Q: What is your advice for folks that want to be startup CEOs?
For first-time CEOs, here’s my top list:
- Budget 24 months to get to initial traction. It always takes longer than you’d ever think, especially in B2B / SaaS. Somehow, you have to find a way to fund it, hack it, do whatever it takes to budget at least 24 months to build a real business. More here. Way too many founders don’t really have a way to make it 24 months in the early days. If you don’t … maybe don’t startup yet.
- Maybe don’t do it if you can’t commit for 10 years. It’s OK to have optionality in the early days. But if you deep down aren’t sure you want to do this startup for 10 years, assuming it does even just reasonably well … then you don’t have the fire. At least not this for this one. More here.
- Slow down if you don’t have the right co-founders. Many folks settle for the best co-founder they can find. At some level, that’s always true. But don’t settle, anyways. Make sure, if nothing else, that your co-founder is better than you. More here.
- Do more market research and especially customer interviews in the early days. Market research can only take you so far with a live product to share, but it still helps. Talk to at least 20 prospective customers, ideally more. Try to learn what their top pain point really is. And listen. What you think potential customers want and what they really want is usually not the same. Even if you’d worked in that market. More here.
- Really understand how you are / will be better than the competition. Customers only care about some things being better — not everything. What is your 10x feature? And is it the right feature? Is it really something customers are willing to take new vendor risk on. Are you sure? You have to have a strong thesis on why you will win. And test it. For real. More here.
- Think about if your team is truly agile enough. There are so, so many vendors today. That means the world moves faster. The startups that can build more great software, faster, often win. How will you build an agile team? Are you sure you really have one? If you aren’t sure you have a truly great CTO, you probably don’t.
- Carefully listen to, but don’t heed the advice, of most smart people. It is so easy to be a critic. Learn from those who have walked a mile in your shoes. But don’t be discouraged if they don’t 100% get it.
- Get all the great help you can find. You will need it. Apply to the top accelerators. Get the best mentors. Read everything. Notwithstanding the prior point, you’re not the first to have done 98%+ of what you plan to do in your startup. We all need one great mentor, a boost, some help. Seek her out and do whatever it takes to get her on the team. A bit more here.
A bit more here: The Top 10 Mistakes First Time SaaS Founders Make | SaaStr
(note: an updated SaaStr Classic answer)
Published on March 4, 2023