20 Pieces of Advice for Founders Who Could Use a Pep Talk Right Now
From seasoned VCs who have seen it all.
Being a startup founder is, of course, filled with extreme highs and lows. You’re tested in new ways every day. You get to watch your team achieve amazing things. You’re the leader, the go-to person for decisions about [insert just about every job title], and so much more. And, throughout it all, you’re also the one to take the hot seat— whether you feel prepared or not. It can be incredibly fulfilling and terrifying in equal measures.
All that said, you’re also never alone in your founder adventures — even when you may feel like you are. You’ve always got a community behind your back when you need it (shoutout from Startup Grind!), plus you have the benefit of studying the footsteps of those who’ve gone ahead of you. So for any founder who could use a little boost right now — and who doesn’t need one every now and again? — we’ve collected a list of the best advice for founders, straight from the mouths of top VCs who’ve seen it all.
Keep these in your back pocket for whenever you’re feeling up, down, and everything-in-between. And remember, you’ve got this.
1. On Self-Belief
“You need to believe in yourself beyond reason. I wrote a post about it here. You will definitely, definitely, definitely go through tough times in the business — look no further than the current landscape we are in due to COVID. Make sure you’re 100% committed to solving the problem your company is tackling and surround yourself with people that you genuinely want to be around day in and day out; this commitment and community will get you through the dark days.” — Ha Nguyen of Spero Ventures
2. On Reputation
“You earn your reputation over the long term of your decisions, words, and actions. And you can lose it in a single moment. Do things for the right reasons, and think long term.”— Mark Selcow of Costanoa Ventures
3. On Being Right
“There is no ‘right way’ to build a business. Challenge convention, and then challenge the people who question this.” — Ben Blume of Atomico
4. On Purpose
“Ask yourself if you truly see yourself fulfilled working on this startup for the next 7–10 years. And since humans are notoriously bad at being able to predict what they’ll be like in the future, ask yourself if you’d be doing what you’re doing even without any funding (if you can still do so) — would you do this for free because you believe in it that much?”— Chris Smith of Playfair Capital
5. On Extreme Ownership
“#unpopularopinion — you are the decision maker. Don’t let anyone impede on that. Take advice, learn in places you are weak, tap into folks with expertise to GUIDE you but ultimately, if you have a vision for yourself and for your company, go with that!” — Megan Holston-Alexander of Unusual Ventures
6. On Curiosity
“Never stop learning; be aggressively curious.” — Reece Chowdhry of RLC Ventures
7. On Customers
“Truly get to understand your customers. Spend time with them, ask them questions, and don’t stop doing this. There will always be things that you do not know or understand about their behaviours so seek to minimise this where possible.” — Phoebe Scriven of Rooks Nest Ventures
8. On Your Network
“Strictly curate your group of mentors, advisors and investors — they could be as instrumental to your success/failure as the team (employees) you build.” — Atin Batra of Twenty Seven Ventures
9. On Diversity
“Diversity is incredibly important and should always be top of mind from the very creation of the company.” — Tess Hatch of Bessemer Venture Partners
10. On Your Support System
“Start building a small stable of trusted advisors around you early on. Being a CEO can be a lonely endeavor, and you can counteract this by surrounding yourself with great people who know and care about you.”— Mark Goldberg of Index Ventures
11. On Optionality
“Create optionality, or create more options for yourself as often as possible for the next inflection point. Capital efficiency and wisely using and raising capital is a very attractive quality to investors.” — Kira Noodleman of Bee Partners
12. On Communication
“I’m going to give two, because they’re connected.
1). Listen. Listen to customers (current and prospective), employees, investors, other founders, and even your family. This doesn’t mean you have to act on everything you hear, but you’ll learn a lot if you continue to be open and receptive as your company scales.
2). Talk. Cultivate and maintain a group of founder friends where you can talk about the challenges you’re going through. Running a startup can be a lonely endeavor and creating a close-knit group that you can fall back on is critical to making those lonely times a bit less lonely.” — Amy Cheetham of Costanoa Ventures
13. On Focus
“As a founder, there are so many distractions and decisions blocking the way to success. All I can say is don’t lose focus on your vision. Don’t forget, it’s what got you this far.”— Matt Carbonara of Citi Ventures
14. On Narrative
“Nail your story — why you started the company, why now is a good time to build the company, and why you are the right person to make your company vision a reality. Those founders with strong narratives are typically better at communicating their company vision and product to employees, companies and investors, which helps their company rapidly scale.” — Grace Isford of Canvas Ventures
15. On Success
“Be determined by your goal to succeed. Don’t fall apart even when you are rejected or face harsh criticism. That’s the time to be more determined than ever.”— Anis Uzzaman of Pegasus Tech Ventures
16. On Knowing Your Limits
“Know where your skills end, and hire someone to do that for you.” — Beatrice Aliprandi of Talis Capital
17. On “Time”
“Time is your most expensive resource. Invest it carefully ensuring that you’re doing what might be the most challenging thing ever but which if successful can lead to a big outcome.” — Lee Strafford of Accelerated Digital Ventures
18. On Struggle
“You will definitely, definitely, definitely go through tough times in the business… Make sure you’re 100% committed to solving the problem your company is tackling and surround yourself with people that you genuinely want to be around day in and day out; this commitment and community will get you through the dark days.”— Katie Palenscar of Anthemis
19. On Self-Care
“Don’t forget to remember you are human and remember to take care of yourself — mentally, physically, emotionally.”— Grace Chou of Felicis Ventures
And very importantly…
20. On the Basics
“Get some sleep.” — Christie Pitts of Backstage Capital
Get more insights & helpful tips from top VCs by heading over to VC Corner, a collection of interviews with venture capitalists from around the world. Currently looking to raise? Get an opportunity to pitch any of the VC firms mentioned in this list by clicking here.