Cynical advice to early-stage startups

Great if you want to make the world a better place but to succeed pick a more boring business with real revenue potential.

It is admirable to want to make the world a better place and it is what everyone should do. But if that’s all you do as an entrepreneur, you won’t even do that.

Sure you can solve a problem you have experienced personally and have the company scratch an itch. But that in itself is no proof of business opportunity.

Wonderful that you have conviction. Just know that telling someone you are “fully convinced” indicates that there are no rational arguments for what you do. You are hanging off the thin and breakable thread of conviction.

Be enthusiastic and passionate all you like. But don’t allow your eagerness to block the hard questions and difficult problems you need to solve. Tenacity is more important than enthusiasm.

Don’t state that the market is enormous and even a tiny portion of it will make your company successful. Nobody gets a tiny portion. Nearly everyone gets zero % and some few get 30% or more.

If you say you have multiple revenue models or sources, you have none.

MVP is a terrific concept but don’t compromise on Viable. A nearly viable product is not viable at all.

Don’t use the words revolutionary or disruptive unless you can declare whom specifically you are disrupting.

Don’t say that all founders get along well with each other. That’s given. Otherwise you wouldn’t have started a company together. What you need to know in your heart is whether this team can get out of interpersonal conflicts and nasty problems together.

Don’t think anyone else will make you successful. You can have a Dalai Lama or Bill Gates as investor or advisor all you like. They still won’t make you successful. The only one who can make your startup successful is you.

Don’t start yet. Most founders start too early and move too slowly. Better to start later and move forcefully.

Aim for the opportunities, but be prepared for the problems. Have a plan for when you lose that deal or miss that product deadline.

Learn to manage your naïveté. Don’t kill it. Don’t overuse it. Use it to provide energy to yourself and your team. Never use it as a blanket to cover conflicts, pragmatism, caution or rational thinking. In useful proportions, naïveté is good. So is cynicism.

Finally, don’t take all advice as the truth!

Marten Mickos

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