I’ll tell you a (not so well-kept) secret that’s probably not a surprise to any of my former bosses: I wanted to become a founder because it sounded a lot more fun than getting a job and having a boss. I’d previously worked at a fast-growing startup and seen founders up close, but to say I knew little about what really went into building a company would be an understatement.
Looking back on the past 10 years my co-founder, Andrew Bialecki, and I have spent building Klaviyo, a unified customer platform, it’s clear just how lucky we were with some of our choices. But it’s also clear that if we had known more upfront, we wouldn’t have had to luck into those choices in the first place. And for a founder, less luck means you’ll encounter less risk.
In addition to being chief product officer at Klaviyo, I now also have the honor of getting to speak to a lot of new and hopeful founders. Here are the three pieces of advice I start with:
Identify a problem
It’s commonly accepted in the startup world that what you start with isn’t what you’ll end up with. Slack started as an online game, Facebook began as Facemash, a hot-or-not for Harvard students, and Apple came into the world as a home computer kit that didn’t have a case.
This idea is somewhat at odds with the conception of the brilliant founder who relentlessly pursues an idea until it’s reality. It’s also at odds with the reason so many don’t found a business — because they don’t have an idea.
The world (and its problems) are incredibly complicated, and it’s almost impossible to get any solution exactly right. Instead, we test and get actual results of what works, then refine. In science, we have a term for this — the scientific method — and successful businesses are founded in the same way.
Rather than focus on telling a story, we found a problem and came at it hard because we knew if we found enough people with the same problem, we could build a company.
In my opinion, for any entrepreneur, the least risky way to start a business is to do what my co-founder and I did. Rather than focus on telling a story, we found a problem and came at it hard because we knew if we found enough people with the same problem, we could build a company.
My biggest piece of advice here is to pick an idea where the riskiest parts can be tested to determine whether it will work. Fundamentally, the goal is to evolve an idea until it becomes a business — a sustainable, profitable entity — so identify an idea that lends itself to evolution.