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Competitive Edge
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Startup Advice for New Entrepreneurs

Startup Advice for New Entrepreneurs | Competitive Edge |

Back in August 2015, we launched Product Hunt LIVE, a series of community-led Q&As with some of the top entrepreneurs, investors, entertainers, and thought leaders in the world. One of the biggest trends we’ve noticed across the hundreds of LIVE Chats has been the seemingly insatiable appetite for startup advice.

Below, you’ll find some of the best advice for new entrepreneurs, selected from over 100 LIVE Chats. Building a new company is hard in and of itself. We’re big believers that learning from those who have already launched, scaled, and invested in startups gives you a better chance of succeeding. Read more: click image or title.


Learn more about funding, find great funding sources, get a free business plan template, post your funding request for free, and more:

Marc Kneepkens's insight:

#Founders who have been through the experience bring their best advice.

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Mentors Are The Secret Weapons Of Successful Startups | TechCrunch

Mentors Are The Secret Weapons Of Successful Startups  |  TechCrunch | Competitive Edge |

“I’ve probably revised this investor pitch deck 200 times,” a founder told me recently. She’d met with more than 50 potential investors before closing a seed round last month. This might sound excessive to some, but her experience is not unusual.

Entrepreneurs often spend hundreds of hours raising funds from angel and venture capital investors. While these activities are clearly important, analysis of new data on startups suggests that founders should also dedicate significant time to something that many people overlook: recruiting great mentors. This simple strategy can increase a company’s odds of success more than almost anything else.

Discovering the secrets of the best founders

Our team studied thousands of tech businesses last year. We looked specifically at companies in New York City’s tech sector, which was the fastest-growing tech sector from 2003-2013 and is now the second largest tech hub in the world. The goal of this research was to investigate how local tech firms had become so successful.

Our analysts combined data from CrunchBase, AngelList and LinkedIn, and interviewed nearly 700 founders. (In total, New York tech founders dedicated more than a month of time to this project.) These sources enabled us to create the world’s largest database of a single entrepreneurship community.

We found that a number of characteristics that are often highlighted as predictors of success for startups – such as starting a company while in college – don’t actually make much of a difference. While these conclusions on traditional startup myths were interesting, we uncovered several other intriguing findings by examining the habits of the best firms and founders. Read more here:

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With Growthink on your side, you are in a win-win situation. They placed themselves in my situation and analyzed my business as if it were their own business. I could never recommend any firm but Growthink to provide business planning services at this level of quality. 
 Prem K. Kapani, CEO

Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Mentors are a major advantage in the start up world. They can lead the way or facilitate specialized aspects of your business. They can open doors, and much more.

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Startup Mentors — How Do You Filter Out The Good, The Bad And The Ugly? | TechCrunch

Startup Mentors — How Do You Filter Out The Good, The Bad And The Ugly? | TechCrunch | Competitive Edge |

In light of the recent brouhaha over the actions of a particular European investor who had a habit of attaching himself to accelerators as a ‘mentor’, it seems an appropriate time to do a quick rundown on the kinds of things entrepreneurs need to look for in genuine potential mentor to them and their companies. Because, in case you have been hiding under a rock, there a lot of new ’mentors’ flooding towards technology startups, and it would be good if everyone had a clear idea of how this relationship should play out.

I asked on Twitter and on Facebook for some fast feedback on this and got what I think is a pretty representative list of ideas around what due diligence you should do when looking for a mentor for your startup. (Apologies if I don’t name-check everyone who contributed, but to give you a flavour…)

Matt Clifford of Entrepreneur First, thinks there are three main issues.

Firstly, he says, “you can’t get a (good) mentor by asking someone to be your mentor.”

He says a lot of young entrepreneurs think they need a mentor, so they assume that they should go around asking for on. But, the “best mentor relationships seem to develop organically. The entrepreneur has a series of interactions with someone and after a while both sides realise they’re getting value from the conversations and – de facto – the person has become a mentor.”

Secondly, “asking good questions is the key to being a good mentee (but is hard work).” A question like “What should I do?” is way too vague. You’ll get the most out of mentors when you ask them real, important, very specific questions that provide a lot of context, says Clifford.

Thirdly, first-time founders usually “want the wrong mentors.” First timers picking a “celebrity mentor” or one who is far, far ahead, is often a bad idea and they are much better off with someone “two to five years ahead of them on a similar journey” says Clifford.

Most of the day-to-day challenges founders face are highly stage-specific, he says. Is this the right person to help you get your first 1,000 users, for instance? “Hire more sales people” is not really an answer, and someone who’s been in that same place very recently is usually better.

Startups can of course help themselves by clubbing together and sharing information on mentors. Perhaps write a notional “mentor spec”?

But still, the basic questions apply: what they’ve done or achieved besides mentoring and advising.

Entrepreneur Ian Broom tells me: “I get mentors to agree a contract, like a staff member, and set expectations. Especially if you’re offering equity, it’s crucial the mentor vests like everyone else.”

James Bromley of Swiftkey adds that you should ask for references. And are they “ground level practical”? Also check if the mentor is a frequent ‘conference bore’, rather than actually working.

Matthias Metternich of says you should check out the prospective mentor’s network and whether they’d be open to making relevant introductions to others. He also advises getting mentors who fulfil functional roles and who can go deep. “We have separate mentors for mobile, bus dev, branding, marketing, hiring, etc”

Mentors who are still “doers” are more valuable.

And keep them in the loop: “No one can mentor well without understanding what’s up – it’s a two-way street,” points out Metternich .

Russell Buckley, formerly of Admob now partner of Ballpark Ventures, says you shouldn’t over-pay mentors and Non-Execs, and wrote about here.

He agrees that vesting options along with other staff members means “you can fire people who don’t deliver to the stated expectations.”

“I’m also encouraging some of the companies I work with to set OKRs or KPIs (depending on the tools they use) for their Board and advisors. Not a popular idea with many Directors, but I would like to see it as normal. After all, most investor/directors sell themselves as adding value prior to the investment, so why not hold them accountable?”

Use tools to check out a mentor’s credentials and investments such as Companies House /

And looking through their AngelList, LinkedIn and Twitter / social profiles etc is an obvious move but sometimes forgotten.

Eileen Tso Burbidge of Passion Capital says if the mentor has written catchy blog posts that can even qualify as usefulness as a mentor.

Then there is Jason Lemkin’s 2.5x rule which is: “After 2 1/2 meetings, after 2 1/2 intros to VCs or potential VP hires, after 2 1/2 times they “help” … you need to “pay” or they go away. Until then, you don’t have to pay. And many people if they are interested in you will make a few connections and help for free. 2-3 times.”

The simplest way to pay mentors he says is to give them some stock options and if you can, let them invest in your seed, “A and B rounds IF they want to”. But, don’t connect the two. “The first is a (for now) unquantifiable “payment” for helping. The second is a “thank you”. Don’t confuse the two, but try to do both.”

Michael Geer, COO of Dream Industries in Moscow, emailed be a few choice thoughts. “Mentorship takes the perfect timing of the team looking for mentorship and the mentor actually having the bandwidth and desire to mentor. That is much harder to get when just one side reaches out.” He says it comes together roost naturally when his mentorships have “started from accelerators or classes I’ve taught.”

He notes a drawback: many teams are either not ready to listen or not at the right stage to actually action some mentors’ most valuable advice when one side or the other reaches out. “Of course, when the timing is right, both sides learn and gain a lot.”

But how do you avoid bad mentors?

Matt Clifford says: “This is a very effective way of avoiding bad mentors, especially financially motivated ones: they just won’t last out the repeated interactions.”

In other words, bad mentors don’t burnt out, they fade away…

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Mentors can make a real difference. Find out what to look for.

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12 Business Questions You Should Ask Yourself Today

12 Business Questions You Should Ask Yourself Today | Competitive Edge |

What single business-related question should every young founder ask themselves tomorrow and why?

The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Via Alldens Lane
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Some tough questions. Good to look over this list once in a while.

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Can You Predict a Startup’s Success Based on the Concept Alone?

Can You Predict a Startup’s Success Based on the Concept Alone? | Competitive Edge |
Research suggests you can—but only in some industries.

It’s easy to make fun of bad startup ideas – Airbnb for toilets? – but it’s not so easy to pick the good ones ahead of time. Just ask venture capitalists, the vast majority of whom lose money. The difficulty of separating good ideas from bad is part of why angel investors end up investing based largely on the founding team.

So does the initial idea matter at all to a startup’s success?

New research helps answer this question and reinforces just how hard it is to pick a startup based on the idea alone. The paper, by Erin Scott of the National University of Singapore, Pian Shu of Harvard Business School, and Roman Lubynsky of MIT, finds that the perceived quality of a startup idea predicts success in some sectors, but not in others. If you’re investing in startups in life sciences or energy, for instance, the initial idea seems to matter more than if you’re investing in software or consumer products. Read more: click image or title.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

It better be a combination of multiple factors: #idea, #team, #mentors, etc.

Increase the chances of finding #seedfunding.

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Here is How to Make Sense of Conflicting Startup Advice

Here is How to Make Sense of Conflicting Startup Advice | Competitive Edge |

Everybody has a blog these days and there is much advice to be had. Many startups now go through accelerators and have mentors passing through each day with advice – usually it’s conflicting. WTF? There are bootcamps, startup classes, video interviews – the sources are now endless. What is a founder to do?

There are some smart if not somewhat cerebral bloggers I read who say that you shouldn’t take any startup advice at all because it’s too generalized to be useful to your situation. While I have some sympathy with their intent I must point out that their opinions on this are – ironically – startup advice. And not a point-of-view I particularly believe in.

So what IS one to do?

1. Triangulate
I like to use the shorthand “triangulate” to symbolize asking multiple people for their opinions to get a better perspective on the route you should take. Of course triangulation is a mathematics term that is used in sailing and other activities to help you better navigate when you don’t have your bearings. By having the measurement of some known points you can better navigate to unknown points through inference.

I triangulate in nearly every important decision I make. I tend to ask opinions on nearly every topic that I’m interested in. When I meet other VCs I’m constantly asking how they decide which investments to make, when to pass, when to do follow-on rounds, when to sell a company vs. when to go long, etc. Because I’ve asked more than 100 VCs similar questions I start to notice patterns in thinking. Some of these patterns may apply to me some may not. Some may be repeating long held conventional wisdom that is not necessarily still relevant while others might have views that sound like total heresy.

When I have well established patterns of thought the heretical views are often the most helpful because they cause me to challenge my own beliefs. People like Vinod Khosla, Keith Rabois, Brian Singerman, Marc Andreessen and others have all made head-scratching private comments to me that sounded so foreign to what I thought other people were doing in VC that they caused me to challenge and ultimately change some of my own views.

So far from not taking advice from other people – I want more advice, more data points, more opinions.

2. Draw from Frameworks
The most helpful type of advice in my mind are frameworks for how to solve a problem. This is generally how I try to organize my own views and how I try to give advice.

For example:

1. On market segmentationI often recite my “Elephants, Deer & Rabbits” framework
2. On sales I often talk about “Why Buy Anything, Why Buy Now, Why Buy Me” as a tool to think about a sales process
3. On marketing I talk about “Arming & Aiming
4. On teams I have a framework for tech teams “CTO vs. VP Eng” or  on sales I have “Journeymen, Mavericks & Superstars
5. On investment strategies I have “Deflationary Economics
6. On recruiting there is “Attitude over Aptitude
7. RetentionDon’t Roll out the Red Carpet on the Way out the Door
8. Improving startup productivity? “Level Up
9. How to network better? “50 Coffee Meetings
10. Startup psychology / confidence? “We’re All Naked in the Mirror
11. Fund raising? “Raise at the Top End of Normal

And on and on.

Each is a framework for thinking about a problem. None is guaranteed to be the proscriptive answer for your problem. But would you rather start thinking about your situation with NO advice or with somebody else’s framework who has walked in your shoes?

I’m all for more opinions, not less. Over time you start to realize whose voice you trust more than others. You start to test out whose opinions mapped best to your own situation and whether following their advice would have been useful.

3. Think Critically about Your Situation
So if you take in advice, compare it to others and start to think critically about how it may or may not apply to your situation then you begin to “triangulate” an opinion of what to do. You won’t always be right but it’s important to decide and then continually think about whether your decision was correct.

I had coffee with a friend on Friday. He came to me months ago asking about a “strategic round” of capital for his startup at a high price.  I told him that “Strategic Money is an Oxymoron” and that he shouldn’t take it. I told him that often having strategics lead rounds creates more problems and that it sets the tone for how you build your company. I told him that a high price now wasn’t always the best solution.

He not only didn’t agree with me but at the time I remember him being a little bit mad at me and questioning my motives. At coffee last week he told me in this case it turned out I was right. And that doesn’t really matter. My two take-aways were: 1) he at least had a framework for considering the situation and some reasons why I disagreed with his decision and 2) hopefully the next time I offer advice it will at least measure a little bit stronger than others whispering in his ear – whether he takes my advice or not.

4. In the End Go with Your Gut

In the end there is no recipe for a startup or for business. I caution people all the time from overly following my advice. I am VERY careful in board meetings and in startup pitches to tell entrepreneurs, “I feel very strongly about my opinion on this topic. I’m pretty sure I’m right based on my own experiences as a startup founder for reasons A, B, C. But I can’t say for sure what will apply to your business. You’ll have to make the hard judgment call. My job is just to be your sparring partner.

Saying not to take others advice is itself terrible advice. Take more advice. Mix people’s views into a cup. Stir them around. Think about the motives or experiences of those offering advice. Think about whom you trust based on past advice. Think about your own situation and overlay it against the frameworks that others offer.

Triangulate. But in the end follow your own gut. That’s why you’re a founder.

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Via Chandra Gollapudi
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Exactly. Gather information, then trust your own judgment. no one can decide for you.

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This Harvard Startup Wants to Help You Navigate Life's Most Challenging Events

This Harvard Startup Wants to Help You Navigate Life's Most Challenging Events | Competitive Edge |

Why waste time reinventing the wheel when you could learn life lessons an easier way?
Phil Strazzulla, a newly-conferred Harvard MBA, was an undergraduate at New York University when he spent one miserable summer working for a big bank. At the time, he wrote himself a note as a reminder of what he didn't like about the position.

Then, the financial crisis happened.

"I was about to sign this offer and found this note," Strazzulla said. "That 10-minute exercise literally changed my life."

Strazzulla narrowly avoided making the same mistake twice, and started thinking about how he could help others do the same.

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Great initiative and excellent idea for a startup. Ideas for startups sometimes hide in small events. Look for value, then do something with it.

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