tag:atsu.posthaven.com,2013:/posts 2020-02-16T15:10:00Z Atsu Davoh tag:atsu.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1509451 2020-02-14T14:23:34Z 2020-02-16T15:10:00Z How To Successfully Start a Startup.

I want to give some advice about how to transition from having an idea to creating a startup with steady traction. This essay will particularly be useful to founders in the African context. Please note that the essay is called "How to successfully start a startup", and not "How to start a successful startup". I'll be talking about the former since I was able to turn my idea into a product and get to $1 million in transactions within the first 4 months. I've been able to successfully get my idea well above the ground, but we are not “successful“ yet. The latter essay will hopefully come in a few years. My advice is based on my experience building @BitsikaAfrica.

  1. Work on something interesting. The logical way to arrive at this is to observe the fastest growing industry in tech and build your company there. You may end up working on your startup for decades, so you don't want to go into a field you're not interested in, no matter how promising or big it is. The solution to this dilemma is to work on whatever idea you find interesting and try to make it as big as possible.

  2. Avoid spending too much time trying to figure out how to start your startup. Start the damn thing. Some people spend so much time (months) trying to figure out the best way to start their company instead of just starting. Don't be one of them. Planning to go work at another startup with the hopes of learning how to build yours is just another waste of time and a lazy excuse. There's no better way to learn than to do. Be a doer.

  3. The harder the project you work on, the easier your circumstances will be. This sounds counter-intuitive, but when you work on the hardest and coolest ideas, the smartest and richest, most resourceful people in society will trip over each other to help you. Fellow smart people will not want to work on an easy project with you. They want something remarkable. Life is short. Work on something hard and interesting.

  4. The app you release will be very different from what you imagined in your mind. This is because a lot of assumptions go into developing the first version of your project. The market will shape your project into what it should be. Allow it because the market is never biased.

  5. Remember that no one cares about your app or company remotely as much as you do. You should, therefore, try to remove any stress that a user may experience in trying to use your app for the first time. Be rudely honest with yourself about what is working in your business and what is not. And have the confidence to make necessary changes quickly.

  6. Ignore pressure from incumbent people in your industry who want to stifle your ambition and keep you in check. They will tell you what you're building is crazy, and they will point out many reasons (reasons obvious to them) why what you're building won't work. Become intentionally stubborn and disobedient. You will be surprised by how little these industry traditionalists ("industry leaders") know about the new tech you're working with or the direction you are taking. This can easily make you feel stupid or make you feel like you're doing something wrong or wasting your time. Take the opposite approach. Realize that if the incumbent knew what you did, they would have already built your startup. Use their ignorance as a way to get ahead. And also use their ignorance as a primary reason to reject any advice or suppression from them. Go crazy. Go fast. Be rebellious and don't care. 90% of startups fail anyway, so take a big risk. The same incumbent companies might hate your success. Learn to ignore that.

  7. You should learn how to code. It's worth it. And regardless of what you've heard, you can become a decent coder within 6 months. A good start-up founder is one who can think quickly and clearly about his idea, make decisions and execute in time. You cannot be efficient or fast if you have to run around for a year trying to find a programmer for your app. The programmer will never have the same passion as you do. I should write another essay on how to become a programmer but for now, you can start with tutorials on Lynda.com. Know that the English language is the most complex thing you have learned thus far in your life. Programming is way easier.

  8. If you really cannot code and have to hire a freelancer, find the best person for the job. You can find them from their previous work or recommendations on twitter. Coders are very valuable people. Don’t waste your time or theirs by proposing to pay them in equity, as freelancers. You'll go 5 years without finding a coder if you do this. They are expensive, and rightfully so. “But I don’t have money to pay a coder now.” If you're serious about releasing your app within the decade, you have to be willing to work at a day job for a few months to save up the money needed to hire a coder. Or just learn how to code.

  9. Be willing to fail your way to product-market fit. The only destination of your app is to arrive at a point where people cannot help but use your app daily because of just how much value it gives them. It's very unlikely that the first version of your app will meet this standard. You need to develop the diligence and endurance needed to modify things until you arrive at a version of your app people love. This is not just limited to slight changes in the structure of your app. Develop the confidence needed to change your whole app idea and rebuild it from scratch if needed; till you arrive at something people love. Aim to re-build your app from scratch at least four times a year till you arrive at something people love. Talk to your users and prioritise complaints over suggestions.

  10. The "build and they will come" trope is a total myth. You need to take active steps towards getting users for your product. Most users will take a while to be convinced, so you could hack the process by starting earlier. Build your community around your product far ahead of releasing the app. Find hundreds of people online who are likely to use your app when it comes out. Create a WhatsApp/Telegram group for them. Engage them a few times a week through development updates, milestone announcements, etc. Host QnAs. Let them test the buggy minimal (pre-beta) versions of your app, as each new build comes out. Do occasional giveaways. You'll realize that hundreds of people will now be ready to use your app on its first day because you have already spent weeks building a tribe, a cult. Also run ads on Google, Facebook and Twitter. They work like magic.

  11. Don't spend money if you don't have to. Try as much as possible not to look or act like a startup in the cliche sense. This will save you a lot. So don't get an office if you don't have to, don't build internal tools from scratch if you could just use Notion, Airtable, AWS, etc. Impress yourself by how long you can extend your runway.

  12. Be anti-fragile. Anti-fragility is when you build endurance through exposure. In the early days, things will break. Try not to cover them too much or appear perfect. Do things more in the open; fail openly, openly communicate to your users and community when things are not doing well. Delight in having things break and having problems. And always solve these problems in user groups or openly on twitter for everyone to see. When users see you experience obstacles over and over and see with their eyes how you solved them, they will trust you more and feel safer with you. "I’m not scared if anything goes wrong. Bitsika will eventually refund my money. I trust them. I’ve seen them do it many times”.

  13. Knowing the right people in your industry is an ultimate way to easily access the resources needed to advance your project. Don't go to conferences or events to meet the top people. It’s an ineffective strategy because all the newcomers in your industry are also doing the same. The market is flooded. Rather put your self in the position where the top people want to be associated with you. How? Work on something cool or hard, put yourself out there, be active on twitter, help other people in your field with what they’re building. If what you're building is good enough, and you’re visible enough, the top guys will come.

  14. You can also take advantage of pre-packaged networks. Pioneer, Y Combinator, Binance Labs and Microtraction come to mind. Getting into any of these programs/accelerators guarantees entry into a top-class of people in their respective communities. These programs are very difficult to get into, so they cannot serve as a general prescription for most people. On the other hand, you can use your entry into these programs as a test of how good you are.

  15. Don't take forever to hire people for your company. Ignore the advice that suggests you take months to hire. You don't have time to waste. Tell as many people as possible about what you're building. Have a bias towards hiring people who are genuinely excited about your project. Strongly consider people who have built cool projects of their own and are well regarded in the community. Bring as many of such people on board to work on your project. Be strict about politely firing people who don't work out and keeping and rewarding people who fit well. You will meet brilliant coders who you won't get along with or who will not fit into the culture of your company. You'll be tempted to bring them on, but don't. People will come and go in your company’s history. Always understand that no matter what happens, you should keep going on.

  16. Always keep the public interested in what you’re doing. In the early days, make it a point to announce major milestones frequently. If these milestones have impressive numbers, you can end up attracting important people to your project. Twitter milestone announcements reach very far, serving as free press for your company.

  17. Whatever reason why your users are using your app now is not a competitive advantage and will not remain that for long. Don't believe your hype. Find out how you can add more value to your app, always. Adding more value will bring more numbers and users. If you keep building value, that value will compound over time and competitors will find it hard to catch up with you. By the time they catch up, you've created more value.

  18. All the smart people say “ignore haters”. Ignoring the haters is good, but it’s better suited for people who have established themselves and have a lot to lose. When you're new and anonymous, you have enough padding to take risks with haters. Engage them in their desperation. Reply to them. Clap back. Use them for free attention to promote your app. Cause a little trouble but don't burn any bridges. When you become bigger, you can’t clap back anymore. Lol.

  19. Do a lot of things and move extremely fast. You may start getting some praise from users early but know that a more well-funded start-up can come into the market and wipe you out. So you have to move fast and add more value to your app for users or get a lot of users. Moving fast doesn't mean you should develop unhealthy practices like cutting sleep. Moving fast means doing things in exactly the time frame they’re needed to be done and doing many of those things back to back. It may take 3 weeks to build a feature, but some may brood on it for 4 months. So people who do that in 3 weeks will appear to be moving very fast to someone who would take four months. Aim to be the three weeks guy. And build many of those 3-week features back to back.

  20. Choose investors who will become your friends. Avoid investors who treat you like they're your boss. Rather go for investors who think it’s a privilege to be a part of what you're building. The later kind of investors believe in you more than you believe in your idea and will be an endless source of new insights, network connections, and moral support. Aim to form a friendly relationship with your investors where you don't care about impressing them but rather share every single thing with them, including bad performance. These investors will serve as mentors and help you strategize about how to win future investors as well. Delay fundraising until you need it. Delayed raise plus an awesome project equals a great valuation. Never desperately take money at a horrible valuation. You’ll regret it forever.

  21. Fundraising is the easiest and most difficult thing to do at the same time. Think of it as the Olympics. How does one qualify for the 100m finals in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics this summer? Just become one of the top 9 fastest people on earth, then boom, you will be at the Olympics this summer. Qualifying for the Olympics is the easiest thing to do (just become the fastest runner in the world) and also the most difficult (how the fuck will I become the fastest person on earth?). Think of fundraising the same way. If you wanna raise money, become the fastest runner in the world. Become a startup that’s adding so much value to society that investors have no option than to join you. It’s as simple as that.

  22. Don't flinch at the opportunity to do things that are extreme or excellent or challenge your limit of what you think your capabilities are. The legends of the industry like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk do not have two heads. They have one head like you. They are hard workers and have a great team, just like you. Ignore and exceed self-imposed limitations. Do extreme things. Say you’re currently building your app in Ghana because that’s where you were born. But the biggest market for your project is in Nigeria. Do the extreme thing of boarding a plane to Nigeria to go build the app there instead to increase your odds of success. Always do the extreme thing.

  23. You will experience good problems that come with scaling. If your product is good enough, you will one day get more requests than you can handle. You'll be unable to respond to all customer tickets (in time). Your app will have blackouts where users are at your neck because a third-party API is not working well. And many similar things. Don't hide these problems in embarrassment. The failures are known as "good problems". Good problems are a very clear indication of success and product-market fit. Your friends would love to hear this, investors too. Share this info with as many people as you can. And as openly as you can. You'll be surprised how many powerful people come out of the woodworks to help you. People love a winning team.

  24. When you successfully start your startup, kindly write a better essay so I can delete this one.

Say hi at atsu@bitsika.africa or @atsudavoh

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Atsu Davoh