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Martin Frid-Nielsen
startup advice

‘You’ve Got To Fail’: Startup Advice From Silicon Valley Investor

1. A startup is all about selling your idea, not about technology.

One of the fundamental pieces of startup advice is that a startup is ultimately about business. A lot of people don’t understand that, and they think it’s primarily about technology. Technology is only part of the story, it’s important to realize a startup is about selling your idea. It starts with selling somebody else on your idea: finding another team member. Finding employees. You need a lawyer on board. You can’t pay him/her yet – so you sell them your idea and hopefully they’ll buy it. So ask yourself – can I build a team on my idea? Will they buy it? Will they work for free because they believe in the idea?

2. You’ve got to fail.

Another concept is that truly successful companies are able to change. One of the typical Silicon Valley things is the concept of being open about what you do. A lot of people in Europe are very secretive – and they only thing they get out of that is that their companies take longer to fail. With startups, you’ve got to expect to fail and be able to adapt to the realities of the world. What you might eventually be successful in may turn out to be completely different from what you imagined when you started. When I was starting out my last startup, my initial idea didn’t stay either. Eventually we did find something that became our business, but that did take a little while and we kept trying different concept and measured the response from the market so we would know when he had something that would resonate. Part of all this is to define what success is.

3. What you want is not always what the world wants. Deal with it.

You can’t just sit down and come up with an idea and hope it’s going to work – it’s not that easy. Once you actually start doing it, putting it in front of people – you’ll realize it won’t be exactly what the world wants. It has to be adapted a little bit. This is why many companies and startups fail: they have an idea, they’re going to build that amazing product – but the world doesn’t need it. It’s very important to look at what I call market fit. Market fit (or product/market fit) is all about the combination of what you want to build and what the market wants. Too many people are focused on building, and not focused on getting the world what it wants and – even more importantly – what it wants to pay money for.

Starting with an MVP or prototype is a good idea. Get it out, get some feedback, and go from there. Look at a company like Amazon. I mean, what Amazon was when it first came out and what it is today are two different things. Most of my stuff comes from Amazon, and I can get it delivered on the same day. When they started out, did they do all that? No. There was just one type of things that you could buy on Amazon, and that was books. And I’m not even sure that Amazon started with books – there could’ve been something else before the books that didn’t work out! The point is find the smallest proof point possible, something you can build and launch quickly, and go from there as you collect market data.

4. Time is more important than money.

Time is actually much more important than money. Your bad idea can survive for way too long if you have funding, and you’ll just take too long to fail. Not having a lot of money can be a good thing, because then you need to go out there and see if people really want your product. You sometimes see people with bad ideas – and they persist until they spend everything they have. It’s like having a gambling problem. These people put their life savings into a failing business, and they only moment they stop is when they get thrown out of their house or they get divorced. They didn’t manage their time. They didn’t listen. It’s hard to admit you didn’t have a good product, but you have to learn how to recover from that.

5. Love what you do.

‘Doing a startup’ is one of the hardest things you can do, the most challenging… and the most rewarding. People come and go, some don’t like to stay around for as long as I did in my previous startup. But for me, it’s a high. I don’t really know where my motivation comes from, but an important thing is that I take care of myself in a holistic way. I exercise, I talk to people. It’s good to challenge yourself in other things than technology. All those things play a role. A lot of people burn out because they work too hard. I work hard as well – but at the same time I do things can help make me stay in balance.

So I think it’s about keeping your balance and natural hunger. I’ve been part of some wonderful technology breakthroughs for over 20 years, ranging from PC software to cloud technology and IOT, and I’m still hungry. I’m still excited, and the guys here know this. I was up 5.30 US time on Friday because we had a demo. We blew everyone away. People were amazed that we could work so hard during the holiday period. And that success was a high for me. This project is as exciting as anything I had experienced before, if not more.

startup advice

*Martin Frid-Nielsen is a business software and Internet services veteran, with a proven 25-year track record with companies in Silicon Valley. He is a named inventor on four U.S. Patents related to data synchronization and web authoring technologies. He’s also an advisor / angel investor in various startups and larger companies.

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