Thursday, July 4, 2013

10 Internet Startup tips from the Silicon Valley trenches (Part I)

For 17 months, I haven't posted anything on this blog primarily because of the startup grind.

Long story short, in June of last year, I went all-in to execute full-time on an idea that I had when I was twelve years old.  After getting started in an hybrid mode for months, where I was still holding a leadership role full-time at a Fortune 500 company, while being a dad of two inspiring daughters who are now three and seven years old, I just took the big plunge -- all-in.

Based on my achievements so far, I believe I have yet to deserve the title "startup entrepreneur"; however, I have been through an amazing startup journey that started in Florida, took me to Boston before flying me out to the Silicon Valley for months, and eventually, relocating me there. 

I believe there will be some value added to the startup community sharing the key highlights of this entrepreneurial adventure as it could help some aspiring and active startup entrepreneurs move along their way to successfully scale their dream faster, and in a smoother way.

1.  Don't waste your time with traditional early stage fundraising if you don't need to!

Traditional fundraising (Early VC, Angels) is a full time job for the leader of the startup.

There is only one leader in a startup, the co-CEO workaround that you may see/have seen at a few startups is generally not well accepted by most early stage investors who make a clear point of the necessity that one guy/gal on the team (max three founders) makes the call to move the venture forward when decision making stalls.

This leader will have to be the one pitching the startup.  He/she will have to get up to speed on the pitch requirements and be fully involved with advisors, and potentially, pitch coaches to deliver the pitch in the way that best resonates with the target audience (traditional investors: most common formats are 1-minute and 2-minute pitches).  There is no eye rolling here, it's a full time job that will take a lot of the focus away from the key product buildout and distribution activities in the startup's early stages.

Why do you need to raise money at this point in the game?
What are you precisely going to achieve with the amount you are looking for? 
Are you crystal clear on that?
Do you have enough traction (minimum user base month-over-month growth over 20%, hockeystick revenue growth) for early stage investors to have any interest in backing you up?

Ideally, challenge your assumptions on traditional external financing. 
Are you still in a very early stage (Minimal Viable Product buildout phase) where you should be able to validate your concept with minimal amounts ($5k - $10k ballpark) that could be raised through crowd-funding (legislations seem to be changing fast from a year ago when this solution was not recommended), consulting cash or friends and family bootstrapping?

2.  You need a CTO from the mobile cloud era from the onset

The principle of singularity profoundly applies here.  Technology is extremely volatile, it's an ever changing business value delivery channel and you need a nimble mind aware of the latest in mobile and cloud if you want to scale, and/or raise money for your Internet startup.

It's a must.

3.  Get accelerated by the right program if you can and only if it makes sense

The best thing that can happen to you as a startup entrepreneur is to be challenged  in your entrepreneurial journey so you can fail as fast as possible.  By as fast as possible, I mean that you want to get to the point where you can see if you can make your startup fly towards the skies of sustainable growth without having jeopardized or wasted too many assets.

In that sense, many startup entrepreneurs actively look to join a startup acceleration program (to be distinguished from startup incubators that generally are real estate businesses looking to achieve their return on asset objectives on the back of lean startup founders).

I learned the hard way that you have to be very clear on the adequation of your personal situation with the requirements and props offered by such accelerators.  Most accelerators (execept the Y combinator which is awesome apparently and very straight forward) have a lengthly selection process that is going to take away a lot of your valuable time (time to convince the right people, plus the time to get to the "active window" of the program), energy and not necessarily be of much added value in relation to what you can garner from active networking in the Silicon Valley.

My piece of advice: make sure to have kickass traction first, then consider joining Y Combinator as a priority.

Having said that, if you are knocking it out of the park in terms of traction (user growth, revenue) you may not even need acceleration if the CEO knows how to sell the current win (if external funds are required to get to the next stage of growth).

Stay tuned startup entrepreneurs, Part II coming soon (with the next scrum ;-)

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