12 Startup Beliefs That Are Complete Bullsh*t

How many of these are holding you back from starting or scaling?

#1 — If you aren’t in Silicon Valley you can’t build a big business because there’s a lack of talent with domain expertise/scale

Probably the most common belief. And it was true 5 years ago, but now it’s absolutely not. Atlassian, Qualtrics, Zapier, Treehouse, Snapchat, Basecamp, SendGrid, Campaign Monitor, Hubspot, BigCommerce. Enough said.

#2 — All startups need to optimize for growth (AKA raise a heap of money) instead of profitability

Raise a bunch of money at your seed. Grow. Rinse and repeat through series A/B/C/D/E. Go public or get acquired. That works for 1 in 1,000 startups. Literally. But there’s nothing wrong with building a real business that’s profitable. Instead of using vanity metrics (top line growth / number of users) to show progress, you can show how much cash you’ve kept.

#3 — You shouldn’t enter a crowded market because it’s harder

The opposite is true. A crowded market means people need the product and there’s a huge willingness to pay. If you enter a market with “no competition”, it’s not a market and you’ll go under quickly.

#4 — You should build your product first and then focus on marketing

Great products alone don’t build great companies. Great products AND great distribution do. The day you create your wireframes is the same day you should plan your marketing strategy. And you should start with content. Build an incredible blog, start growing your Domain Authority and capturing email addresses. Your email list will be your biggest asset when you launch.

#5 — If you don’t grow 10% Month-On-Month you’ve built a dud

10% MoM growth is what VCs use to gauge “fast growing” startups. If you a) don’t want to raise $100M (like we did at BigCommerce) from VCs or b) don’t want to build a billion-dollar business, then ignore this growth benchmark and obsess about building a great product and looking after your customers.

#6 — Everyone else has their sh*t figured out early

Marketo didn’t define their core values until they were $20M in revenue. At BigCommerce I had 30 direct employees because I thought I was too young to hire managers that would actually listen to me. EVERYONE is faking it and learning as they go. Even if they’re doing $5/10/50/100M revenue.

#7 — Winner takes all so you better be #1 or you’ll go broke

The winner takes 80%. But if you’re in a huge market, that other 20% is MASSIVE. If you’ve picked the right market you can create insane wealth and an important company being #2, #3 or even #10 (think email marketing, file sharing, group chat, etc).

#8 — You should work 34 hours a day, 8 days a week

Go “all in”. Sacrifice your social life. Don’t worry about exercising. Work until you fall asleep at your desk 🙇 Working hard means applying leverage to solve multiple problems concurrently by hiring smart people. We all have only 24 hours in a day and no more than 4–6 productive hours during that same day.

#9 — The average CEO reads 60 books a year

I heard this last week 😂 That’s more than one book a week. If you’re consuming that much information you need to realize the best way to learn is to do. You definitely need to course correct along the way and learn from mentors and advisors, but if you’re spending 10-20+ hours a week reading books, you need to factor in the opportunity cost of not deploying that time against your business. If you’re Warren Buffet then ignore this point.

#10 — You should rent a fancy office to impress investors/clients/partners/potential employees/your mum

Besides people, rent is the biggest overhead for every startup. If you need a nice office to impress someone then you’re talking to the wrong people. Start in a garage, your apartment or a co-working space and only when a) they don’t have any more seats/offices or b) your team is too separated on a day-to-day basis, then get an office. But don’t sign a 5 or 10 year lease. Sublease from a company that ignored this point and rented a huge office that’s 50% empty because they now can’t afford to hire more people 🏦

#11 — PR is the fastest way to get the word out about your startup

TechCrunch will get you about 1,500 unique visitors to your site within a few days. *Slow Clap* 👏. The fastest way to get the word out about your startup is to target the followers of your biggest competitors using Facebook + Instagram ads. It’s cheap and amazingly effective if you can position your product against theirs in a way that appeals to their fans/followers/customers. Bonus points if you use Youtube pre-roll ads.

#12 — You should copy what the big guys are doing

Applying stage inappropriate advice to your startup is the fastest way to kill it. If a company doing $20M builds an outside sales team and you copy them when you’re doing $200K in revenue, it won’t work. Find startups in the same growth phase as you and look at what they’re doing. Here are the phases:

  • Phase 1 (< $1M revenue)
  • Phase 2 ($1-$5M revenue)
  • Phase 3 ($5-$10M revenue)
  • Phase 4 ($10–20M revenue)
  • Phase 5 ($20–50M revenue)
  • Phase 6 (> $50M revenue)

Finally, remember that common sense isn’t common. So if someone gives you advice and they aren’t where you want to be, don’t have what you want or haven’t built the kind of company you’re aiming to build, then ignore them.

Where You Can Find Me

  • My Blog (An entire archive of my essays for founders)
  • iTunes + Soundcloud (My “Insane Growth” podcast for founders)
  • Facebook (I live stream once per week with advice to build your biz)
  • Twitter (Quick tips to help you become a better founder)
  • LinkedIn (Longer articles about psychology, mindset and growth)
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