Co-founding a company with a Startup Studio — Yay / Nay?
My first 100 days at Builders — A review
One hundred days ago, I embarked on a new journey to co-found my own tech company with Builders, one of the leading startup studios in the Netherlands. And as 100 days in, you have a pretty solid understanding of what you signed up for, in this article I’d like to share some of the learnings and insights from those first 100 days of my journey. Like this, I hope to make the startup studio model more accessible for everyone interested in it, and also help anyone considering to partner up with a studio to better understand what they can expect, and what they might need to be ready for.
The power of a Startup Studio
When I first came across the startup studio model some years ago, I recognized its power as it was perfecting what I had practised in my professional life: helping an organization scale various growth hurdles, and then equipped with all those learnings and experiences going back to the roots to help another organization doing the same. Just a little faster each time, as it incorporates all previous learnings into its model by documenting, reflecting on, improving and professionalizing the process of creating and scaling great ideas into even better businesses — all while being surrounded by a great team of like-minded people working on the same goals to shape the world.
That is why, when I decided to go back to the roots and build something new from scratch again, I knew that I wanted to do so in the fastest way possible and learn a whole lot about company building along the way — and chose to partner up with a startup studio.
First 100 days — key insights
So how have these 100 first days been? Would I make the same decision again? And more importantly, if you are currently thinking about getting engaged (in the truest sense of the word) with a startup studio, what do you need to be ready for to truly thrive in this kind of environment?
Here is a shortlist of my main takeaways from the last 100 days.
What I came to appreciate about the model:
- A true partnership — If you thrive on freedom and responsibility, I can only recommend looking into partnering up with a studio. Already very early on, I was impressed by the openness, honesty and trust that I encountered starting already within the recruitment process. And today I can say the remainder of the 100 days was no different. I experienced a true partnership on eye-level during my first 100 days. Actually every single day of it: My ideas and input are highly appreciated; when it comes to the venture that I am building, but also when it comes to the studio as a whole. So really take a moment and be honest with yourself: What are the conditions you need to thrive professionally?
- Entrepreneurship with a support system — I wanted to build fast, learn a lot along the way, and be able to rely on others in case of need. That is why, for me, I was looking to have a support system available to accelerate the execution of the ideas we want to implement. Through the partnership with Builders, I can tap into and work with an incredible network of experts on marketing, recruitment, design, development and HR challenges to name just a few, very early on and without the need to hire dedicated people for those issues, or — even worse — pay for the mistakes made in those areas later on due to bad product-market fit, lack of validation or similar. (Big shout out to the team at this point! You know who you are and you guys are amazing!) As the startup studio also joins the new venture as a co-founder, this ensures that there is alignment on the long-term vision, and commitment to together push through any challenges along the way.
- A systematic approach for entrepreneurship — I love working with a studio as it allows me to follow a systematic approach to entrepreneurship. Every studio has built up their very own playbook on how they build their ventures. This allows any new venture to benefit from the learning made in the other companies, but also provides a solid framework to build and run their business which has been validated and iterated on through all the previous ventures. This also allows me as a person to further improve my own personal toolbox when it comes to company building and made me realize the importance of the easily underestimated validation stage (see next point).
- Validation, validation, validation — Build it, and they will come… or not! The amount of validation that we have done in the last 100 days goes beyond what I have expected or experienced in any company I previously worked with: we have carried out 50+ interviews around the topics of customer discovery and idea validation, that has helped us tremendously to improve our understanding of the market needs and again validate that understanding with the market. In return, publishing our findings accordingly also helped us gain a lot of traction and appreciation in the market, that in turn further helped us deepen our conversations and thinking. The same is true when it comes to the goto-market strategy: the importance we are placing on validating our assumptions in who is our core customer, and what is their core pain point, and how they talk about it, goes beyond anything I have ever experienced to date. I am sure that it is also in this approach to company/product building that is part of the reasons why startup studios have a tremendously higher rate of success than other types of companies.
What do you need to be ready for?
Partnering up with a startup studio and co-founding your own business is not for everyone. These are a couple of points you need to be aware of before embarking on such a partnership.
- General entrepreneurial journey — first of all, I cannot stress enough how important it is that you are ready for the entrepreneurial journey that awaits you. This is not a job, where you can hide behind anyone else in your team, neither can you become successful without getting your hands dirty. You need to have a clear bias for action, but also stay distanced enough so that you are still able to steer the ship into the right direction. And like every (early stage) entrepreneurial journey, you will have successes where you will feel like you are on top of the world and nothing can stop you, as well as lows where you feel that all you do is just spinning your wheels without making any progress, or perhaps even worse doubting if you are pursuing a meaningful idea at all. Be ready for those emotions, embrace them as part of the journey, and know that this is what almost everyone goes through. So acknowledge it for a moment, then move on :)
- This is not a quick shot — Most important when you join a startup studio is that you do not expect this to be a quick shot. While partnering up with a startup studio does help you to accelerate your entrepreneurial journey — do not engage in a partnership if you only have a short term focus. While of course some companies are being built within a couple of years to an extraordinary scale, the timeframe you likely are looking at easily amounts to 7–10 years. So ask yourself: Are you ready to commit 7–10 years to work on and building that company? If the answer is that you most likely won’t hang around that long, better be honest with yourself and look for an even better fit somewhere else. The truth is building outstanding businesses takes time, as almost all meaningful things do. Be ready for it, or move on.
- Don’t expect to have all the answers given to you — while the previous two points are general; the remaining points are more specific to working with startup studios. Keep in mind: while the startup studio has been building other ventures before, remember that each venture is different, and therefore not all the challenges you will run into related to your specific market and / or business concept have already been encountered and solved before. This means that you should never leave your own thinking hat at home, and take charge and keep challenging the existing approaches to keep improving current processes, but also adjust those to the particular needs of your specific venture. Along the same lines, you also better be ready for debate, as partnering up with a startup studio also comes with a good amount of discussions, defining and refining the various parts of your venture to make sure to keep incorporating your learnings into your company. While this might feel slow at some times, keep in mind that you are doing it to further validate your thinking, and further align your product and business with the needs in the market, so that ultimately you will be able to move faster.
- Trust in the(ir) processes — When joining a startup studio, you need to remember that you are going to build a company with people you probably do not know yet. That presents a big opportunity to get a crucial part of the equation right: the team. Unlike ending up recruiting your friends into your startup, co-founding a company with a startup studio allows you to search in a bigger pond of talent and if done right, empowers you to qualify your future partner on more comprehensive skills and experience. At the same time, you will be partnering up with people that are most likely unknown to you. All startup studios have developed comprehensive frameworks around how to ensure the best fit between the future co-founders, but you need to trust in those processes and frameworks to basically single out the right co-founder for you. Of course, as the co-founder you also have a say in these key partnering decisions, but as your network probably is more limited than the one of your studio, you will most likely need to rely on the information and analysis that will be provided to you when selecting your co-founder, which in particular on the personal side will probably be less complete compared to partnering up with a friend of yours that you have known for a very long time already. So it would be best if you had confidence in those processes to eventually bubble up the right co-founder match. So yes, please go ahead and ask about how the studio will be matching you to someone else before you partner up.
So how do I look back at the first 100 days? Personally, I am extremely happy to have joined the Builders crew and am very thankful for the support and friendship I have encountered already on the way. But should you go for it?
Of course, this is a question only you can answer. Allow me though to share a couple of pointers what I think would be very worthwhile for you to explore to answer this question:
- Do the work beforehand — validate the idea before you commit on your own, too. Read into the market, check out the studio — and take everything with a grain of salt. Whoever you talk to, they will have their own views on things that will be coloured by their own subjective experiences, and perhaps even preconceptions about who you are, and what you like. Keep in mind; ultimately, the fit needs to feel right for YOU.
- Where does your passion lie? — How much passion do you have for the idea and the general context it is placed in? As the studio normally spins out internal ideas, this is not a way to fund your own ideas, unless you are in the lucky position to have had similar thoughts. Is the idea still in an area where you are passionate about or can at least relate to? This is true for the product: do you truly think this is solving a relevant problem in the world? And equally so for the audience: what do you know about your future customers and how do you relate to their mission, visions, values and beliefs? Both will be important to fuel your fire and feeding your energy — when speaking with stakeholders, but also when transmitting your passion for the mission internally to your (future) team. Remember though — that having doubts is allowed, as you are also shaping this idea going forward and can turn it into what you truly believe is lacking in the market currently.
- Are you ready to step away from the career you have built? — I think people are over-estimating the security that comes with the career that they have created for themselves. Because just having a job today, does not mean that you will have it tomorrow (talk to the millions of people who experienced the truth of this statement first hand in the last couple of months) — and even more importantly, just having a job does not mean that you feel fulfilled with the activities, responsibility, impact, challenge and/or level of personal growth you are going through. If you are lacking in any of these areas, perhaps the time has come to step outside. Whatever choice you made, the truth is all the choices you are making every single day are changing you. The real question is if those choices will bring you closer to who you are, or drive you further away. And while some of these choices might seem smaller (what do I eat today, how do I react to whatever is happening in my life right now) some might seem perhaps bigger (should I leave my career for something new). In the end both will end up impacting your life. So if you are excited about what’s ahead, I truly believe you know what the right thing to do is. But that’s a question only you can answer.
- Embracing the unknown — How much security do you need in your life? Joining a startup studio, like any early-stage startup means you need to be ready to embrace and even thrive in the unknown. Creating something from nothing needs to be what gets you going, seeing ideas take shape needs to be a driver for you. If you enjoy and are looking for security — well then this might not be it. But honestly, security also does not wait for you outside of a startup studio (see previous point).
So, what’s next?
For me, I surely am excited for the next 100 days, as those will see us putting a lot of our learnings into our product. For you, I genuinely hope that this article has given you a little bit more of an insight into what to expect when you partner up with a startup studio.
If now you feel ready for taking on a co-founding challenge, many startup studios are currently looking for either tech or commercial co-founder. A great list of startup studios for every region of the world can be found here.
Of course, also at Builders we are always looking for the right partners to jump on board — both on the commercial as well as on the tech side. Additionally, we are also wrapping up my own tech co-founder search — read what we are up to here. If you feel you could be the one we are looking for, please feel free to connect with me personally.
To keep following what we as a studio are doing, the easiest is to subscribe to the Builders universe here.
Whatever you do, I wish you all the best with it, and I hope you’ll enjoy your journey! 🚀🚀🚀
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- About Builders: Builders is one of the leading independent startup studios and venture builders in the Netherlands. As such, the studio brings together bold ideas, exceptional co-founders, operational support and investment capital to build and grow the defining tech companies of tomorrow.
- About Michael: Passionate about connecting people, and creating and scaling new companies, Michael is working on a community-driven business concept as Entrepreneur in Residence at Builders, if he is not putting out fires at his own little co-living tribe. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.