Prioritize substance over hype

When I launched my current startup, HabitStrong, I decided to not go the conventional route of painting a growth story and trying to impress the VCs.

Instead, here is the startup guide I followed:

1. Don’t worry about scale – instead focus on impact.

99% of the time, startups die not because they can’t serve a million customers, but because they can’t find even ten.

2. In the early days, don’t spend a dime on advertising.

The most efficient way to kill a startup is to spend a ton of money on Google and Facebook ads, from day 1 – it almost never works.

In fact, whenever people ask us what our marketing budget is, we have an easy answer: Zero. Till date, we haven’t spent a rupee on paid marketing. Our customers come through word of mouth or from hearing about us.

You can spend on ads once your product-market fit is established – even we might do it in the future. But that comes later – the initial marketing should just be educating the customer with sincerity and honesty.

3. Don’t worry about trying to impress the VCs.

This is a controversial point. Mind you – I am NOT saying don’t raise VC money. If you want to, by all means, do it. Some day, if the need exists, even we might.

But quite often, painting a rosy growth story for the VCs becomes a bigger priority than doing the right things. That is why startups shut down even after raising a ton of money – they are showcasing to the VCs – “Look how fast we are growing!”, even when the product still sucks.

4. Don’t overpromise, overhype, over-anything

This point is self-explanatory. A startup founder’s life is tough as it is – why make it further miserable by promising the moon, and then chasing, failing, and blaming bad luck? You can be ambitious without the hype.

To summarize: Prioritize substance over hype.

Once you do that, happiness and peace of mind are all yours.

– Rajan

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