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.