way are all successful companies created. As a result, you yourself will be surprised to see the business you created. ”


    He said,

    “Only the user or your client knows what he needs. Watch the users. Do not dictate your opinion to the market, but listen to the market. Obey the market, follow him like a fish-sticking behind a whale. "

    Break me thunder if this advice is wrong. Absolutely all startup accelerators preach this principle, it is accepted in 99% of successful companies. One must be a fool to not follow this advice. However:

    “People don’t know what they really need. A survey of the late 17th century showed that passengers wanted faster horses. Only Ford, the genius of foresight, gave the world a puffing iron monster called a car. ”

    “Not a single user in the world saw the iPhone before the genius of Steve Jobs completely, from beginning to end, formed and launched the perfect product on the market. A few months before the release of the iPhone, Jobs ordered a complete remake of the product. He did this only because the smartphone that almost went into production did not suit the only user - Steve. Smartphones existed before the iPhone, and they all failed. The reason for the failures is simple - electronic products were not good enough. Do you know what firms and models they were? True, no one remembers these names. ”

    "Clients are simply not able to desire something completely new - they only know the usual things."

    “For a fund such as Sequoia Capital to invest in you, you must have Strong Vision. Your idea should be bold, strong, initially worked out, break established stereotypes. Therefore, initially she will be accepted with hostility and meet resistance. Forget about a user, even a Stanford professor, giving you product advice. People will call your service delirium. This is normal for a breakthrough startup. New scares people. But you must not give up. ”

    In general, do not listen to customers. Believe in yourself. You must know what to do.

    Such is the advice from reputable investors, backed up by facts. Very reasonable. Old Steve can't be wrong.

    2. Quit normal work or not quit
    Want to make the world a better place? "Drop everything, take it and do it." Richard Branson knows what he is talking about. He has launched hundreds of successful Virgin-branded businesses. Indeed, think for yourself, start-ups are made by thousands of the smartest people on the planet, giving it all their strength. Competition among startups has already surpassed the competition among actors in Hollywood. A successful project is always an achievement. Only super efforts can give super results.

    If you devote to your old work even only 4 hours a day, this is the way to nowhere. Millions of Chinese program for food and just wait for a chance to copy your great idea in a week while you help someone else's business for a salary.

    The place under Silicon Valley car viaducts is filled with former startups who move into cardboard boxes from their comfortable homes after the failure of the project, which was given all its strength.

    Never quit your main job until your startup starts to make a profit comparable to your salary. IT business is a roulette game. You will be more likely to roll the dice once again if you leave the rear for yourself. This is just a theory of probability, mathematics. It is impossible to believe or not to believe in mathematics. The numbers don't lie. 9 out of 10 launched startups fail. Do not lie to yourself that you have more than 1 in 10 chances.

    Are you a student and want to run a startup? Tell your idea in a fashionable event, get drunk on an auto-party, then forget everything you have come up with, and the next morning apply for a job at Google, Microsoft, Yandex, Mail, or at least Ostrovok. And then follow tip 2.2. Precisely. Literally.


    3. Loners against the team
    Alone you are doomed. The Y-combinator (Harvard among accelerators) just doesn't accept startups with fewer than two team members. And for good reason. Firstly, if you are one in a team, you cannot even convince your friend to believe in your product. Needless to say, the whole market. Secondly, the list of tasks that must be completed for a successful launch is too long for one person. Not enough time or competencies. You will have to program, draw design and sketches, prepare pitches, presentations, do networking, bookkeeping, open a company, understand contracts. Isn't the list too big even for Alexander the Great?

    In addition, Bill Gates had Paul Allen. Larry Page - Sergey Brin. Jobs has Wozniak. That says it all. Need more arguments? However:

    Nginx - a complex software product was written by one person. Dropbox, whose capitalization exceeded 10 billion, Drew Houston launched alone, and then frantically searched for a cofounder. And finally, Nikola Tesla - this name alone says a lot.

    You must feel that you can turn the world around, even alone. Otherwise, you and the whole team will fail.


    4. To take or not to take money of investors?
    You commit a crime against your project and against the team, if you do not take the money of investors at the moment when they offer you. Paul Graham Startup Guru. Master Yoda of the Y-combinator.

    “Markets move in a sinusoid. Periodically, they are in a fever of the financial crisis. Force majeure happens. Hard times are coming. Even if you are doing well financially now, take the money. Then it will press you, but no one will give money. The project may show negative dynamics in the future. A financial pillow from banknotes will help to survive difficult times and overcome the "Valley of Death". Otherwise, the crisis will break out, and you will die with your 100% of the company. ”

    As he looks into the water. Valuable advice. Must follow. But:


    “Do not take the money of investors. Until the last ruble, fight for the project without capitulating to the greedy financial tycoons. Grow on your own until there is a crumb of bread in the house. The percentage of your company that you need to give in return for investment is too valuable. Today you will give back 35% for a million dollars, and tomorrow you will be begged to take 100 million bucks for 3.5%. "

    "You have to be an idiot to thoughtlessly scatter shares in the project for some candy wrappers that will fly off into the pipe anyway."

    And remember: "The temptation to surrender will be especially strong shortly before victory." Indeed, even a Buddha would not have put it better.


    5. At what age to start?
    “Only a person who does not yet know that this is an unattainable goal can build a million-dollar business on the network.” A successful startup is always a step beyond the existing, it is building a new world. Only young people have a fresh outlook on things. Only young people see problems that people simply don’t have in their 25s. Can a 40-year-old person think of exchanging sex photos through a mobile application? Is it possible to come up with a Snapchat in 40? Names such as Zuckerberg, Page and Brin, Kalkanis, clearly give a signal to the market - invest in the young.

    "The old horse will not spoil the furrow." Young people learn from their mistakes for a long time, and this process is expensive for the company. To build a successful business, you need to have wisdom that comes only with experience. Examples of Jack Welch, Larry Ellison, who only built a business in 35, show the benefits of experienced people. Statistics show that people over 40 are 80% more likely to be more successful than young people.

    “When we invest in youth, our money goes to their education. The team does not work, the business is waiting for the collapse. Then they launch a new company, using the experience gained. After several similar iterations, the already founding founders finally have a successful business. A sensible investor will invest only at this moment. ”

    6. Do only what you know well. Versus Discover the unknown: treasures await beyond the horizon
    “Launching a startup is like jumping off a cliff and trying to assemble a plane in flight.” Raid Hoffman (creator of LinkedIn, billionaire, investor). Throw yourself into battle, do incomprehensible things. In today's world, the competition is so great that all known problems have already been resolved. If thousands of people know about the problem, then you do not have the advantages of a discoverer. The largest companies pay millions to analysts who describe known issues in their reports. After that, giants throw thousands of their employees to solve these problems. Everyone wants to make money. You will not be able to compete with Google. Therefore, try to solve only those problems that analysts will never know about. How to do it? Only engaging in a completely new direction in which no one has experience, including you. You will be the first to gain experience in the process.

    Do only what you know well. Successful startups are obtained solely on insiders, on a deep knowledge of the industry. Long work in a certain area gives a person an understanding of such problems that others simply do not see. You need to quickly overcome the "Valley of Death" and go for profit. Spending resources on experiments is an inadmissible luxury. Thousands of sailors, still feeding fish at the bottom of coral reefs, fall on one Columbus.

    7. Know your monetization or just attract users
    Before starting the project, decide how the service will make money. You have a bunch of users, cool retention (returnability) and crazy growth that Facebook never dreamed of? Wait rejoicing, history remembers a ton of such bankrupt companies. As a rule, they sell the ruble for 10 kopecks. For example, free services for uploading pictures and inserting into forums, services for free downloading files - such projects are quickly gaining popularity, but, like two hundred kilogram wild boars, they constantly consume the capacity of server disks and the bandwidth of your communication channels. Soon, losses begin to amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. And so it will be until you run out of money. After all, closing such a traffic project for a startup is worse than stepping on his throat.

    More examples - YouTube’s appetite reached a million dollars a day, before it began to bring the first cent. It's good that it was acquired by Google, which had that kind of money. Many YouTube competitors just went broke. Or remember Groupon, which sold half the price of other people's services - soon the restaurants, whose revenue fell sharply, refused to serve customers at half the price.


    The main precept of Silicon Valley investors is that a project at any given time should concentrate on only one thing. On growth or on monetization. Combining is equal to death. Profiting from a project that has no users is problematic. Therefore, forget about monetization and think only about the growth and retention of users. We will give you money. Look who has now taken over the Internet - giants like Pinterest, which has reached billions of dollars in capitalization, without even thinking about making money. You know, when you’re big, they’ll just buy you for it. As was the case with the hopelessly unprofitable Tumbrl (Yahoo bought it for a billion). In our world, it is important to be a big hippo. Nothing else matters. Instagram, Snapchat, WatsApp, Viber and others like them. There is a trend that is criminally ignored. The rest of the world simply does not understand anything on the Internet.

    8. Is a technical director needed from the start?
    From the very first day a startup is founded, you need a good technical director. Better if it is a genius with Asperger Syndrome. An unobtrusive type who eschews people and spends a whole day at the computer simply because he has nothing more to do. This can hack the Pentagon network in three days, asking for only two burgers and a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola.

    If you start without those. Director, then your project will fail. You just spend a lot of time, initial motivation (the fuse is very important), but you can never do cool technical things, and your service will fall under the first load. We'll have to write all the code again, and this is at the moment when the money is already over, and the competitors saw your take-off and copied your service in two and a half days.

    Freelancers will blackmail you, realizing how much you need a new feature, and take the project hostage. One cunning freelancer is able to suck dry the wallet of an unlucky startup. As a result, the latter will go around the world with a cart taken away from the nearest supermarket.

    Quality hired development is utopia. For example, Indians (inexpensive literate freelancers) confuse footer with header. Think for yourself, you have a foreign language and they have one too. Broken phone in the square. Belarusian developers will take the money and disappear, realizing the opacity of the legal borders.

    In the end, there are many more gifted technical directors than good entrepreneurs with ideas. I tell you exactly. Just look at GitHub - how many talents are there who sculpt beautiful dummies and find no use for their technical genius. They need an entrepreneur with an idea, they themselves are looking for such.

    Why do you need a technical director? You can always hire a freelance student or run a startup on WordPress, as Groupon did. Jumla to help you. Talk frivolously? Are you a serious entrepreneur yourself? Most hypotheses are tested on DruPal.

    Pinterest was made by non-technical guys. Yes, they changed several development teams, but they knew what they were doing, and in the end they won. As the project grows those. You’ll need a director, but first you need to do more realistic things. One cannot find a good programmer during the day with fire. Literate guys work for large companies. Head giants from IT giants set surveillance and round-the-clock surveillance of the homes of professional coders. As soon as programmers go beyond the threshold of their home, they immediately begin to be seduced by multi-million dollar contracts. Recruiters shake chubby checkbooks in front of them and even show pictures of yachts that will become the property of programmers after only three years of work on Google. So don’t even dream. Look, Silicon Valley forums are filled with the sobs of founders who can't write code. It comes to the point that founders with a design or economics background begin to learn Ruby or Pyphon themselves. There is nothing to do. The best way out is friendly guys from India. They take it inexpensively.

    Such is the advice. Sounds reasonable. It looks logical, especially if you recall 8.1.

    9. Work with rest or without
    Work all the way around the clock, otherwise you will achieve a result called "nothing." Bloomberg, who became the billionaire and mayor of New York, even worked at a brokerage firm at the beginning of his career at lunchtime, when everyone else went to eat hot dogs and drink coffee. What do you think, how many of his colleagues became millionaires? That's right, only he is one.

    In the Y-combinator, in the first couple of months of work on the project, they recommend closing at home and not going outside. Don't go out at all. Order food at home and invite housekeepers. Of course, do it online.

    Do you have a family or girlfriend? Startups are not allowed to know these terms.


    Keep a balance. Mandatory time for rest, family and friends is necessary - this will allow you to collect your thoughts and simply increase work efficiency.

    Do you know a fairy tale about a driven horse? Or about sharpening an ax. Two foresters argued who would cut down 10 larch faster. One rolled up his sleeves, and only slivers flew. And the second will chop, chop, and then sharpen the ax. So the second won. That says a lot.

    Not only will you be left with nothing if you fail, without money, you’ll lose all your friends and relatives. Think about it. It is impossible to overestimate the moral support provided by the family.

    About family and girls, we will have a separate advice at number 17.

    10. Do I need a startup Adviser (adviser)?
    Advisers receive a share in the project, and in return give their valuable experience, advice and connections. Sometimes these people are called mentors.
    “Never, remember, never give back a share in a project to someone who does not invest their own money in a project. It happens that a large fund invests 10 million in a startup, and then simply forgets about it and does not lift a finger for the sake of salvation from the crisis. Do you think that a person who has not invested a dime, that is, risking nothing, will bring you any benefit? ”

    “Firstly, you can’t guess in advance whether the mentor will help you and make any efforts. Secondly, it is not known whether these efforts will benefit the project. It’s just not known. ”

    “Advisers know how to speak - well, otherwise you would not be asked to become advisers. But whether they know how to do something is not a fact at all. ”

    Mentors, taking advantage of their fame, can simply play roulette - they become advisers to all startups who turn to them with such an offer. For example, it is not uncommon for an adviser to participate in 20–25 projects. Such information can be found on AngelList. In addition, the adviser, as a rule, occupies a position in a large company, is on the board of directors of other companies or is engaged in his own project. It is easy to calculate how much time he can devote to your project. This amount of time is difficult to distinguish from zero.

    If you need advice on your project, consider whether you are going the right way? After all, you are engaged in the project 24 hours a day, rummaged through all the possible information on the topic. How can a mentor's advice help you, which is simply off topic because you are passionate about other things?

    In general, advisers are simply trying to convert their popularity into their money. Convincing words? However:

    Be sure to attract advisers. The percentage of the project given to them is small - as a rule, about 1%. But the big name in your project immediately attracts attention. The mentor’s name alone can open the door to the best venture funds and guarantee access to the top media. Do not skimp - no one was hurt from an overabundance of expertise. You are immersed in the project and do not see many things. You just need a side view.

    Still in doubt? About.me began by inviting 30 of the most famous people on the network to become advisers, including Kevin Rose himself. And he offered them a share in the project. After the opening, mentors started pages on the project and invited their followers. Tons of press rained on About.me. Now the project is one of the thousand most visited sites in the world and has become a multi-million dollar business. And all thanks to the tactics of attracting mentors.
    The start-up attracted investments of only 17.1 million dollars. Imagine what its capitalization is.

    These are just 10 tips. In the second part of the article, you will find even more discouraging advice from real investors. And a paradoxical conclusion in the end.

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