Founder principles

Sometimes I like to write out the key learnings of my founder journey so far. Mine are a combination of things I've read and heard mixed with things I've experienced. Feel free to borrow from them, remix them, and disregard any that don't resonate. Just like being a parent, being a founder is a personal journey and everyone approaches it differently.

Your first few attempts will likely suck, so get them out the way.

No-one learns to drive by watching YouTube videos. No-one learns a musical instrument by listening to the radio. So don't expect to learn to be a founder by reading the latest entrepreneur books. You have to learn by doing, and like all things you will start off bad and get better over time. Facebook was Mark Zuckerberg's 10th product. Noah Kagan launched over 20 businesses before hitting success with AppSumo.

If you're being precious about your first attempt, don't be.

Always choose the customer before the idea.

If you have any ideas where you're not quite sure of who the customer is, lose them. The world is full of options and customers are right to be picky. Unless you are laser-focused on the precise needs of a specific niche of individuals, it is unlikely any group will want your solution.

Proven businesses in unsexy niches > moonshot ideas.

Drop your idea for a new social network. If you don't want to, then save it for your third or fourth business. Start with something small and achievable. Survivorship bias makes moonshot businesses seem more possible than they actually are. The really smart people aim for proven businesses.

Monetise earlier.

This forces you to ask the difficult questions early on and prevents you wasting time on an idea that no-one will actually pay for. Yes, it feels scary to ask for money for a half-baked or non-existent product. But it's not half as bad as spending months building something and then launching it to find no-one wants it.

50% of your time should be spent marketing, selling, or interacting with customers.

This is the easiest one to overlook, particularly if you love building things. But it's a hard truth. All the features you're planning don't mean anything unless you have customers to use them. And if your customers genuinely don't want to use your app because it's lacking a feature, you probably don't understand your core value proposition.

Ship and iterate fast.

As a solo founder your ability to ship features fast is one of your biggest competitive advantages. It sends a hugely positive message to your early users. It prevents you from being a perfectionist. And it enables you to quickly learn what works and what doesn't.

Small businesses + growing market = the best customers.

Have you tried selling something to a large corporate? Or even to a school, a hospital, or a council? Anywhere that has a finance or IT department is employing people whose job it is to say no to almost everything that comes their way.

Small businesses in growing markets are perfect because they probably have surplus cash and there may only be one decision-maker you need to impress. They're also more likely to want to support a solo-founder if they were one recently.

Embrace the pivot.

Almost every successful business had to pivot or change course along the way. Perhaps you chose the wrong market to start with. Perhaps a small feature of your app turns out to be the thing people want. Whatever surprises come your way, if you are open to them and ready to react, you are much more likely to make smart decisions.

With enough attempts success becomes the default outcome - optimise for longevity.

In my mind, this is the most important rule. I constantly forget the other rules and that often contributes to failures. But I ultimately know that if I keep, trying success is inevitable.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">9 out of 10 startups fail<br>But 9 out of 10 entrepreneurs won&#39;t.<br><br>Read that again</p>&mdash; Sahil is on a short break (@sahilypatel) <a href="https://twitter.com/sahilypatel/status/1428697478480625680?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 20, 2021</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>