Founder Counseling: 7 Steps to Founder Success – SXSW Recap

Session by David Mandell (PivotDesk), Jenny Fielding (TechStars), and Nicole Glaros (TechStars)
March 11, 2017

65% of startups fail due to people issues. It doesn’t have to be that way!

1. Cofounder issues

  • Know who you’re going into business with
  • Learn how to take ownership of problems – “it wasn’t what he was saying, it was how I was hearing it”
  • Equity split: any animosity will grow over time
    • Vesting: Get it right at the start. Protects founders, not punishs. Investors would set this up anyway.
    • Split correctly when everyone is feeling good
    • Venture Deals (book)
  • Cofounder dynamics affect culture for the rest of the company
  • Difficult Conversations (book)

2. Find great mentors

  • Mental / emotional support
  • Who you can talk to even when you can’t talk to anyone else
  • Someone you can be vulnerable with
  • Pro tip: don’t call them a mentor (at first)

3. Intellectual honesty

  • “Shit that scares me to death” portion of quarterly board update. Shows you’re trying to be real. What’s being done to address the issues? Maybe your investors have insights.
  • Honesty with self

4. Direct feedback

  • Not become defensive when receiving feedback
  • Usually given by people who care about you and your business

5. Right investors

  • Understand their motivation and goals
  • Can make your life a living hell if they want to
  • If you receive multiple term sheets, go after best fit, not best valuation
  • Accelerator? Do it as early as you can. Helps plug holes in your business. Talk to alumni from the accelerator to get a preview

6. Passion

  • Were your born for this?
  • Early on: enthusiasm & passion > skill
  • Scaling the business: skills matter more

7. Self improvement and insatiable curiosity

  • Always ask what you could be doing better
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