Back in August 2015, we launched Product Hunt LIVE, a series of community-led Q&As with some of the top entrepreneurs, investors, entertainers, and thought leaders in the world. One of the biggest trends we’ve noticed across the hundreds of LIVE Chats has been the seemingly insatiable appetite for startup advice.
Below, you’ll find some of the best advice for new entrepreneurs, selected from over 100 LIVE Chats. Building a new company is hard in and of itself. We’re big believers that learning from those who have already launched, scaled, and invested in startups gives you a better chance of succeeding.
Micah Baldwin: Talk to a lot of people about your idea.
Talk to a lot of people about your idea. Not for feedback, but for reaction. Make lots of friends. Don’t ask for money too early. Believe that if a punk high school kid can build a company and sell it to Yahoo!, you can, too. Remember that we live in a collaborative community, not a group of cut-throat assholes. Just find your place within that community.
— Micah Baldwin, Founder of 6 companies, and mentor at Techstars, 500 Startups, and more.
Kevin Rose: Seek out successful mentors that you can trust.
If you’re starting something new, and this is your first company, maintain control at all costs. If you’re inexperienced, seek our successful mentors that you can trust. Preferably unbiased with zero ties to your company. Be open and honest with them, hell, with everyone. If you don’t know something, don’t hide the fact; find people that do and take it head on.
After a few months of running Digg, things started to take off. I was scared of the CEO role, so I hired someone. Sadly, we didn’t see eye to eye on many things, and I couldn’t force him to make changes. Later when things started to decline, we had to let him go. It was years of this battling that burnt me out, and sadly most of this could have been avoided if I had stepped up and confronted my fears in the beginning.
— Kevin Rose, CEO of HODINKEE, Co-founder of Digg
Shane Snow: Whatever it is you’re thinking about doing, ask yourself what it would take to make it 10x bigger or better.
Whatever it is you’re thinking about doing, ask yourself what it would take to make it 10x bigger or better. That will force you to reconsider the industry/project/product/whatever in a variety of ways, and it’s the 10x story that really rallies the support you need to build and fund a great startup. Also, as Peter Thiel wrote in his book, who doesn’t want to sell a product that’s 10x better than the alternative? We need to stop thinking of “incremental” as synonymous with “innovation.” You’re starting up; why not shoot for something huge and then reverse engineer a step-by-step path to it? This is, not coincidentally, Elon Musk’s exact strategy with both Tesla and SpaceX. — Shane Snow, CCO, Contently
Rand Fishkin: Consider what you want your company to be when it grows up.
Consider what you want the company to become and what will make you feel that you’ve had success. Talk to entrepreneurs who’ve built venture-backed businesses, businesses that failed, ones that were acquired, ones that they just kept running as a “lifestyle business” (that term is used as a pejorative by Silicon Valley, but it’s actually an amazing thing that the 8/10 startups who raise funding but die are jealous of). Don’t go into the startup world thinking there’s only one path you must pursue.
Anil Dash: Have an idea of what success looks like for you.
Ask those fundamental questions:
- What is the change in the world you’re trying to make by creating a product and a company? That’s got to be the starting point.
- How well are you serving your community (whether that’s a community of users, potential users, or the broader community you’re part of?)
- Consider the long-term sustainability concerns: What does it look like if you succeed? How do you make sure to stay on track with what you’re trying to achieve in the world, while still paying the bills?
— Anil Dash, Co-founder Makerbase, ThinkUp and Activate.
Cindy Gallop: If you’re considering a business partner/co-founder, do a test-drive first.
I recommend two things about finding the right business partner/co-founder. The first is you absolutely must, must, must test-drive them first, in some form or other. Propose a trial period of working together for a specified length of time (e.g. several months).
And the second thing is the true measure of someone is not how they are when things are going well, but how they are when things are going badly. Within that trial period, hit them with the hard stuff. See how they respond to the things that are difficult/are going to be difficult. The last thing you need is a founder/business partner who is great when things are going well, but caves, gives in, or runs away when things are going badly. Because they will go badly A LOT, and you need someone shoulder to shoulder with you taking their fair share of the shit and digging down in the trenches with you shoveling that shit out of your way.
— Cindy Gallop, Co-founder & CEO, MakeLoveNotPorn
Ryan Holmes: Don’t try to get funded on the first meeting.
Advice for startup financing:
- Take only what you need and maybe just a bit more, but not too much. You won’t be able to put it to work, and it’s dilutive before you’ve proven [anything] out.
- Lot’s of VCs promise the moon, but fizzle once onboard. Lower your expectations to getting money, and if they add value then be surprised vs. banking on it.
- Build a relationship, and don’t try to get funded on the first meeting.
- Have a big hit list and narrow down vs. starting focused or too narrow.
- Interview portfolio CEOs. Not just the ones [the VCs] intro you to.
- Success solves most problems. Move fast and don’t expect anyone to solve things in early days except for yourself and early team. — Ryan Holmes, CEO & Founder of Hootsuite
Bea Arthur: Don’t get distracted by the bullshit.
Best advice to a first-time entrepreneur: Be positive and proactive. Don’t let the stink of failure stick with you for too long. People who are actually in the game know what it’s really like. Things go wrong the majority of the time. That’s your job as CEO to put out fires and course correct, especially as you grow. We had MAJOR growing pains last year with our rebrand and I was a little too transparent with our advisors and investors, and to them, things looked great because we were still growing! The pain is not their problem and it shouldn’t be yours. Shake it off and remember why you started. *Don’t get distracted by the bullshit.*
— Bea Arthur, Founder and CEO of In Your Corner
DHH: Do great work. Do fewer things well.
GROWTH, GROWTH, GROWTH….
Hahaha, I’m KIDDING! That’s a fucking terrible chant that we need to beat out of the startup community. A horrible ideology that’s leading the companies that chase it to some very dark places. Instead, I’d like to think:
- Do great work. Work you can be proud of. Care about the inside of the box. Do fewer things well. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget this.
- Act like you’d want to be treated. I’m a customer hundreds of times per month. Every time is an opportunity to observe how I feel about those interactions and reflect on whether we’re doing better ourselves.
- It’s so easy to be sucked into a never-ending sprint. The habits you set now are the habits you’ll keep tomorrow. Be very careful which habits you adopt. Over-work and over-collaboration are two chief bad habits to be alert about.
— David Heinemeier Hansson, Creator of Ruby on Rails, Founder & CTO at Basecamp
Gina Trapani: If you’re not failing, you’re not being ambitious enough.
I try to start every day, when I’m reviewing what I’m going to do that day, with a simple question: “How am I going to move my business forward today?” Other than that, I constantly have to remind myself that if you’re not failing, you’re not being ambitious enough. ?– Gina Trapani, Co-founder of ThinkUp and Makerbase, Founding editor of Lifehacker
Peter Shankman: Be relevant to your audience by asking them all the time how you can improve.
Be transparent. Be relevant to your audience by asking them all the time how you can improve. Be brief — you’ve only got a few seconds to make an impact. And finally, be top of mind — just a few beats better than everyone else is all it takes to win the war. And let’s face it, it’s not that hard — most people suck. :) — Peter Shankman, Founder of HARO, public speaker & best-selling author
Justin Weniger: Do what you love. Don’t settle.
Do what you love. Don’t settle. If you’re hitting your snooze button in the morning then you are probably doing the wrong thing. I know that sounds cliché, but I’ve been on both sides of it and don’t think there is an operating system, strategy, or organizational structure that matters if it doesn’t start with passion. — Justin Weniger, CEO of Life is Beautiful Festival