When you start a company, you step out into the void. It’s all on you.
Building a company is not the same as building a product (as CRV’s Izhar Armony says in an awesome interview here). The former is much more difficult, and in the end, requires a deep management team and significant capital to fund.
And, when you get going, you come up with an idea, raise some capital and pressure-test something. You’re running an experiment. You may be sizing a market, building a product, or deploying something at low levels to test product-market fit. And, if that works out, the market rewards you by letting you raise more money at a higher valuation.
If not, you fail.
Much has been reported about the low success rate of start-ups (an example from me here), and so I won’t dwell on that. But, I do want to focus on the very human part of company sausage-making.
I just spoke with one of our CEOs, whose business is really starting to develop. But, it has been a lot of work to navigate the market, mature the product, keep the team aligned and the investors excited. I this week met with two of our Kepha 2 seed companies. They’re on string budgets testing ideas, and now feel that they have something. The stress levels have been very high for all three companies, but they’re now starting to see some daylight break through the fog. They’re feeling an incredible rush.
When I look at the three companies, they all are in different spaces, have different cultures, and different business plans. But, they all have this common: they kept their burn rates incredibly low in order to buy time to figure things out. They resisted living large and instead kept focused on the essentials in order to try and achieve a valuation inflection point.
I try to coach my founders on the following: yes, you’re making progress, but not all progress is created equal. With your limited capital, what is a valuation inflection point that will dramatically increase the odds of success? Not just a little bit, but by a lot?
Then, break down the steps needed to achieve that inflection point. People who are in high-stamina fields, such as professional athletes or elite soldiers, master this. They’re not thinking of the long season or the week during which you get no sleep at Navy SEAL training. They just focus on the here and now.
Progress is achieved one day at a time.