Founders: You Don’t Need to Know It All

As a founder, you don’t need to know everything. Here’s what you do need to know, though.

What should you know about starting your business? What should you leave to someone else? Starting a business can be arduous. Whether you’re getting home from your 9-to-5 and working on a side project, or you’ve taken the leap and made your new business your full time job, there is a level of risk and fear in every new company. Yet nothing will beat the feeling of seeing the first version of your product, getting your first customer, and (eventually) turning that first profit. Entrepreneurs have a tendency towards overcompensation. When swallowed by risk and fear, the tendency is to learn everything you can about every part of business and do it all yourself. But where does that leave your time? You can’t be 100% invested in “learning” and 100% invested in “doing” at the same time. So what is crucial to know, and what can be left to someone else?

1. (You Need to Know) The Vision & Goal

Whether addressing a crucial problem in society or a simple need in a market, all good businesses answer a question or solve a problem. Only founders can create and implement the first vision of a company, and set the goals that put the company on a path towards seeing the vision’s realization.

2. (You Need to Know) The Product or Service

Now that you know the question you’re answering, determining the answer to the question is your next step: know your product. Odds are, this is the one thing you knew at the very beginning, and you knew it clearly. Your responsibility now is to know how your product solves your consumers’ problems, and continues to respond to them as the market grows or changes.

3. (You Need to Know) The Go-To-Market Strategy

What is the plan for getting your product or service to customers? When and how will you launch, and what channels and calls to action will get you there? Your role as founder is to know exactly who your customers are and where to find them. Do you know exactly what your customer’s experience with your business, from brand to product, will look like? This should be a priority for you to consider.

4. (You Need to Know) The Financial Strategy

How are you going to be financed? Will you bootstrap, or go down the routes of debt or equity financing? Each of these three present opportunities (yes, even bootstrapping presents opportunities) to you as a founder and you as a company, and should play heavily into your role.

5. (You Need to Know) The Resource Strategy

Apart from financing, there are other resources to consider. From technology to supply to people — how you acquire and allocate your resources will reflect in your results and ultimately your vision. Use your role as founder to make sure your business’s resource strategy reflects your big picture.

6. (You Need to Know) The Type of Business

Whether you become a sole proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp, etc., will have an impact on you as a founder as well as future business decisions. Both in tax and legal matters, this decision is a crucial one, so make sure you know the pros, cons, and implications of legally forming your company.

7. (You Need to Know) The Culture

Whether you’re a one-man-army or leading an entire team, culture shows. What will your business culture be known for? Are there values you want to portray through your work? The way you treat your employees, as well as your customers, will impact how your brand is perceived in the market and your ability to scale. Decide early on what these questions mean to you.

8. (You Don’t Need to Know) The Accounting, Marketing, Graphic Design, and Other Miscellaneous Things You Think You Need… Unless These ARE Your Business

You are starting your business because you’re passionate or because you have very specific knowledge or an idea to share with other people. Nobody starts a business to deal with all of the back office administration, even though it’s critical. Where should you focus more of your time: A) delivering your product or service? Or B) learning administrative duties to keep the company running? This answer is to spend your time on your best strategic contribution to your product or service. Sure, you should understand at some level the back office activities, but it may be best to rely on a professional for day-to-day administration that would otherwise take away attention from your product or service development. Outsource the tasks you’re not personally adding value on, spending time just to understand and audit the outcomes as the business owner. Spend money to make money. You wouldn’t ever try to get a PhD in all fields of science, so don’t try to master every task of business. As founder, your strategic contribution to your startup is in the vision and strategies. Set your sights on a goal, steer towards it, and bring in as much help in the process as you need to get there.

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