Must-read advice for first-time founders

Over the last 15 years I met with 100s of founders, some of them first time. Most of them didn’t have technical background. All they had is an idea and their savings or a small budget from family & friends. The more mistakes they made in the beginning, the less likely their idea was to launch. Founders are big dreamers and want to launch a lot and very fast. They underestimate complexity and ongoing costs of the product development. Reality often crushes them.

Let’s start from three stories, about three founders I met over the past 3 months. These stories really bring the context and show how much simple mistakes founder make.

Three founder stories

Story #1. Two founders without tech background building marketplace. For three years already. They didn’t launch, they don’t have users, they hired an outsourcing team, which is not able to ship quickly. We have great outline how to validate contractors here. But the worst things are this:

  • the code written 3 years ago is already outdated
  • the team do not perform, because the code already very complex
  • or, the team is not qualified enough, which creates even more complex product.

I think their chances of success are very low. Normally, when you launch the game only starts and you need to invest a lot into talking to users and refining you product. But what if product is too complex and you can not easily change it?

Story #2: Two, none technical founders wanted to launch a platform that allows enterprises to create events for their employees in a few clicks. Both of founders have a full time job and have small savings. They spent a lot of time analysing their competitors and wanted to build a product that does more than their competitors do. That is 20+ big & complex features, based on the assumption that someone will buy their product. What is wrong?

  • too much features in the first product version
  • building such a product costs a lot to build and even more to change & maintain after going live
  • an investment is too big for none validated idea

Story #3: A founder, raised from family, friends and later from VC. He don’t have technical background. The product is an educational platform and B2B site. Educational platform requires both students and tutors to be onboarded separately. The business model requires lots of students to be on the platform. The project is pretty complex as it requires onboarding three complete different users: student, tutor and business (after first two).

The founder already failed to build first version, because first team was not enough qualified and didn’t pick right technologies. He is now building second version of the product for 9 months, but never launched. When I asked to show the list of things needed for a first launch — the founder brought his lead engineer, who brought a google word document with ~6.5 days worth of work for two engineers. They launched an app for students just last week.

Let’s get into what I think is a better approach to launch your idea.

Validate your idea

Get your hands dirty, use no-code solutions like Webflow, Soft or Bubble to launch your landing site or one feature MVP. In the era of low-code and now-code tools launching become much easier. Hiring a team to launch landing could speed things up, but you still need to work with them side by side and help outline your vision.

Once you have simple landing site you can start attracting people already by setting up google ands. If you able to show good Click Through Rate (CTR) - you can use it to raise funds and actually build idea. That also gives you confidence that your idea is worth investing more of your time. Some founders I met this year, actually make 5 or more small launches to validate their ideas and even gather those who would want to buy as you build a product. You can also build waiting lists, collect newsletter subscribers, offer early user discounts, show beta demos — everything, that can help get some traction is valuable.

Trying to sell a part of the product and make people buy a portion of what you want to build is even stronger validation that your hypothesis could work.

Investing your time into testing different messaging, marketing channels, different pricing strategies and value propositions is the best way to get started. This approach saves your money. Not only on building the product that might not work, but also on maintaining this product.

In some cases (especially when you have some beta customers) you can skip idea validation and focus on building & launching first version of your product.

Launch ready-to-scale product fast

Once you validated your idea and proved that some your hypothesis worked, you can start building your product. The fist thing you should do is to set a deadline for yourself when you want to launch the product. Normally, that should not take more than 2-3 months. Launch should make you feel uncomfortable. We have a great guide here.

Founders, who spend more than 3 months to launch first versions of the products are at risk. Delayed launch increases burn rate a lot. As time goes, you’ll need to pay additional costs to keep your product afloat. If you one of the founders, who’ve been building a first version for over 3 months you should:

  • stop and think about minimalist launch plan
  • launch a smaller version of the product

Find first 10 users

Many founders don’t get it.

The product does not exists without users.

Finding first 10 users is extremely hard and you should start doing this as your team builds a product. You already have a full context and can do demos to potential clients & research where you can get more of them.

Being able to talk to early users and receive their feedback is such a privilege! Once you’ll get big, you won’t be able to talk as much.

If you don’t trust me, you can read famous essay by PG Do things that don’t scale.


First time founders often make these mistakes:

  • not launching for too long / no clear launch roadmap
  • spending too much to build first version of the product
  • hiring and trust contractors too much and too early
  • underestimating complexity & ongoing costs of building products
  • not talking to users early on

To avoid these mistakes:

  • validate your idea, launch landing and/or quick MVP
  • launch a ready-to-scale product in 2 months
  • start searching for customers as you build the product and find first 10 quickly

Written by Andrew Orsich. Thanks to Elena Lysiakova for reading drafts of this.