'Getting down to brass tacks' is an American expression that means 'get to the important facts'. This is what I want to do in this post. There are two reasons for this. Firstly I just realized that I have now posted to this blog over 200 times. Secondly, I am about to graduate from the Founder Institute (FI).
Both are milestones I want to celebrate by continuing on from my recent blog entry Helping Hands. In short I want to answer as directly (and as tactfully as I can) the question: How has the Founder Institute really helped me?
On reflection, these are the key insights I have gained:
- Traction is not one of the important things to worry about. In fact, it is the only thing to worry about! This is especially true if you are seeking external investors. I also learnt that traction means as a minimum completing (and measuring) a:
- 1st month offering a free trial to customers
- 2nd month converting trial users to paying ones
- 3rd month measuring how paid users continue to use your product.
- Customers must be engaged. Even if you don't have a product to sell, it is vital that you engage with potential customers to gauge their reactions and understand their feedback. If you can, make this something you do every week, every day. Call 10 people/customers before 10 am each day is something I must aspire to do if I am to succeed.
- People will inspire you. Many really want to help you and will go out of their way to do so. It is a real pleasure to have discovered so many people that want to help me on my startup journey. Each week it is humbling to be reminded of this and it is an important factor behind keeping my spirits high.
- Disappointment. There will be many and the adage that it will take you 10 times longer and be 10 time harder to build a company than you think is true. You have to be tough and resilient to succeed. Even then the odds are stacked against you. I reckon that a founder of a high-tech startup has about a 1 in 100 chance of succeeding. I may be overly optimistic.
- Just Do It. Success is not only being smart and having a great idea. Yes, you've got to work harder than any corporate job, but more importantly, you have to set clear practical goals for yourself and your team. And these have to be extremely proactive and practical. Writing a report, or thinking about how to do something is no substitute for actually building a web page, or email/calling real people and achieving something concrete.
None of the above is 100% of a surprise to me but what the FI has done is to drive home how vital each is. And maybe that is the most important lesson learnt so far: to rigorously focus on the customer, meet their needs. If you can do that - and 100 other things - then you will make money.
Sounds simple, doesn't it?
One final comment. If you are considering starting your own high-tech startup, then I recommend the FI program as an option.
Before starting the program I did a lot of research on alternatives. I chose the FI because it was very practically focused on building a company, extremely cheap for what they seemed to offer and it was part time.
Now on the cusp of graduation I am happy (and relieved) to confirm that the FI has lived up to its promise. It has been a fantastic experience. One that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Come what may.