Our startup founder shares his advice for building companies that last and staying zen no matter what the market throws at you.
It’s been eight years since I co-founded Qustodio, the leading online safety and digital wellbeing service for families. Though I have successfully founded other tech startups before, such as Redtrust, the Qustodio journey has been the most challenging business experience of my career. Looking back on nearly a decade of overcoming a variety of obstacles, I’ve put together my top 8 tips to help other entrepreneurs create businesses that last.
1. Passion first.
Great business ideas come from the understanding of a particular problem with a great level of intimacy. Many other things are important in the journey of raising company but nothing is as core and important to success as true passion for what you do. Your passion resonates with other people in ways logic and processes cannot compete, this includes connecting with your next key hire or next important customer.
2. Validate fast.
Forget about investors and 5-year plans if your sales or number of customers today are zero. Your problem is creation not repetition or scale. Pitch your product or idea to potential customers fast, deliver a working prototype even faster. Make pocketing your first paying customer your only priority.
3. Be signal-to-noise aware.
Nothing as complex as starting a company is a clean “action-equals-result” exercise. It’s noisy out there and it takes perseverance before you are able to pick up usable signals. For instance, on average it takes startups dealing with as many as 20 investors before they find one truly interested in partnering with them. I can attest to this ratio, as it pretty much took us that many interactions before finding our first seed investor.
4. Iterate, don’t look back.
Still haven’t found the customer or investor you wanted after say 40 attempts? I know it’s tiring and stressful, but if you still believe in the principles of your idea, keep going by rinsing, simplifying and repeating. Destiny awaits those who persevere.
5. Avoid convenience.
During the journey of building a company you will be tempted to take easy shortcuts to achieve short term benefits. A typical example of this is product customization or whitelabeling. Certain customers will insist on building things just for them and will be ready to pay for it, potential partners will promise a greenfield of sales should you whitelabel your product for them. Stay out of it unless this is the nature of your business or your life -truly- depends on it. Customization will make you insanely heavy, clumsy, inefficient, dependent… the list goes on.
6. Forever optimize. What you already earned is more important than what you may have tomorrow as new customers or revenue. Stay lean and take great care of your current customers, nurture them, grow them, truly become a forever partner to them. Master this art of keeping the existing customer fully invested in your existing product before prioritizing bringing on any new business that can pull away from your current acquisition ability.
7. Defend your creation.
Should your creation become business relevant, sooner or later you will be forced to fight unplanned battles that have nothing to do with pushing your next product release, or achieving that next chunk of MRR. Defend your creation, position and beliefs like there’s no tomorrow.
8. Don’t go it alone.
Startups with two founders have nearly 3X the user growth of startups with a single founder. Make sure your co-founders complement you in personality and skills. And, take the time to build a solid team of people who both have the skills and share your company values. It’s also a good idea to create alliances with your peers in the industry, including competitors.
BONUS TIP: Ignore my advice as I did with many, The world is changing at an incredible rate. While some truths, like the luck factor, are eternal, most things, like startups themselves, come and go. You’re going to get lots of feedback, many of it contradictory, in the end you have to make the decisions.
When in doubt, I follow the words of the poet Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
Good luck in your venture, you already have my admiration.