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The only three things a startup founder should ever focus on 

The only three things a startup founder should ever focus on 

  1. Hire the very best people 
  2. Make sure the company doesn’t run out of money 
  3. Articulate the vision and lead it 

The key word is “only”. This list is important because of everything that is not on it.

A startup founder should only spend their time doing these three things. 

Of course, this is ridiculously idealistic advice. 

In the real (messy) world, most founders start out doing almost everything else too. They have to. The definition of scrappiness is doing whatever it takes to move ahead. 

So non-technical founders will twiddle with code. They’ll try their hand at design. They’ll create marketing campaigns – even though they’ve never done it before. This is all totally okay. 

As soon as a founder raises serious money though, it’s time to become idealistic about the three golden rules. 

Venture capital exists to be deployed, to hire people who’re better at things than the founder. In fact, to hire the people who’re the best in the world… if you can get them. 

(And you need to get them!)

The founder’s job is to persuade and seduce that top talent – to sell them on the vision. Once they’re on board, you must lead those people in the right direction. That’s the vision part. Your one-on-ones, internal memos and town hall meetings are all tactics to do this. 

While all this is going on, you also have to manage your financial model, your burn rate and continue wooing investors in preparation for your next capital raise… the urgency of which has a habit of sneaking up on you. Making sure the company doesn’t run out of money is a daily to-do. 

Hiring. Money. Vision. 

You could write a book on each of the three rules. Many have.

And again, it’s what is not on this list that matters. 

The key is to remember that – if you’re building a venture-backed company – these three things aren’t just your north star. They’re you’re everything.

Any decision to deviate from these rules means you’re inserting yourself as a cog into the machine you’re trying to build. 

And that might be okay, but know that there is always a price. Usually it’s an execution slow-down in your race to get to market. 

Worth noting: These principles do not apply if you’re NOT running a venture-backed startup. 

So if you’re bootstrapping then you’re simply not in the business of using other people’s money to race for market share. You can and should go slower, get your hands dirtier and gently scale. 

After years of bootstrapping, you’ll wake up on a Saturday morning and realize you just spent your whole week doing just those three things. That’s when you know you’ve made it. You’re not bootstrapping anymore. 

4 Comments

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  1. This is great!

    Maybe even bootstrapped entrepreneurs should strive for a variation of these.

    Maybe “Hiring. Money. Vision.” becomes “Enrollment. Sales. Vision.”

    Enrollment as in finding and recruiting collaborators and partners of any kind.
    Sales as in money you can keep 🙂

    The distinction might not be between venture backed vs bootstrapped at the core.

    I feel like quite a few bootstrapped entrepreneurs come at it from their craft perspective, not necessarily from a management or CEO perspective.

    In that sense the distinction might be building business that are independent from you vs. organizations that support you in honing your craft and increasing your impact.

    Life is messy 🙂 anyway, really great post at the right time, since I started “drifting” again last week.

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