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Texts with Founders: 20 Ideas Halfway Through ODF19
On co-founders, fundraising, being disrupted, and more.
This is the 20th weekly post from Texts with Founders — tested tactics for early-stage startups. This is a special issue to coincide with ODF. We’ll be back next week with scheduled programming.
20 Ideas Halfway Through ODF19
We're 50% through the 19th cohort of ODF — the program I run to help exceptionally talented people explore starting startups in San Francisco.
Here are 20 miscellaneous ideas about founders, startups, AI, sales, fundraising, and more taken from the first half of ODF19 — sourced from fellows, guests, and me (blame me for the ones you disagree with most vehemently :)).
Are you ready to work ten years on it?
When pitching customers, there's a risk in focusing on the capped upside (founder: "This will save you money") while leaving significant downside (potential buyer: "If this goes wrong just once, I'm so fired") undiscussed.
Tire-kickers < Paid Tire-kickers. If you're solving a big enough problem for customers, they should be willing to pay to try it out.
The big vision is only compelling if you can articulate the first steps clearly. If not, it's hard to imagine how you'll get there.
If your co-founder lacks conviction and remains that way even after getting into YC, it's unlikely they'll ever fully commit.
When raising, it's not about the amount of runway you'll have; it's about what milestone(s) you can achieve during that time.
Similarly, regarding "use of funds," — focus on outputs (X paying customers) instead of inputs (hiring Y engineers)
If you raise money at a high valuation, spend it slowly.
There are two types of co-founders: pre-idea (you co-create it) and post-idea (they join your mission). The kind of co-founder will impact their attributes (pre-idea will likely be more generalist and post-idea more specialized)
Give SEO 6 months, but you should have very short feedback periods for all other growth/acquisition tactics.
If you're in B2B, close your first customer in the Midwest.
Distribution: who has access to the audience that you want to reach?
Selling to the government isn't easy — but at least their email addresses and phone numbers are public.
Even if you're a technical founder, sometimes a mockup is sufficient to gauge customer demand. A solo technical founder started one of the fastest-growing companies in the history of ODF and got his first paying customer commitment with a Figma doc before writing a line of code.
First-time founders benefit from co-founders.
Good investors know there are exceptions to every rule: solo founders have built incredible companies.
Raising from your former bosses (the amount doesn't matter — even $1k) is the ultimate endorsement.
Ship quickly. Spending four months on an app's backend could be futile if a new tool or update emerges that allows you to achieve the same result in just two weeks—a scenario that's happened before.
Some investors say AI is an extending innovation (benefits incumbents), not a disruptive one (benefits new startups) — the answer is actually "it depends." Try to be clear-eyed about which applies to your startup.
AI means the ground is constantly shifting under you — make sure you're building in a problem space you care about so you will feel motivated to push through instability.
Looking to explore starting your next thing?
ODF20 kicks off in late January. Learn more and apply here.
I'm blown away by just how much ODF has exceeded my expectations and even the praise others have given it. Tons of great people, so well run, love hearing the team and guests share their immense startup knowledge/insights - and more.
That’s all for this week — thanks for reading.
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The Student (Dis)Advantage - Overcoming the credibility gap
Company Values - Use them to attract and repel
Support - Create the headspace to help others
VCs that Ghost - Dealing with investors that drag out the process
Intros and Forwardable Emails - Make it easy for connectors to facilitate introductions
App Launch: Valuation Calculator - Counterintuitive fundraising strategies
Tranche Fundraising - Give early investors a "buy-it-now" price
MFNs - Are they a lousy deal or free money?
Weekly Investor Updates - Keep investors close and yourself on track
Check Size Doesn’t Matter - Forget minimum amounts and optimize for quality people
Raise the round behind you - Avoid a drawn-out process and optimize for the best investors.
Conditional Commitments - Why they aren't commitments and what to do about them.
Handling Inbound From Investors - Avoid distractions and keep potential investors warm.
How “Good Guy” Phrases Torpedo a Pitch - And how to win over customers and investors
Avoid Hiring Too Early - Navigate external pressure focused on vanity metrics
Customers understand before investors do - And some investors will never understand
The Benefits and Downsides of Responsiveness - Where it can help and where it can backfire.
Avoiding Gossip - Nimbly navigate an awkward scenario.
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