5 things we've learned about the idea phase of a startup

How-to, Ideas

At Icebreaker we work with many founders even before they have an idea or when they are very early in their startup path.

In this “Idea phase” there are a few things we have seen the most successful founders do. Here are five things we have learned about what great companies do in the idea phase.

1. Aim high in building your team

The best founders find and start working with people who are great at what the they themselves are not great at. Sometimes it’s their friend from high school – but most often it's not.

Some founders looking for co-founders settle for people that loosely fit the profile they are looking for. For example “the sales guy” or “the developer”. You know you need a sales person so you take anyone who has had sales in their title. It’s taking the easy route. That’s not the way you build a great team.

What you should do is go out there and figure out who would be the perfect/great match for what you are looking for and get them to join your team. It might even be easier to get them to join than someone that’s not the perfect fit.

When you start something new, it is a massive help if you have people who can excel from the start and don't need  to learn everything from scratch. It’s not always about experience but you need to get a person you know will excel in the position. You need to be able to answer WHY this person is great for the position.

2. Think clearly on how to differentiate

In order to grab anyone's attention – be it your customer's or potential hire’s – you need to do something that is different from what already exists. In addition, you need to be able to articulate this clearly.

What you actually start to do ("the idea") is a difficult subject since it usually changes dramatically along the way. Here’s where a great team really counts. The most important thing is to start and be flexible enough to change what you do in order to solve your customers’ problems.  

3. Get enough knowledge to validate the early assumptions

The best starting point is if you’re working in a space you know like your own pockets. In this case, you might not need that much external validation. Usually, however, you need to do things that you don’t have a 100% understanding of. In these cases, you need to find people who have that understanding.

This is related to the idea of an "idea maze", where you've thought about all the things that need to happen for your company to be successful. Try to think out the "idea maze" and what kind of expertise you need to cover? That you don't know yet. In practice this requires getting out there, calling and meeting people and such challenging things. =)

4. Focus solely on product, team, and customers in the beginning

You should be super focused on your customers, product and team in the beginning. You don't need anything else.

5. Focus on a certain customer group

It is a risky game to pursue multiple different customers at the same time in the beginning. We see this fail over and over again. If you focus on several customer types, you will not know what to build and how to improve your product because you will get such different advice from different customers.

This is why you should focus on solving the problems of one type of customer: you'll actually be able to keep them. Start growing your customer base, and when you've won the target market, start thinking about how to expand your product to new customers or solving new problems.

What do you think? We're happy to discuss on Hacker News. 

Riku Seppälä, Partner, Icebreaker.vc

Get in touch with me by email at “my first name“@icebreaker.vc if you’re working on something or have an idea. We’re glad to help and build your company together with our community. We invest in ideas/start-ups starting from 50k€ upwards, even in single founders, even if all you have is an idea.

Icebreaker.vc is a community and vc fund. In our community we build startups together with our community of 600+ pre-founders and founders. Our fund invests in angel- and seed stages 50k€ - 350k€.

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