This past fall my cofounders and I had the privilege of joining the 5th cohort of Acceleprise San Francisco, working alongside a variety of amazing companies and the minds that created them. After having some time to reflect, I wanted to share some of the most important lessons I took away from the experience:
The importance of the pitch
I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but I’m starting to feel like the process of developing a strong pitch is more for the benefit of the company than it is for the investors. And I don’t mean for the obvious purpose of securing capital, although it is true that having a strong pitch can help raise critical funds for building your business. The process of creating a precise and powerful pitch deck forces you to carefully examine your proposed strategy and understand your business inside and out. What is your market? Who are your competitors? What will your goals cost you? What are your benchmarks for success?
It’s only once you have dissected the company piece by piece and examined it in fine detail that you are able to convey an accurate and concise message about your product that will truly resonate with investors and customers. A well-developed pitch inevitably results in a clearer vision of your goals and your definition of success. This vision is essential for the effectiveness of the organization as a whole as well as for each department and individual making up that organization.
The importance of a plan
In the startup universe, where the winds change sometimes on a daily basis, planning can often feel like a futile effort. As frustrating as this can be, it's essential to keep a destination in site.
Approaching problems pragmatically helps to eliminate unnecessary stress. The best way to cut through the noise is to focus on the numbers. As much as possible, tie actions to goals, and tie those goals to measurable numerical benchmarks. Taking the time to hash out metrics and regularly refer to them facilitates good decision-making and allows you to prioritize efforts efficiently.
It’s critical that startup founders examine a spectrum of scenarios and potential outcomes, especially the ugly ones. Develop a strategy that enables you to perform or even thrive in the worst-case scenario: what do we do if all goes to hell?
It’s easy to be in denial about the possible negative scenarios that may lie ahead of you, but taking the time to survey the topography and mentally prepare for the worst will help you avoid major mistakes and improve your chance of survival.
The importance of positivity, mutual support, and endurance
The founder is the beating heart of every startup, pumping blood and life to the extremities. If you are not leading the charge forward in an uplifting and inspiring way, it can be detrimental to every aspect of your company. Beating the war drum every day is not always easy; setbacks and occasional missteps take a major toll on your confidence and erode your motivation. Maintaining a positive mindset, regardless of how difficult or overwhelming a task may appear at the time, is vital to the success and resilience of your company.
Find ways to keep focused on long-term goals and stay positive. This will have a ripple effect on all of the players involved with your startup – investors, team members, customers, and partners. After all, if you aren’t excited and optimistic about the endeavor, how can you expect anyone else to be? Take small, bite-sized actions, and commit to chipping away at your challenge every single day, even when it feels like you're moving slowly.
In difficult moments, the support and encouragement of fellow founders can be immensely helpful. There is a lot of power in joining a community of people with similar goals and similar challenges. Throughout the Acceleprise experience, this small group of startup builders, who know first hand how hard things can get, were an encouraging force to keep pushing forward. Ultimately you need to remind yourself that this is a marathon, not a sprint. For every time the going gets tough and you don’t quit, someone else just did. The ability to keep going is the key to making it in this dogfight.