Conversations with several founders over the last few days have reminded me of some key differences between first-time founders and those who've been there and done it before.
Some of the obvious ones:
- First-time founders try to raise money to light a fire. Experienced founders raise money to pour fuel on one that's already burning.
- First-time founders assume building software is like building a house. Once it's done, it just needs maintenance. Experienced founders know software is never "built" and budget accordingly.
- First-time founders don't interview users before building. Experienced founders don't build anything before nailing their user personae, journeys, and interviews.
- First-time founders think "if I build it, they will come". Experienced founders know no product sells itself. Distribution first, product-market fit later.
- First-time founders assume fundraising (and exits) can happen in days or weeks. Experienced founders know it's never less than 3 months, and may take a year or more.
- First-time founders don't think too much about culture, people management and process, and often try to do everything themselves. Experienced founders build high-functioning teams from the outset. They create a culture of hiring brilliant, self-disciplined people, who don't need to be managed, then giving them the space to succeed within clearly defined parameters..
Learning from mistakes
If you're a first-time founder, there are tactics here that you could apply immediately. Most of them would give you an immediate advantage over other first-timers. Having said that, as many experienced startup investors and operators might tell you - trying and failing is sometimes just as important as having the right playbook.
In our experience, here at DQ, the best founders are humble, coachable, and fast learners. The most powerful lessons are often those that hurt the most, and it's important to build a process that's based on experimentation, failure and iteration. Success is almost always derived from doing, listening and learning, not by following what someone else tells you to do.