In anticipating how to avoid potential pitfalls when starting or growing a business, founders and aspiring entrepreneurs should look to those who have already navigated similar issues and can now provide advice with the perspective that comes from hindsight. At the New Hampshire Tech Alliance’s Innovation Summit, one of the only technology conferences of its kind in New Hampshire, a panel of three New Hampshire-based entrepreneurs discussed the challenges that they have handled while founding or growing their own companies and how the resulting lessons impacted their company’s trajectory or later ventures. That panel featured Tom Daly, CEO of Big Network and co-founder of Dyn, Jennifer Joyce, President of SpotOn Fence, and David Kovar, founder and CEO of Ursa Inc.
As the three entrepreneurs summarized their experiences in growing early-stage companies and answered questions from the audience, which included many new or prospective entrepreneurs, the following themes emerged:
1. As a founder, recognize where your strengths lie and supplement that skillset by bringing in a co-founder or diverse team members to fill in the gaps. A brilliant coder may have no experience navigating business challenges such as financial planning or creating a positive company culture for employees. Alternatively, someone with significant business experience and a great idea may lack the background necessary to develop a go-to market strategy. Balancing out your areas of expertise by incorporating diverse skillsets from others will strengthen the team and improve the likelihood of success.
2. When selecting a co-founder, compatibility matters. Starting a business with someone is the beginning of a long-term relationship, and not unlike dating, it is critical that the relationship is built on respect, trust, and likeminded values. Take your time to find the right match, and if it ultimately does not work out, recognize when it is time to part ways. To take the panelists’ advice one step further, I also recommend having discussions about each founder’s expected contributions early on and putting founder agreements in writing so that you have a playbook for working through certain issues that may arise.
3. Utilize customer feedback – especially if they ask you to charge more money! Solicit feedback from actual and potential customers, and then actually utilize that feedback to pivot where possible. This starts with investing in time with your customers so that you can understand them better. Similarly, creating a minimum viable product and launching it, as opposed to delaying the launch until the product is “perfect,” begins the opportunity to collect feedback.
4. Lean into the others in your network, including mentors and advisors. Mentors do not need to be assigned, and in fact, the best mentor relationships typically develop organically. The panelists also commented that investing in good advisors, including legal and financial advisors, from the beginning can avoid significant issues and expenses down the road.
5. In her keynote address that kicked off the Innovation Summit, C.A. Webb (former President of the New England Venture Capital Association and co-founder of Underscore VC, a Boston-based venture capital firm), reiterated that the whole – in this instance, New Hampshire’s entrepreneurial ecosystem – is greater than the sum of its parts. The panelists echoed that theme and suggested that aspiring entrepreneurs take advantage of New Hampshire’s uniquely collaborative startup community to connect with other founders, mentors, and potential employees.
Beginning a new business is inherently challenging, but valuable insight can be gleaned from others who have been through similar circumstances (in some cases, multiple times) and can readily impart advice based on the lessons that they have learned.