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Here are 10 quality posts from the Founder's Library:

Best practices for raising a VC round  

Chris Dixon:

Once you start pitching, the clock starts ticking on your deal looking "tired." I'd say from your first VC meeting you have about a month before this risk kicks in. You could have a great company but if investors get a sense that other investors have passed, they assume something is wrong with your company and/or they can wait around and invest later at their leisure.

Read the whole article carefully if you are thinking of raising a round.

Creating a great case study  

Some very practical tips, posted by Kristi Hines on the KissMetrics blog:

  1. Write About Someone Your Ideal Customer Can Relate To
  2. Tell the Story from Start to Finish
  3. Provide Easy to Read Formatting
  4. Include Real Numbers
  5. Talk Specific Strategy
  6. Try Different Formats
  7. Appeal to Different Types of Learners
  8. Make Them Easy to Find

Keep bookmarked, and go through the list next time you're putting together a case study page.

Use your competitors' marketing budget for your campaigns  

This article by Ilya Lichtenstein proposes a method for competing against bigger, better-funded companies:

  • You can learn from their experimentations what works best in terms of marketing message, demographics, etc, which saves you from having to run your own expensive A/B tests.
  • You can find the keywords which they're not managing well and target those.

It's worth pointing out that this is an evolving pattern. Five years ago, most companies had no clue about SEO/SEM. These days, they will hire competent firms to do this for them, and so the result will be a lot of money spent on optimising ads, often with some skill.

As a smaller competitor, you need all the help you can get. Learning from your larger competitors is a no-brainer.

More about NDAs  

Stef Lewandowski takes a slightly different angle about NDAs. Whereas I previously explored why I wouldn't sign NDAs in initial conversations as a recipient of those documents, Stef looks at why he used to ask for NDAs and how he's changed his mind about it:

Non-disclosure-by-default introduces the risk that your company culture could be poisoned by secrecy at an early stage. I distinctly remember moments in a previous "stealth startup" company where I and those around me were so tied down with non-disclosure that we didn't tell our own families what we were working on.

The effect of this after we launched was that nobody was sure when or if they were allowed to talk about what we were working on. As we all know, regularly communicating about what your company is working on is a big part of a good marketing plan.

Stealth can be poison to company culture. Through secrecy, you accidentally push your company into a closed, rather than open, mode. And that can be hard to cure.

Stef also covers a number of other angles.

If the fact that other people won't sign your NDAs didn't convince you not to ask for them, perhaps this article will...

Do you really need investment?  

Jean Derely on WooRank's early days:

We couldn't get anyone to invest in WooRank when we got started, and despite this seeming like the hardest path at the beginning, it might well be the best thing that could have happened to us.

(...)

The first benefit is that there weren't external pressures on us (from investors) to achieve specific levels of profits, or to develop WooRank in a way that was not necessarily in our customers' or our own long-term best interests.

(...)

Another consequence of not having early investment is that we've had the flexibility to cultivate the company culture as we ideally envisioned it. This includes giving team members additional incentives and a great work environment - and despite long working hours at the beginning, to give the team the necessary professional freedom to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Who knows if this would have been possible with the pressure of measuring up to our investors' wishes weighing us down?

Control over your company's destiny is definitely a huge benefit of bootstrapping. Another benefit that shouldn't be discounted is the financial side: all the profit is yours to keep, and to take out of the company right now if you so wish, without having to wait for a payout day sometimes in the future.

Which metrics do Valley investors tend to check first?  

When investors see our business for the first time, they need to wrap their head around it. It's like films - they often start with a bit of scene-setting before jumping in with the plot.

Investors also like to hear the main numbers up front. They're pitched all day -- certain numbers tell them if your business matches their selection criteria to avoid wasting time talking about bad fits.

Andreesen Horowitz explains:

When initially evaluating businesses, investors often look at GMV, revenue, and bookings first because they're an indicator of the size of the business. Once investors have a sense of the the size of the business, they'll want to understand growth to see how well the company is performing. These basic metrics, if interesting, then compel us to look even further.

They then go on to explain 16 commonly misused metrics.

Networking in the middle  

We've covered some tips about finding the right kind of advisors before. Here's Adam Rodnitzky's take on it:

...there is one mistake I see people making over and over. And over and over some more. They focus their networking on the top instead of the middle.

People "in the middle" are more available and more relevant to where you are. "In the middle", in practice, means "a few, but not too many, steps ahead of you". If you're new at startups, someone who's been around for a few years would make a great contact, even if they're not hugely successful yet, whereas an old hand who made their money 20 years ago and has been an investor and board member for the last 10 years will be less helpful than they might seem at first hand. The guy who's only a few years ahead will also be much easier to reach.

Adam outlines another benefit of focusing on the middle:

Those in the middle are on their way to the top. And one thing I can say with absolute certainty is this: those at the top build their inner-circle when they are in the middle. Build your relationships in the middle now, and you'll benefit both now as well as later when they become even more successful.

Three modern organisational structures  

I found this gem by Aaron Dignan linked via this previous article. While the general theme is around "what to do with a 10,000 person stagnant organisation" (and it offers some concrete advice towards that), the really interesting part is the overview of three modern ways to structure a business, namely:

  • Holacracy (Medium, Zappos): "authority should be distributed, everyone should be able to sense and process (solve) the tensions (ideas/problems) they perceive, roles and employees are not one-to-one, and that the organization can and should evolve toward its "requisite structure" (the ultimate structure for its current environment)"
  • Agile squads (Spotify): "Instead of an engineering department, a design department, and a marketing department that each collaborate on products with dubious ownership, they organize vertically around products (or more specifically pieces of products) and traditional disciplines are loosely held horizontally."
  • Self-organising (Valve, Github): "Unlike the examples above, they accomplish this by essentially having no structure. Employees are encouraged to work on whatever they want-to find the projects that engage them and do the best work of their lives."

GrantTree is somewhere in between Holacracy and Self-organising - but I'd never heard those terms before today, so perhaps that's the case for many people who will read this article.

Agile Squads is the only one that doesn't seem all that new - cross-functional teams are hardly ground-breaking - but perhaps the meat of the newness is somewhere else than in the cross-functional element.

Key quote:

The defining characteristics of these models are fairly straightforward. They aim to distribute authority and autonomy to individuals and teams. They let the changing nature of the work (expansion/contraction/shifting) impact the structure of roles and teams in a fluid way.

I firmly believe that if you're starting a business in today's ever-changing environment and not making any effort to make the business more adaptable to rapid change ("anti-fragile", as the article calls it), you're setting up your business for failure a few years down the line. Getting big won't protect you, either. See Blackberry as a warning.

Recall vs recognition for search  

Another great post fron Des Traynor. This one about where specifically you should use recall (e.g. a blank interface where the user needs to know what they're looking for) versus recognition (e.g. a list of categories to entice the user to click in).

Some key points:

Recall needs an exhaustive data set before it works well.

(...)

After a couple of zero result searches you'll inevitably lose your customer, when they would have been happy to browse and purchase from your kitchen category.

(...)

Your search results page is a marketing page. You should spend time ensuring that it presents products well, and provides key information to inform a customers (e.g. price, delivery date, availability etc). Displaying results in the well known Google style works, but is missing a good opportunity to present your products as well as possible.

Every entrepreneur should write  

Jason L Baptiste makes a great case for why every entrepreneur should write. I agree with this - in fact, I believe that writing is one of those essential skills that you should somehow recruit on any early startup team, because of all the opportunities it opens up.

All the initial points really boil down to the last one:

It Is A Rapid Accelerator Of Serendipity

Startups are certainly impacted by luck, but I believe they are impacted just as much by serendipity. You never know who knows who or who you may run into at an event. By putting yourself out there and making yourself open to meeting as many people as possible, serendipity is much more likely to happen. Once you have even a minor audience, you are now likely to experience the effects of serendipity. One article might reach 500 or 50,000 people in a short span of time. Remember that we live in a world where content/information travels faster than ever before. Out of those 50,000 people, you never know who might be reading, who might reach out to you, or who might leave a comment. I can tell you this: The majority of good things that have happened to me in business can be traced back to my writing

Writing is a great way to create opportunities for yourself and your startup.

Jason also provides some tips about how to get started:

  • Keep it simple, worry about the aesthetics later on
  • Define a specific audience to write to
  • Set a regular routine
  • Don't force it
  • Initially share with close entrepreneurial friends
  • Watch your analytics
  • Avoid rambling
  • No linkbait, just thoughtbait
  • Make yourself easy to reach

All great points. If you're an entrepreneur and hesitating to get started, read the article. If you're worried about your writing skills, read this first.

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