Suhail Doshi: Avoid These Seven Temptations as a First Time Founder

Suhail Doshi, founder of Mixpanel, shared a candid assessment of mistakes he made in the first 18 months of the six startups he has founded in “The first 18 months of starting a company: it’s life or death.” Here are 7 key pieces of advice that highlight mistakes first founders typically make.

Suhail Doshi: Avoid These Seven Temptations as a First Time Founder

Suhail Doshi: Avoid These Seven Temptations as a First Time FounderYesterday, Suhail Doshi (@Suhail) posted a tweet stream of lessons learned from six startups that he refined into a fantastic article “The first 18 months of starting a company: it’s life or death

“The first 18 months of starting a company are often life or death. I must’ve made 5 different companies that each failed within 9 months. Each time the company failed I figured out what I could do better. Eventually, startup #6 (Mixpanel) got to $40K/mo by month 18.”
Suhail Doshi

Here are seven temptations founders can fall prey to, with Doshi’s advice from “The first 18 months of starting a company: it’s life or death” and my take. The full article is absolutely worth reading as well.

Customer Support

  • Temptation: Building creates value, customer support is a cost to be minimized. Follow Google, Facebook and Linkedin’s example and only let low cost customer support staff interact with customers via message systems (e.g. trouble tickets and email).
  • Suhail Doshi: In the beginning, do customer support yourself. It will help you build an amazing intuition about your customers.
  • SKMurphy Take: This is great advice. There is no substitute for customer intimacy as a source of intuition.

Competition

  • Temptation: Lead, don’t follow. Be first, be different
  • Suhail Doshi: If your competitor made something your customers love, understand why and build it.
  • SKMurphy Take: There are some features that are required to meet the minimum definition of a viable product in a particular market. These are sometimes called table stakes or ante features–they have to be part of your offering before you can get in the game. This set evolves over time, when you are able to raise the bar against your competitors it’s wonderful, when they offer something that everyone decides is a requirement you have no choice but to follow.

Smarter Prospects

  • Temptation: If prospects don’t “get it” find smarter ones that do.
  • Suhail Dosh: Spend time figuring out how to explain your product to prospects.
  • SKMurphy Take: if prospects don’t understand your offering then it’s far more likely that your pitch sucks than you have only talked to stupid or unimaginative people.

Evidence

  • Temptation: only make decisions based on data.
  • Suhail Dosh: The truth is, you’re going to be using your gut a lot because you lack data. To compensate: talk to customers, meet people who will play a devil’s advocate, and understand the technology from first principles.
  • SKMurphy Take: data is always useful but rarely available. You have to proceed uncertainly, relying on intuition as a full and frank exchange of views with your team, your customers, and your advisors. If you have a conversation that surprises you, makes you think, or even makes you question you plan it just means that you learned something.

History

  • Temptation: Start with a clean sheet of paper; don’t look in the rear view mirror to drive forward into the future.
  • Suhail Dosh: Research the history of your market. It will help you identify old and long-standing assumptions, challenging obstacles you too will face, and critical features it took old players a decade to realize to build.
  • SKMurphy Take: As Harry Truman said, “the only surprises are the history you don’t know.” Not everything that did not work before can be made to work now, and some things that worked may no longer be viable, but a picnic in the graveyard can offer a lot of insight that may otherwise only uncovered by re-running the same experiments or making the same mistakes.

Focus

  • Temptation: growth requires attacking a large market with a rich feature set.
  • Suhail Doshi: Stay laser focused on solving a narrow set of problems: no more than 3-4 major issues.
  • SKMurphy, Inc: In the early going  stick to your niche. Resist enlarging the problem set you are attacking so that you don’t run out of resources before you have a viable solution.

Scaling

  • Temptation: success comes from scaling, always make sure that your approach is scalable.
  • Suhail Doshi: Make sure you are providing value even if it’s not scalable. If your customers continue to use your product you can experiment with distribution. If you have poor customer retention no amount of clever marketing can compensate.
  • SKMurphy, Inc: The essence of a sustainable business is the ability to provide value to customers.  If you cannot do that you don’t have a basecamp to explore the early market and figure out how to grow the business. If you customers don’t refer, renew, or reorder you don’t have a business, much less one you can grow.

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