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“When art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.”

As a founder, speaking to other startup founders is always special. After "make mistakes and learn from them", if I were to pick one other source of consistently accurate and useful advice it would be from fellow founders. 

The advice a fellow founder can give you is qualitatively different from what get from books or experts who are not on the frontline, with a few exceptions. It does not stand on ceremony or discuss mere "strategy", and is centered around logistics. It is very direct, containing empirical evidence that may be counter-intuitive. It keeps in mind that you do not have unlimited time, resources, or knowledge. 

Founders (or ex-founders) are able to give you the benefit of their learnings in a way nobody else can. 

I'm writing this series of blogposts to hopefully find an audience of founders who are looking for such a resource. There are countless books on every part of building a business, but that is often obscured by either being "too much" (i.e; having to read a 300 page book to figure out the best solution is to use Firebase) or "too little" (i.e; learning that the answer to increasing cart conversions for your eCommerce startup is to "be more aggressive", leaving you to fill out the other "unimportant" parts) 

When I started building my current startup, Livedocs, I was lucky to be mentored by founders who were years ahead of where I was. One piece of advice that stuck with me was by Daniel Gross, founder of Pioneer — "If your project is one month old, only think a month into the future. If your project is a year old, think a year into the future. If your project is ten years old, think ten years into the future." 

This continues to be the most valuable insight into what project-building is about — maintaining a day-to-day context which is connected with a long term vision. 

I want to break this series down into parts, each detailing the techniques, workflows, and tools (actual tools but also tidbits and mental models) that are helpful. Topics I hope to cover are — 

  • Hiring a cofounder or your first employee
  • Building an MVP that can morph into V1, V2, and beyond
  • Finding your first 10 users
  • Closing your first round of investment
  • How to improve your product with metrics (what to measure and what to ignore) 
  • How to keep sane while building your startup

These are the challenges I have faced. I will not comment on bridges that I am yet to cross (eg: how to IPO your startup) until I actually cross them. In this way, I can be honest with the reader and myself. 

This is in no way a comprehensive guide to any of those topics. There are industry experts and books who can add more value than these blog posts, but these are not meant to be comprehensive. Rather, they are meant to provide a primer that can help you identify where to seek additional value. 

Keep in mind, since this is purely based on empirical research, it is opinionated and definitive.

Non-specific advice

  1. Rough cast and keep moving: Avoiding the natural urge to prematurely optimize or polish things is an ongoing battle we fight. The earlier you can impose a mental "swear jar" for words like "fine tune", "polish", "refine", the more you will maximize your learnings. That's not to say attention to detail is not important, or there isn't a time you will get to do these things, just not early on.
  2. Your startup will consume you: And that's okay. Not consume as in "time-consuming", but consume as in "this is all I think about, non-stop, 24x7". If you're a first-time founder, particularly in the bootstrapping or pre-seed phase, don't let the talk about X-hour-work-week distract you. It is a luxury that only employees or later stage founders can afford. Word to the wise, though: It's recommended to be consumed by startup thoughts in the gym.
  3. Identify why you're doing this: An unsurprising commonality that I've found in most successful founders is that you don't have to scratch the surface too long before finding out that they're not in it for the money. This epiphany ultimately circles back to an internal dialogue about why you're doing this in the first place. Often, the answer to this is the same as the answer to the question: "Why are you not selling fidget spinners instead?" (unless you are, in which case ignore this last sentence)