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5 things a WEF Shaper Learned during Y-Combinator

Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from Richard Serunjogi, CEO of Business Score.

Building a start-up is really hard. Elon Musk describes it as chewing on glass and staring into the abyss. So I’ve written up a list of top tips that I’ve learned along my journey so far, including participating in last summer’s Y Combinator class.

1. Do things that don't scale

This is probably the most counterintuitive learning because it goes against what we imagine most large start-ups do. But this is the point: you shouldn’t be doing what later stage start-ups do when you’re starting out. Doing things that don’t scale means recruiting your users manually in-person, or giving lots of attention to a small number of users to delight them and prompt referrals.

For my company, Business Score, this means meeting startup founders 1:1 and spending months brokering exclusive offers for startups in order to acquire users.

A great example of humble beginnings is Uber - they started by giving taxi drivers at San Francisco airport mobile phones and messaging them whenever the Uber team had a new customer that wanted to be picked up from the airport.

2. Bounce ideas off your smartest friends

I had about seven smart people that I’d spoken to about potentially starting a company with. My co-founder is one of the closest from the bunch and I’ve known her for eight years. We spent a full year discussing ideas before she quit her job to join the cause. The wait paid off as our first hire was her former boss! However, a strong friendship and complementary skillset were crucial for getting our YC offer and eventually being named by TechCrunch as one of the top 12 start-ups from the summer's program.

3. Avoid scaling too fast

This is a big mistake that both start-ups without funding and post-funding make. For those companies that haven’t received funding yet, this looks like spending lots of money on Facebook ads or paying a developer tens of thousands of pounds to build an iPhone app, when it isn’t necessary and will be very painful when no one uses it. The emergence of no-code tools means that even non-engineer founders can test assumptions with minimal development work. For companies that have raised money, this typically looks like hiring lots of people before they’ve found product-market fit, which is an expensive mistake!

4. Make something people want

The purpose of building a company is to make something that your customers want. It sounds so simple, yet it’s cited as the number one cause for start-up failure. Where founders often go wrong is that they are so committed to their vision of the future, they stop listening to customer needs. There is a fine line between determination and ignorance, and as a founder, self-awareness is essential for not overstepping the mark.

5. Product founder fit

This is a massively underrated consideration for a lot of founders. When building a start-up, your odds of success are low. So the more your company aligns with the skillsets and experiences you’ve developed through your career, the more significant your competitive advantage will be. Are you the best person to be building your company? This works both ways, perhaps there’s another company that better matches with your personality that you should be building.

Another thing to think about is what your superpower is, that is: what skill do you bring to the table that you’re brilliant at. If you can leverage that for your startup you’ll be more likely to succeed.

Are there any tips I’ve missed? Let me know:

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