I am currently in the middle of reading the book ‘Founders at Work’. It’s a collection of interviews with founders of famous technology companies about what happened in the very earliest days.
Here are some insights from the book that I can particularly relate to…
Many successful ideas evolve from something else
Many people, including myself, give up too early when something doesn’t seem to be succeeding. Maybe we should spend more time re-visiting old projects and seeing if they can be re-purposed.
Many successful projects ‘Scratch an itch’
This is a great starting point for many projects. Would you use the product service? If not, it may be that noone will! If you, personally, have a need for something then you will be more motivated to get it done and better understand the issues.
Patents aren’t always helpful
One problem with patents is that they make your secrets public. Often it’s not possible to know if others are infringing your patents. If you have something so involved that it makes it extremely difficult to copy, then you might be best keeping it a trade secret rather than patenting it.
Don’t expect users to change their habits
I have experienced this many times. Something so new/involved won’t be understood. The general public can only usually accept a step change from what they are already doing. Attempting otherwise needs a level of educational marketing that is (financially) beyond the scope of most startups.
Opportunity creates opportunity
Doing something that doesn’t make technical, financial or business sense can create opportunities that were never initially envisaged. For example (from the book), opportunity-neutral partnering with someone might strengthen your credibility and lead to new successful partnerships with others. In my case some companies I have worked with have gained contracts for their non-mobile product just through the visibility of having a (non profitable) mobile version.
Hire Slowly, Keep cheap
I have written a bit on this previously when talking about VC rounds. Incidentally, I recently came across a great Map of Silicon Alley’s Early-Stage Tech Investor Ecosystem.
Don’t get into legal disputes
There’s evidence in the book that these cause a company to get severely distracted and bogged down. I have no experience of this but have been close to suing one particular company for not paying me - but that’s another story.
Think ahead - project the technical and market roadmap to the next few years and fill a gap
Again, I have written a bit on this when talking about timing. This is a difficult one because it’s so easy to arrive early and run out of money or arrive late and miss the opportunity.