Bucking the “fail faster” mantra
Not failing is better than failing fast.
Jessica Livingston, the co-founder of Y Combinator gave a keynote at a Female Founders Conference and laid out the alternative to the “Fail Fast” philosophy: Don’t fail at all.
How not to fail
Jessica has seen hundreds of companies go through the Combinator and talks about her real observations of what makes a successful founder. The first, and maybe most important point, is:
1. Make something people want
“Nothing else you do will matter if you’re not making something people want. You can be the best spokesperson, the best fundraiser, the best programmer, but if you aren’t building a product that satisfies a real need, you’ll never succeed.”
This is actually the motto of the Combinator and central to everything Livingston has to say.
2. Stay focused
One characteristic Livingston sees in the most successful entrepreneurs is the focus to stay with the vision. She gives a list of distractions that occur over and over including networking, having coffee with investors, arguing on social media, attending conferences, spending time on PR before you are even making something people want, and the last item is “Worrying about being a woman in tech. And that’s a theme that reoccurs in address. In fact, its the next item on the list:
3. Don’t worry about being a woman
Livingston doesn’t aim to minimize the challenges of being a female entrepreneur. Rather she worries that the amount of time the media spends on taking about it will discourage female entrepreneurs:
“While I’ll tell you that it is going to be harder for you as a woman, it’s not going to be so much harder that it will make the difference between success and failure. If you want to start a startup, go ahead and do it and don’t let yourself be intimidated or distracted by all the noise.
4. Measure your growth
If you follow those first few steps, Livingston continues, you’ll see growth. And keeping tabs on it is important. A good start up will see about 10% growth a month. If you’re not making that, you might no be focused enough or you might to be making something people want.
5. Know if you’re default alive
It’s not enough to have growth if you’re going run out of money. Yo need to know if your business baby is “default alive” or default dead”.
Do your expenses stay the same while your revenue continues to grow? Congratulations, you have a pulse.
Livingston is amazed how many start up founders have never thought to do this simple math.
6. Keep expenses low
This is the number one reason startups run out of money. And because the number one money eater is salaries, this usually means hiring too many people. This gets a lot of new ventures in trouble after their initial phase.
7. Fundraising gets harder
Founders who have a good amount of seed money think it will be easy to replicate that success, but that is often not the case. Series A investors have a very different mindset than seed investors. While the latter are looking for promise, the former are looking for performance.
And nothing says bad performance like needing more money early on.
There’s a lot of logistics and hope in this talk for all founders, but especially female entrepreneurs. It’s a tough business world out there for you, but also for everyone. So synthesize the knowledge of Livingston and other pioneers, take your ideas, and make something great.
And remember: just don’t fail.