It’s been a year since I started WizCounsel and thought it would be a great idea to pen down the learnings. From an inexperienced Founder, this contains some sharp experience points, mistakes usually inexperience Founders make plus tools I have used and the books I have read.
As an inexperienced Founder, you can only scale by
- Committing mistakes and learning quickly
- Reading books. Reading about mistakes committed by other successful Founders.
How it has been and will always be — The unicorn word is persistence.
Let’ s just dive into it:
1. Basic Non-Technical Founder thing:
If you are a non-technical founder (like me) building a tech product — It’s important you start reading about Technology and Design. If Technology is hard to take up and you find it sort of boring, take up Design. I became a self-taught full-time UI Designer from a Chartered Accountant. It helps you have a clear vision of what you are building and you also sort of learn about how the technology pragmatically works, APIs work, how data flows once you interact with developers to implement the design. Learn about wireframing, sketching your website/app, start reading more about product management through books and blogs and eventually read about technology stacks of similar companies and reason their stacks. I use Sketch App, Zeplin and Invision for all the design work and try creating a lot of mocks.
I explore a tech product every week in its entirety — right from their UI, UX to the tech stack.
But you would still need a person you can trust to take up the tech leadership. This is one of the most important hiring decision you would make. I would suggest taking the time to make this decision and not rushing into it. It took me 3 months to eventually find my tech lead.
2. Get married to the Customer Funnel:
You should know how the end to end user journey would look like on your product right from getting on the website to post task completion feedback.
It is really important to have your User Funnel drawn-out precisely and then figure out how you optimise the user journey at each point of the funnel. We have a big chart of this funnel drawn out in our meeting room and almost all our product meetings revolve around the funnel.
A look of our funnel right at the beginning. This has evolved over time. We make separate funnels for each entry point like home page, blog page, mobile app leading into much detailed post-login funnels.
3. Do sales and customer support :
After we went live with WizCounsel, I realised that many of the features that we had developed were actually of no use at that time for our users, they did not need them and hardly cared and we just made those features out of wrong assumptions and trying to achieve false perfection.
To really understand the market’s perspective and what the users are looking for right from being on our homepage to the inside of the Dashboard, I started doing inside sales and customer support myself. I was amazed to see what people really want, could precisely decide to optimise the current features and to build the next features.
Find one really good tool/software to plug into your site for optimised inside sales and customer support. We use Intercom which I highly recommend for doing inside sales and which basically acts as your CRM. They have a startup program as well where they provide subsidized subscription.
4. From Gut & assumption driven company to a data-driven company:
Move from gut/intuition driven company to data-driven company. Once you start building your product you are mostly thinking of and developing features based on guts and assumptions about how consumers will use this and why they will love what you are building. This is typical because at that time you don’t have any proprietary data to make decisions, you are short on time to collect reliable industry data, analyse it and make decisions. However, it is very important to realise to not get carried away by the intuitions and assumptions and not to make it a habitual base for decision making for your company and have a fast transition to being a data-driven company.
Start this by penning down the top 5 metrics you would want to track, analyse and base your decisions upon. You can also figure out that out of those 5 metrics which will be your North Start Metric (NSM) — the driving force. Make monthly/weekly targets around these metrics and start the race & trace game violently.
This Andreessen Horowitz blog would help you understand different metrics and how to calculate them.
5. From product obsession to distribution obsession:
One of the hardest things particularly for Inexperienced Founders. You will be in love with your product (Nothing bad), you would want to make it perfect, you would want it to look really good, you would want to include each and every feature, you would want to optimise every API call, test it in and out and all this would do nothing but increase the lead time to get into the market only to realise that once you are in the market the actual game begins — People not buying your product, people not understanding your product, competitors giving hard time, your marketing is flop, your sales are spammy and what not.
An unpleasant wake-up call and the time to roll up your sleeves.
I would strongly advise to start thinking about distribution from early days. How will you market your product, how will you educate the market, whether yours is a content intensive product then start writing quality content, do you need people on the ground then start finding right partners, if the market is niche — how to be around early adopters, if you an exclusive subscription-based product — start a waiting list and sort of carve out an initial distribution plan.
6. Should you hire at all?
Given that you are bootstrapping or have fairly less capital, hiring decisions would always ruin your sleep and take most of your time only to hamper your personal productivity.
Have aggressive hiring and firing policy. This is something I learnt from a successful Founder’s blog. In early days, you cannot let a bad hiring decision sustain and eat up your capital. Probation means probation if you find out the person is not the one you gauged at the time of hiring, tell them honestly yet subtly to leave. It is going to be hard but then you should know the startup plunge you have taken is much harder and at times requires you to be ruthless.
Hire for attitude, morals, talent, skills, college in that order. Early on you want people who can take the plunge with you, put skin in the game and believe in the vision.
My worst hire was a Tier 1 College CS graduate with 3 years experience who would come in at 1 pm and leave at 5 pm and whom my team rated poorly because of arrogance.
Remember that your first few hires will equally be responsible for creating a strong empathy-driven, inclusive and a customer-centric culture.
This amazing blog you should bookmark on how to make better hiring decisions.
7. Raising Funds
We raised capital from a few Angel Investors till now. All of them were through referrals. Also, while you are raising money from Angel Investors they would highly bet on you rather the idea or the product. They would mainly be judging you from the way you pitch them, how passionate are you and how persistent will you be.
Though we have not raised any money from VCs yet but a few useful cents:
- Raise more than you feel ( There will be dry days)
- Make a list of VCs you think would add a lot of value, understand you, the stage of the company. This becomes a lot clear when you read their investment thesis on their websites and check out their portfolio companies.
- Find a mutual connect who can refer you. This mutual connect should have a good reputation because you will at first you be judged basis the person who referred you.
- Cold pitching a VC? — Bookmark this gem.
9. Books that have really helped during this 1 year:
- The hard thing about hard things by Ben Horowitz
- Measure what Matters
- Thinking Fast and Slow
- Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman
- Hook’d — How to build habit-forming products
So, that would be it. We are learning every day at WizCounsel and each day strengthens our vision of creating a distributed professional workforce for India 2.0. Making legal, Tax & Compliances more affordable, accessible and measurable.
I know there are a lot of inexperienced Founders out there and if anyone of you just read this, you can surely add some learnings of yours in the comments. Would love to read them.
The greatness comes from the struggle.
— Ben Horowitz