When starting out, most entrepreneurs are quick to think about how they will be raising money to fund their ideas. They start looking for early-stage investors and venture capitalists, pitching to them every opportunity that they get. On the flipside, these early-stage investors and venture capitalists are always looking for interesting companies to invest in and work with.
Through this dynamic, VCs get the opportunity to meet with hundreds of entrepreneurs every single year. They hear thousands of pitches and go through email after email after email.
In the past few months, I got the chance to meet and sit down with several investors, VCs and partners at top-accelerators from all over the world. I decided to compile the top pieces of advice they had for entrepreneurs.
1. Launch quickly and focus. -Kat Manalac, Y Combinator
"Launch quickly. Founders often wait too long to launch-they tinker endlessly until they believe their product is perfect. Once you have your product out in the world, you can start getting feedback from real users and customers, and you can improve your product based on actual data and feedback. Feedback from actual users is much more useful than feedback from people who just say they would be interested in using your product."
"There are a million things you could be doing as an early stage startup founder-but the only important things are building product and talking to users."
2. Be honest with yourself. -Edith Yeung, 500 Startups
"PR is not traction. Focus on unit(s) of economics that truly matter to your startups. Be honest with yourself (and your investors) what you are really good at and what you are not. Hire fast. Fire even faster. Pay attention to what's going on in the industry. Understand your competitors better than they know themselves."
3. Put your customer first. -Michael Lints, Golden Gate Ventures
"Putting the customer first means you'll spend every single dollar making sure that your customers are happy, and will come back to your platform. It's all about spending it on your market then spending it on internal issues. Put the customer first. When I go through the financial model, I look at where does every single dollar go in terms of your customer?"
4. Test your idea and your assumptions. -Maureen Rinkunas, DreamIt Ventures
"What we like to teach entrepreneurs at the early stage is how to test their idea cheaply and quickly. You don't need a lot of money to do some of these tests. Your early ideas are assumptions built on assumptions so you have to test these assumptions. When you start out, it's very high risk and investors want to look at how you're decreasing that risk for them."
5. Build your community early on. -Vinnie Lauria, Golden Gate Ventures
"Start building a community of your target audience as soon as possible. Hang out in places where your users hangout. Give your audience information that they want, and talk about it publicly by sharing it through Facebook, Reddit, Quora, Tech In Asia or whatever platforms you can use to build a following."
6. Develop your relationships before asking for money. -Tee Suraphongchai, Ardent Capital
"I can probably right a check today but I just want to get to know you better so I don't feel like I'm making an uninformed decision. I wish entrepreneurs would come to build a relationship with me before asking me for money. So that by the time they need the money, I can make the decision relatively quickly as well."
7. Find mentors who can keep pushing you forward. -Tina Cheng, Cherubic Ventures
"It's important to have a someone, maybe a mentor to tell you that things will be okay and that you should keep pushing forward because you will have moments of stagnant growth and you will question whether you should keep going or not. This can be the difference between success and failure."
8. The phone will not ring on its own. You need to make it happen. -Wayne Kimmel, SeventySix Capital
"Customers will not call, email or just walk in front door to do business with you unless you're selling, marketing or promoting your business and yourself. You have to work for it. You have to fight for it. No one will give you anything for it. The only people who will love you are your family. The only people who will really care about you are your parents. You have to hustle hard and fight like crazy to make it happen. You have to be selling your business every single day."