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Startup learnings from Mitchell Harper, co-founder of Bigcommerce

Bigcommerce co-founder Mitchell Harper wrote a blog in which he shares 28 things he would do different from his learnings (Startup learnings) in building a big startup which raised $125m.

They are worth reading and applying on your own journey. I think it sucks to learn your own mistakes when you can benefit from others experience (and misfortune :))

Mitchell has also posted a bunch of other useful content and is worth checking out!

Things we would do differently in building a new startup

  • Hire top down after the first 10 people
  • Invest in design (team or agency) from day one
  • Be tied to your vision and problem statement but not your approach
  • Define customer personas up front and segment by pain/needs
  • Focus on a single pain point and a single persona first
  • Do less, but do it better, especially in product and marketing
  • Start competing in a red ocean but try to redefine the market so it becomes a blue ocean
  • Don’t rely on a single lead source driven by high demand and limited supply
  • See your platform as multiple products not multiple features
  • Hire product managers with strong domain experience
  • Run a 6 month (minimum) closed beta and nail your USP (Unique Selling Point) before going live
  • Go for fewer customers at a much higher ACV
  • Tie a good amount of everyone’s bonus to a customer success metric
  • Build an open platform from day one (RESTful API, also consumed internally)
  • Be patient and work on a 5/7/10 year timeline — ignore competitors and focus on the market opportunity not feature wars
  • Listen to your gut more, especially when it comes to people — assume all resumes are B.S. and back channel at least 5 people who worked with, for and above each candidate
  • Listen to the entire organization (especially those in daily contact with clients) in a way that scales as you grow
  • Build a customer advisory board who are incentivized to provide valuable feedback often
  • Amplify the brand by building and remunerating a team of influencers
  • Understand the 4 styles of leadership and use each effectively depending on the person you’re leading
  • Know which stage your company is in (product market fit, getting ready to scale or scaling) and only read books/blogs related to that stage
  • Make sure all senior leaders have their own executive coaches
  • Listen to and respect opinions, but realize they’re just opinions
  • Don’t be emotional about the business — balance an intense focus on work with family, friends and fitness
  • Realize no one cares as much as you do, and that’s OK
  • Fire fast and be less forgiving of mistakes, especially in departments that are measured with raw numbers, like sales and marketing
  • Don’t speak at conferences — they’re a massive waste of time
  • Don’t assume everyone has honest intentions just because you do
  • Don’t beat yourself up because you make mistakes

Things he would do again in a startup

  • Bootstrap to a MSP then raise a round as soon as you achieve product market fit
  • Recognize people for their achievements in front of the whole company on a regular basis
  • Solve a problem you’ve personally experienced and that you could work on for the next 7–10 years
  • Create a culture that’s different, unique and feels like the founder(s) of the company
  • Constantly ask yourself “who is the BEST person in the world to help me solve X?” and reach out to ask for help — know you can’t fix everything on your own
  • Negotiate hard on valuation to keep as much equity as possible, all the time — give way on terms before equity
  • Early on, raise money from investors who have “been there, done that” — don’t take money from “spreadsheet VCs” because they only understand numbers
  • Hire the best people, regardless of where they are and incentivize them heavily with equity
  • Personally answer as many support inquiries as you can for the first year
  • Own the product for the first year or two to make sure your vision is in the team’s DNA
  • Know who your real competitors are and pay attention but don’t let them distract you from your original vision
  • Be the face of your company and learn how to speak in front of large crowds
  • Be confident hiring people who are twice your age and realize the only place age is a barrier is in your head
  • Celebrate the good times but be brutally honest with everyone when things aren’t going well — and share your plan to get things back on track fast
  • Communicate your vision until you’re blue in the face, then keep talking about it
  • Do what you’re good at and delegate everything else to people who are much, much, much smarter and more experienced than you are
  • Know when it’s time to hire someone to replace you — get a deep understanding of your skills and passions and hire that person before you top out
  • Own the culture and continually shape what it means, reinforce why it’s important and fire anyone who breaches your core values
  • Have zero optionality — no “side project”, no job to fall back on, no plan B. Put your entire life into the company for 2 years then put your head up to assess where you are, how you’re going and decide if it’s time to crank it up or call it a day
  • Get good at pitching your vision and answering tough questions when you’re on the spot
  • Be a genuinely caring person and try to change the world from a place of humility, humbleness and honesty

What was your key learning? Sound off in the comments!

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