A difficult way to start a startup

Takeaway: A startup created to do something the founder wants to do is a lot more difficult than a startup created to solve a problem that the founder has experienced and dealt with first-hand.

At Escala.vc, we believe there is no recipe for a successful startup. We avoid providing blanket recommendations or generic directions to entrepreneurs. Each startup is unique and will depend on many idiosyncratic factors and decisions to succeed or fail.

In successful startups, a couple of decisions usually turn out to be good, and in failures most decisions turn out to be bad.

We, like most VCs, are not especially good at predicting what startups will succeed and which ones will fail (on average the VC industry hit ratio or ability to predict winners is only about 30%) but we start to get excited when we find teams that demonstrate their ability and willingness to make good decisions.

After hearing out hundreds of founders we have observed certain indicators that, while not predicting the final success or failure of a startup, help predict the relative difficulties the startup will face to progress. Because startups are never easy, it is important to minimize the encountered difficulties. Choosing how to start a startup is one of the key decisions.

A startup created to do something the founder wants to do is a lot more difficult to execute than a startup created to solve a problem that the founder has experienced and dealt with first-hand. Being an entrepreneur is hard enough, don’t make your life more difficult.

Beyond an observed correlation, we believe there is causation:

  • Lower Flexibility:  A startup that evolves continuously can better adapt to the needs of its users. If you are set on doing something in a particular way, it will be more difficult to change what you are doing. The alternative is to be set on solving a problem and adapting as needed to achieve a better solution.
  • Poor Market Understanding: When you are solving a problem and you solve it, it becomes immediately clear to you who will be your next 100 or 1,000 customers. You know the qualities of those individuals, can relate to them, maybe know a bunch of them, and know how to sell them your solution: “Stop doing X in 10 hours, now you can do Y in 2 minutes”. If you just wanted to “do this great idea”, how do you know who else will use it? Will it solve their problem too?

If you are choosing to start a startup, consider making a good decision and chose to solve a problem. This approach is likely to maximize your chance of gaining traction and allow you to learn faster in the process. Demonstrating your ability to make good decisions also plays well with potential venture capitalist or angel investors.

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