Founders League and Verizon have teamed up to produce a series of blogs that feature startups and leaders from Rhode Island's entrepreneurial community. The series touches on technology, techniques, and ecosystem developments that are transforming our local, regional, and national startup communities.
After accelerating 90 companies, we at Betaspring and Founders League have seen just about everything, from unexpected victories to painful losses, magnificent pivots to total strikeouts. Consumer behaviors and market trends change like the wind. The qualities and benchmarks investors look for before writing a check are always shifting. Meanwhile, startup knowledge and tools keep getting better and more accessible.
Despite all this flux, here’s one thing that hasn’t changed: Building a startup is a grind. Sure, one in a thousand ventures gets discovered and bought by Google in its infancy. But the rest of us slog it out for months, sometimes years, before anything resembling a big payoff happens. And the stuff between starting and winning can be pretty grueling.
Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I think are vital to surviving the grind and building a successful venture:
Stay on Track
For startups, wandering can be good. Or, it can kill you. Founders who take exploring “tangential opportunities” to the extreme face two HUGE risks: The tangents suck up your resources and you die, or they become an excuse for not working on the harder (and likely more rewarding) opportunities they must confront. So, you want to be nimble and ready to seize unexpected opportunities … but successful ventures know how to pick a dot on the horizon and keep everyone aimed at getting there. If startups had autopsies, “distraction” would be a leading cause of death!
Take Advice, Leave Advice
Here’s the thing about getting advice from a network of mentors: It’s like drinking from a firehouse. A good startup community is a huge warehouse of advice, with each aisle and shelf loaded with insights and ideas. The path of startups is sure to be rocky, with good and bad days bleeding into one another. In good times as in bad, founders must learn to walk these aisles and decide what to take and what to leave.
The winning equation isn’t getting good advice. It’s getting good advice at right time. Creating strategies for managing the inflow of feedback and ideas is paramount to finding the balance between over and under-reacting. Literally, this means having a strategy, as an individual and as a team, for tracking advice and ideas, evaluating how and when to act, and developing a protocol for decision making.
Grow Up, Fast
Time is precious, often more so than cash. For startups, every minute wasted without making progress is one minute closer that company is to death. Nothing has killed more startups than running out of runway. And ignorance is no excuse: The world is chock full of information that is no more than a click away.
If you fall down, get up. If you have an argument, resolve it. If your product or business model is knotted in a twist, straighten it out. And if you are unsure how to solve a problem or resolve an issue, do not delay in reaching out for help. That’s what good mentors will do for you. If you think are saving face by hiding your problems, there’s a good chance your venture will go down in flames.
About the Author: Melissa Withers is chief of staff for Betaspring, ranked in 2014 as the No. 11 startup accelerator in the U.S. In this role, Withers works with a diverse portfolio of high-growth startups. She is also co-founder and a director of the Founders League, the largest co-working and entrepreneurial support platform in southeastern New England.