Finding your edge
If you’re applying to Entrepreneur First, you’re applying because you want to build something big. Something that can make a difference, impact millions and be highly valued.
If you are selected for EF, it means we believe that you have the potential to do that too.
A key part of fulfilling that potential is understanding what you should be working on.
At EF we help you build your team and develop an idea from scratch. The best teams are built on complementary skill sets and have a strong founder-problem fit. We have a process to help you optimise for such teams on the programme, and it starts by helping you discover your Edge.
What is Edge?
There is an opportunity cost to the startup you build — it’s the other startup you could be building. A simple way to ensure you’re building the most valuable startup possible is to leverage the skills and knowledge you already have.
Your edge is the skills and knowledge you have that are particular to you within the pool of other people trying to start companies — think of it as your secret weapon in building your startup. It can take the form of a highly developed technical skill or area of expertise:
- What are the things you know that few others know?
- What can you build that few others can?
- What unique or rare insights do you have that others don’t?
It’s likely there are many ideas you could be good at executing, but you should focus on ideas where you have an unfair advantage compared to other founders; the idea where you have an Edge.
Types of Edge
There are three types of Edge — Technical, Domain, and Product. Most people have one clear strong Edge, with supplementary knowledge and skills in their secondary and tertiary Edges. You should use your primary Edge to lead the startup building process.
We love — and have had a lot of success — funding people who know a lot about a particular technology and want to apply it to hard problems in the real world — even if they’re not yet sure what problem they want to solve. Most people at EF fall into this category.
Working with specific technologies for a length of time makes it likely that someone will have a Technical Edge. Other things that puts people in this category include: having a PhD or postdoc in a technical field; final-year projects focused on a specific technology; experience working on specialised industry applications of technology; a consistent technical theme in your repertoire of side projects.
At EF, we like you to take technical risk. This means we like you to build something that’s on the edge of your ability. If you have advanced technical depth you should use it to build your startup. This may sound obvious, but very few applicants recognise this is their Edge during the interview process. It’s surprisingly common to hear field-leading machine learning researchers want to build a ‘better’ dating app. Don’t undervalue your skills.
Alex (co-founder of Tractable) graduated from Imperial and during his Masters had worked on a specific application of deep learning related the inspection of polyethylene pipe welds. When he joined EF, we helped him to understand how the technology he built could be developed commercially and applied to different industries.
Zehan (co-founder of Magic Pony Technology) graduated from Imperial with a PhD in Medical Imaging Computing. With help from EF he used the visual processing skills he had learnt from his PhD to develop a groundbreaking solution for video compression, using state of the art machine learning techniques.
If you have multiple years of experience with a certain industry or area, and have spotted problems which exist in specific sectors, you might have a Domain Edge. Your deep domain knowledge means you have a unique insight into how a specific industry works. It’s likely that you know something that no-one else knows, or have realised something no-one else has realised. You probably already have connections and a network in the space that will allow you to quickly test and iterate your idea.
Those who join EF with a Domain Edge have deep sector knowledge, depth of experience and an understanding of the problems within their industry. These insights are rich, valuable and validated, not superficial observations easy for an outsider to guess.
If you’re still a student, or straight out of academia, it is unlikely that you are going to have deep domain knowledge. If your idea is related to music, the gym, dating, housing, food, entertainment and you haven’t worked in the industry for years, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have a Domain Edge. You could, however, have supplementary knowledge of a domain which is unobvious — we’ve seen successful founders at EF work on problems related to industries their close family members work in.
Gareth (co-founder of AdBrain), had spent eight years working in the mobile advertising space, including four years as part of Google’s Ad team, and knew how difficult it was for advertisers to track users across devices. He met his cofounders at EF and built AdBrain, an artificial intelligence powered cross-device ad platform.
Phoebe (co-founder of Brolly), spent two years working in the insurance industry before joining EF to found Brolly, a personal insurance concierge. Insurance is very opaque for the average customer, and her experience working in the sector gave her first-hand access to a very deep problem which she believed an AI powered solution could solve.
A Product Edge is a powerful combination of generalist technical skills and a strong product-mindset. If you fall into this category it’s likely that you also possess founder traits such as a growth mindset and a high level of personal exceptionalism. People who come to EF with a Product Edge can sit at different places along the technical spectrum, but having some knowledge of development and how products are built is essential.
Those with above-average software or hardware development skills will be experienced in building products which people have used. They are well-versed in development iteration cycles, have worked with tight release deadlines and are driven by creating high quality products people will use.
Lighter coders may also fall into this category, though usually have some technical product management experience or have played key early roles in growing tech startups. Commonly they have also tried starting their own ventures in the past and are all round honeybadgers. If you’re a fresh graduate, it’s likely that you’ve played big roles in projects outside of your course.
If you have a Product Edge you might not focus on a particular industry or technology but typically you have built a lot of things in the past and always have a side project on the go. You can contribute to a wide variety of projects, so will have a distinct advantage if you’re open to the ideas of others and clarity over the problems/sectors that interest you the most.
Aleksandra (cofounder of Cleo) left her job as a full stack developer at big data company to join EF and had previously worked as a Software Engineer at Google. Her experience building scalable and secure software products used by millions of people meant that she was uniquely well positioned to build Cleo — an intelligent assistant for your money — alongside her co-founder who she met on the programme.
Kingsley (cofounder of Keypla) came to EF after setting up an ecommerce company age 12 and time spent working in Growth teams at AirBnB and Uber. He teamed up to build a VR product for real estate agents to provide better instant viewing experiences for their customers, significantly reducing property completion times.
Choosing your Edge
It’s important to know your Edge coming in to EF. Sometimes people are mistaken about their Edge, or do not choose to work on ideas that align with their Edge — some of our most successful founders wanted to join EF to work on problems a million miles from their expertise. Don’t worry though, we’ll help you figure this out — if you’re successfully shortlisted to interview with us we’ll have a long discussion around what your Edge might be.
It’s also common to identify with aspects in each category — you might be someone with a Technical Edge with a strong product-mindset. We encourage you to choose the one you most closely identify with as your primary Edge and we’ll talk through your supplementary or overlapping skills during your interview.
Think about your skills and expertise which are the most developed. Then compare yourself to other potential founders in the space — can you compete? If yes, then you’ve found your Edge.