A founder never stops learning.

Hello Sunshine,

Getting people who share the same entrepreneurial ethos in the same virtual room together, it’s possible and it’s happening... if you join The Family’s online events!

Since the start of the pandemic, I can tell you: we’ve tried and learned tons of things about online events. We managed to create awesome moments with live audiences, like with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian or when former Apple storyteller James Vincent came by to share his secrets. For over a year we’ve been pushing hard to bring our community together for a burst of inspiration and virtual connections with each other.

🔥 BE MY COFOUNDER
This Thursday, we’re inviting solo founders looking for a cofounder, with or without ideas, to meet and match. It’s called “Be My Cofounder”, it’s fun, and it’s useful: the level of skills and experience of the participants is really higher than when we used to run these types of events in “real life”. 450 have already participated, more than 100 people teamed up after.

Join us at BMC this Thursday!

🔥 FIRST-TIME FOUNDER SUMMIT
Another event we’re proud of is this Summit, which we first held on May 18. We had great speakers, 1000+ sign-ups from dozens of countries… It was dynamic, interactive and informative.

With the feedback we got from participants, we decided to turn First-Time Founder into a series, always with new speakers and different topics.

The next one is coming up on July 8.
I’d love for you to join us. 

Get your free ticket here 💖

My team’s been lining up stellar founders as speakers, including:

  • Alexandre Prot, CEO & co-founder of Qonto

  • Christian Grobe, co-founder at Billie.io

  • Benedetta Arese Lucini, co-founder of Oval Money

  • Kirill Bigai, CEO and co-founder at Preply

Each session will be: short, straightforward and interactive.

They’ll be talking about scaling across borders, go-to-market strategy, making sense of machine learning - always with the honesty and practicality that can come with being part of a community with shared entrepreneurial values. 

And of course I’ll be there, together with my fellow directors at The Family and our lovely partners from AWS.

Join me!

Because a founder’s education is never done.

Looking forward to greeting you there, 

Bezos,

Alice

Summer is coming!

And people always ask me about my favorite book. So here’s a small selection, perfect for enjoying yourself at the beach 😉 😎 

Philosophy

Novels

Biography

Enjoy! 🏖 And don’t forget your sunscreen 💖


Of course, you’re probably not quite off on vacation yet, so join our online workshop with Mixpanel tomorrow to help you use data to find product-market fit! And if you’re still around in July, join our next First-Time Founder Summit (and the videos of the first FTF Summit are up on Startupfood, right here ;)

How do you know when your startup idea has failed?

There’s no single answer to that question. But I can say that you should be in a situation where you’re guided by your own intensity.

One problem lots of people have is that they don’t use their time intensely enough. The worst thing you can do as an entrepreneur is to waste your time, not putting a maximum of energy into what you’re doing. If you do that, you end up with a lot of regrets, because you’ll never really know if things didn’t work because it was impossible, or simply because you didn’t put the needed effort into it.

Once you’re dedicated to real intensity, keep 3 things in mind:

  • Stop listening to others. Nobody out there can tell you what to do, so avoid the advisors, avoid the mentors, avoid me, everybody. The only thing you should be doing is trying, trying, trying more.

  • Put yourself in danger. If you don’t, you won’t really know. If you try to keep your day job and build a startup on the side, you’re not going to find out the truth about an idea’s potential. Don’t try to raise money before you go full-time on a project, it doesn’t work. Be intense, and the decision will become your own, it’ll become obvious.

  • Don’t become the prisoner of your own story. Never lie about how successful your startup is with the people you love. Why? Because a horrible thing happens to an entrepreneur when you lie to the people who are closest to you, your partner, your parents, your best friend, whoever: you feel the need to live up to the lie.

That last one is super, super important. Way too many entrepreneurs trap themselves in an impossible world where they aren’t able to tell anyone the truth of what they’re going through. If you start lying to the people you love, you end up in situations that leads to super bad results — mental breakdowns, divorce, estrangement, you name it; when they find out it’s all been a lie, it’s going to be so, so horrible.

Plus, getting back to the question of knowing when an idea has failed, if you don’t follow that rule you’ll be in a situation where you can’t stop — because stopping doesn’t just mean that the business didn’t work, it means that you’re a liar who built up this entire fake world.So the best thing to do, the best way to protect yourself and to let yourself see clearly, is to avoid putting yourself in that prison of false expectations.

Find people you can really trust, people you can talk to about just how bad things are, how nothing’s working. And make sure that those people know it’s not their job to tell you to stop; you’ll be the one to decide that, you’re the only one who can really know.

Entrepreneurship is a test, in so many ways, with so many steps. It tests how well you know yourself; it tests how willing you are to learn; it tests how you’re able to make people believe, how you’re able to manage them; if things go well, it tests your ability to handle success, to stay a normal person, to not believe the stories being told in the media about how great you are.

All those tests can be failed in different ways. And you actually have to accept that you will fail some of them, that it’s normal not to be perfect at every step.

That’s why it’s so important to set up the world around you in a way that lets you clearly see the situation, one where you can be the one who decides whether you keep going or whether you stop. Building that confidence in your own ability to decide is so much better than tracking a KPI or listening to a mentor or anything like that.

And don’t forget, it’s always good to have another startup idea that you’d really like to do, too. If you always have a Plan B in mind, something else really cool that you’d love to build, it’s much easier to say, “Time to kill Plan A.” That’s a mental place where you can take the big risks that are necessary, the risks that really put your business in danger, but that also put it in a position to create something super ambitious, something absolutely incredible.

What's changed in entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship as we know it today was pretty well defined by a Harvard Business School professor, Howard Stevenson: “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled”. It’s about not needing anything, whether that’s money or other people’s approval, to decide to build your own solution to a problem. The internet made that true in ways that it never was before.

If you want a really quick history of capitalism, here it is: Back in the 17th century when there were boats sailing around and trading across the whole globe, it cost a lot of money to build a ship and stock it with the goods you wanted to trade.

It cost so much money that some people had the good idea of selling off parts of the boat and the goods, so people who were rich (even if not rich enough to own an entire boat) could invest in the voyage and share in the profits. But there was no work involved - it was just a question of having money, putting it at risk, and hoping to get more back. Needing to already have money meant the benefits of the system weren’t open to many people.

Then at the end of the 19th century, things got interesting. People began building businesses that needed much less capital to get started. It still took a lot, but nowhere near as much as two centuries earlier.

That meant people could start to have two phases in their lives: one where they worked and saved, and then the next where they could invest in their own business using those savings. The risk was huge, but an individual could decide to take that risk all on their own. And lots of people are still holding onto this vision of entrepreneurship.

But in the past few decades, a new generation arrived and figured out how to be entrepreneurs without having any capital. How did it happen?

The internet came along, and its growth changed the world. Specifically, three things have changed in the past 20 years:

  • Everything that used to be a fixed cost became a variable cost. Before you needed to buy things to start your business, now you can rent them. Even back in the ‘90s, if you wanted to start a business on the internet, you needed to buy a server. Today you just hook up to AWS, or Azure, or Digital Ocean, or whatever.

  • Everything that you need to know became accessible in just a few clicks. To get an answer to a question, you don’t have to call an expert or ask an institution to let you in; you can just find the information yourself. You don’t need permission to learn anything, you just need the motivation, time, and the courage to actually try.

  • Capital became extremely abundant. For most of history there wasn’t much capital in the world and it had a hard time moving from place to place. Today, there’s a ton of money and it flows much more smoothly (not totally smoothly, but still).

Those three things combine to make it so that now there’s really no other choice for people than to be entrepreneurial. That doesn’t mean they’ll all be entrepreneurs, but just that the entrepreneurial spirit is coming for everyone. Just like professional athletes aren’t the only ones who play sports, just like authors aren’t the only ones who can read and write, the skills of entrepreneurship are going to keep diffusing until pretty much everybody does it, to various degrees, at various levels of skill.

Time to take more, bigger risks!

The courage in choosing.

Hello Sunshine,

I hope you’re doing great. Last night, I asked on Instagram what topic I should cover in this newsletter. And among other spontaneous proposals from founders, there was this question:

How can I take on the responsibility of taking risks in my new company’s positioning?

Here, “taking risks” means “being radical”: choosing to fully embrace ONE (yes, only one) problem, situation, language and niche market—addressing a clearly identified group of people.

It’s not for the sake of being different, it’s in order to create a craze.

Why? Because you’re small. You don’t have money or time to lose trying to adapt to all types of clients. So you’re searching for that 1st group that will create a domino effect, going from one set of people to larger communities. 

Once you feel like you found them, your goal is to turn these 1st clients into ambassadors, so they generate word-of-mouth when you’re not around. How? By actively listening to them, opening an on-going conversation while providing a solution they love more and more over time.

Ok. But the interesting bit in this question is not necessarily the business aspect of a niche, but instead the courage it takes to truly inhabit a niche.

To give you some context, I know the person who asked personally: she’s a first-time entrepreneur and the former head of customer service at a European unicorn. Since the pandemic started, she decided to take the leap, switching from being an employee in a B2B SaaS platform to creating her own startup.

And she left the obvious, accepted and “useful” world of B2B SaaS to jump into a more emotional and invisible one: mental wellbeing. 

With that question she’s asking, I can also sense some doubts: “How can I take on the responsibility…” - meaning, how can I make the full-hearted decision to explore a field that is still largely unknown, whether in aspects legitimately owned by doctors or, on the contrary, parts filled with yahoos and gurus.

On that specific matter, I see things this way:

  • The explosion of yoga, meditation, astrology and self-development content and startups speaks for itself, and it keeps on expanding everyday.

  • Of course, as with anything that is rising, it can easily be seen by skeptics as ridiculous or grabbed by opportunists with unethical intentions. 

  • But it reveals the continuous cry for a more meaningful life, which has dramatically expanded with the crisis. 

  • Accepting the unknown as it is—unknown—is becoming less and less impossible, even given our rational societies.

  • There’s a place for non-dogmatic spirituality and tech is clearly facilitating its emergence.

So the question, “How can I take on the responsibility of taking risks in my new company’s positioning?”, comes down to taking your gut feeling seriously on a certain problem, and then diving into the places, communities, and conversations dealing with that issue. That’s it.

It won’t happen by listening to everybody’s opinion, however smart they may be. Entrepreneurs are researchers experimenting, not politicians decreeing; you’re not supposed to be right for everyone, you’re supposed to explore an untapped problem and provide a solution.

And by the way, I’d be much more reassured if entrepreneurs were providing all sorts of solutions for happiness, rather than the government (as some countries are actually doing).

Take care!

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