Founding Entrepreneur’s Key to Priority Setting

“There is just too much to do,” said Mike, Jim, Tyce, Greg, Robert, Kristin, and all the other entrepreneurs I am involved with.

I hear this all the time. They will come to me with a problem. It all starts with fundraising. After fundraising, it is all about growth. This quickly gets to strategy and product-market fit. Eventually, they are focused on people. Once these entrepreneurs have some money, they quickly realize they are burdened with enormous expectations from all the people now involved in their new enterprise.

You just can’t do it all.

If you are a founding entrepreneur, your single biggest strength becomes your biggest weakness. Founding entrepreneurs can flat out get stuff done, but you eventually find your limits.

When you get started, it is you and the idea. That’s it.

You work at it every day.
You pitch the idea to prospects.
You share your vision with investors and industry advisers.
You build a product.
You sell.
You deliver and install a product.
You pay the bills for the business and for your home.
You talk to lawyers and accountants.

Then you realize you need credibility.

You can’t carry this company on your own resume. Customers and investors are looking for credibility. So you associate with an incubator like ATDC or an accelerator like Flashpoint for this credibility and coaching.

These people question your idea at the core. Then they question everything you are doing. You get the credibility and prospective investors, but you also get more work, a lot more work. As one of my entrepreneurs told me, “I am in adviser overload.”

In the early stages of their company’s growth, founding entrepreneurs are reporting up and down simultaneously. Reporting up includes talking to investors and advisers. Reporting down includes selling to customers and recruiting great people.

You create value by solving the problem (not by talking about it).

Everybody you speak to has ideas on how to solve the problem. The problem is, they are addressing different problems. If these people don’t know the market, they rarely talk about customers. They load you up with ideas on organization, fundraising, cap tables, and strategy alternatives.

All this advice leads to new to-dos. There isn’t more clarity for the founder. There is more confusion. It’s the too many cooks in the kitchen issue.

So what does a founder do?

Find someone who can help you sell.

Find someone who can give you credibility and industry advice. This will help you sell. It may be two people, but if you are really fortunate, it’s just one person.

There are no problems worth working on until a sale is made.

Everything you do must point to this. You have to sell something or there is no proven value. If there is no proven value, there are no employees or investors. Solve the sales problem and everybody wants in.

You need an adviser who brings credibility for two reasons.

First, they will help you sell. There is no greater value to a founder in startup stage than a customer who gives them money.

Second, they will help you filter and then synthesize all the other adviser ideas you are receiving.

The right adviser knows sales is the priority and sales should define the priorities going forward.

Ultimately, the business is about the customer. Period.

When you find yourself spinning in circles with too much to do, ask the question, “What is the next thing I should work on to make a sale?”

When this is your priority, all the other to-dos will quickly fall into place. Guaranteed.

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6 thoughts on “Founding Entrepreneur’s Key to Priority Setting

  1. Great read Charlie.

    As a first-time entrepreneur in my late 50’s, I was inundated with smart people who wanted to talk about governance, exit strategies, funding efforts, business structures, SaaS metrics and more. The pressure to focus on those was relentless.

    Not that they aren’t important, but what the heck? I wanted to insanely focus on solving a really hard problem, and then sell that solution because it was worth somebody spending their money. Having spent my entire career in sales, for a long time I have asserted the premise that “nobody eats if somebody doesn’t sell something”.

    So great guidance, from my perspective anyway.

    Best…Jim

    • Thanks for sharing. I am glad it his a nerve. You have lots of experience and came to this entrepreneur career a bit later. Sales is it. Sales solves all problems. Lack of sales is the beginning of all problems.

    • No doubt you are right. Entrepreneurs are on the relentless search for markets which are ready to tip. They are looking for the hair on fire customer. Timing is everything.

  2. Thanks for posting Charlie.

    As a transitioning Army Officer looking to get into the possibilities of getting into the world of entrepreneurship, this is some great advice to follow. What do you think the best way is to go about finding that, “one person” who can give credibility and advice. I worry that for someone like me that’s new to this that vetting someone for this role could be difficult. What are your thoughts?

    • Transitioning to civilian life means building an entirely new network. Working with resupplyme.com is a good start. Leverage this founder’s contact base, attend early stage conferences and meeting and build your network. Day by day and you’ll get there. Thanks for your service and may God bless you in your new career. Merry Christmas!