Run This Diagnostic to Thoughtfully Build (and Evaluate) Your Startup’s Culture

Most founders tend to remain high-level when the topic of culture comes up. For starters, there are tons of reads on why culture matters, but strikingly few on how to actually architect it. We all understand what it means to some extent, but it’s rarely defined or broken down. There are frameworks for product/market fit or founder-led sales, but when it comes to culture, the … [ Read more ]

When Pitching an Idea, Should You Focus on “Why” or “How”?

There are two camps on the most effective way to frame an innovative idea. One contends you should emphasize why the idea is desirable. The other says you should focus on how to implement the idea. Which one is right? A research project found that the answer depends on your audience. If you’re making a pitch to novices, focus on why. If you’re making it … [ Read more ]

Marco Zappacosta

The cultural attributes and values of an organization are really a reflection of who joins early on — the shared values that bring the early team together. Building the culture starts with who you hire, and it’s nothing more than that. It’s a mistake to be too explicit about the culture and values upfront in the earliest days of a startup. You don’t know yet … [ Read more ]

Marco Zappacosta

It’s useful to recognize the ways in which you’re not a special flower. In the early days, you think you and your company are special in every way, and then over time, you realize there’s a lot of stuff that everybody goes through.

Jeff Lawson

You’ve got to send people out in different boats to explore new ideas, but when you see the signs of success, make sure you’ve got the ability to double down in real-time on the winning boat.

Your Startup’s Management Training Probably Sucks — Here’s How to Make it Better

At early-stage companies, where you’re still wrestling with product/market fit and building up the company foundation, management often falls to the back burner, leaving folks to generally figure it all out for themselves. However, many of the cracks that emerge as startups scale can be traced back to those missing managerial cornerstones.

One root cause? Manager training, which is largely ignored by startups as a BigCo bucket … [ Read more ]

Jeanne DeWitt Grosser

As a rule of thumb, I don’t think most leaders can handle scaling back more than one order of magnitude in org size — for example if you currently have a 10 person sales team, look for someone who’s led a 100 person sales team, but not 1000.

Great Startups Deserve Great Brands — Build a Strong Foundation by Avoiding These Mistakes

Arielle Jackson has helped shape hundreds of startup brands. “Working with hundreds of brands has cemented the importance of focusing on the fundamentals of your purpose, positioning, and personality early on. These are the essential elements of a brand strategy. When you get this stuff right, everything flows from there. You don’t get distracted by the competition. Your website writes itself. Your messaging breaks through … [ Read more ]

The 30 Best Pieces of Advice for Entrepreneurs in 2021

Since 2013, First Round Review has committed itself to an annual ritual, one that serves as an opportunity to both take stock and remind ourselves of that early promise to stay tactical. Each time we turn the page to the new year, we comb through every article we published over the last one to concentrate the standout tactics into one actionable guide of advice. As … [ Read more ]

Waseem Daher

What some investors say is that the only problem you can’t fix is the problem of market size. But most folks’ intuition about how big a market or a problem is typically quite off

Finding Language/Market Fit: How to Make Customers Feel Like You’ve Read Their Minds

Language/market fit is the most under-appreciated concept for early-stage startups. For starters, most founders are focused on finding product/market fit, zeroing in on the right set of features to match their prospects’ needs. Moreover, fine-tuning language seems like “marketing,” which is usually seen as a later priority, not step zero. Lastly, people also don’t tend to like going out of their comfort zone — and … [ Read more ]

How good are you at business building? A new way to score your ability to scale new ventures

Why do so many great ideas just fail to take off? Executives have plenty of explanations for why their new businesses fail to scale, from poor operations to insufficient talent to simply bad luck. But in many cases, these explanations are based on gut feeling or frustration looking for an outlet, not on a deep understanding of the facts. So we have reviewed more than … [ Read more ]

Falling Flat: Why Startups Need Hierarchical Structure

Wharton management professor Saerom (Ronnie) Lee has a word of warning for aspiring entrepreneurs who envision an egalitarian workplace where there are no bosses and every employee ranks the same.

According to his latest research, startups with flat organizational structures often fail.

20 Underrated Qualities to Look for in Candidates — And 50+ Interview Questions to Suss Them Out

If you’re a hiring manager, this is the perfect time to check in and rededicate yourself to running an even better process, whether that’s by doubling down on your existing approach or trying out new hiring tactics that break the mold. In particular, there’s an opportunity to reconsider the very qualities you’re hunting for.

Over the years, we’ve interviewed hundreds of startup leaders, collecting their go-to … [ Read more ]

Sam Altman

You should trade being short-term low-status for being long-term high-status, which most people seem unwilling to do. A common way this happens is by eventually being right about an important but deeply non-consensus bet. But there are lots of other ways–the key observation is that as long as you are right, being misunderstood by most people is a strength not a weakness. You and a … [ Read more ]

An Exact Breakdown of How One CEO Spent His First Two Years of Company-Building

People often wonder how startup CEOs spend their time. Sam Corcos, the co-founder and CEO of Levels, shares a little about how he spent his time for the first two years, backed up with data. The goal? For folks out there with hopes to become a startup CEO, you can get a behind-the-scenes deep dive into how you might actually spend your time on the … [ Read more ]

12 Frameworks for Finding Startup Ideas — Advice for Future Founders

Before a founder starts building their castle, they have to make sure they’ve picked the right piece of land. To help aspiring builders survey potential plots, we’ve gone back through our archives to surface the best advice from first-time entrepreneurs and repeat-founders. The 12 tactics they share here offer more concrete tips for reverse-engineering these fabled eureka moments, whether you’re in the wide-open ideation phase, … [ Read more ]

Steve Blank

Kickstarter and Indiegogo are world-class inventions that changed the nature of funding for startups. But don’t use such platforms prematurely. If you’re trying to crowdfund your initial idea, that almost guarantees you are working on the wrong thing.

New entrepreneurs misunderstand what Kickstarter is for. They think it’s a way to do customer discovery, to test their product’s appeal. In fact, going on Kickstarter freezes customer … [ Read more ]

Craig Wortmann

Just because somebody is willing to take something rudimentary from you for free is not proof you have a customer. But when someone commits financially—even at a major discount—that person is serious. And he or she is going to evaluate your product or service much more critically. That’s the kind of feedback you need.

You can also try to get upfront sales, though that’s a … [ Read more ]

Phillip H. Kim

It’s rare that all founding partners are equally committed. How much time each will invest, what opportunity costs each will accept, and the level of ambition each has may differ. That’s especially true if one founder had the original idea and brought on the others, or if one founder devotes himself to the business full time while his co-founders hang onto their day jobs. You … [ Read more ]