No You Don't Need a NDA... And Other Tips For First Time Founders
September 20, 2016
There are tons of incredible resources out there these days on how to start a startup, mostly written by people who are way more successful and knowledgeable than I am.
Here’s just a few to get you started:
- Y Combinator - a curated list of resources from the OG accelerator
- Paul Graham's Essays - hours and hours of incredible material from one of the best. Start with "How to Start a Startup"
- Groove's 0 to $500k Blog - we're literally trying to copy the format of their blog because it's so good
- Buffer - want to learn social? Go here.
- r/startups - sort by top posts of all time
- Crew - how to build an online business
- The Lean Startup - required reading… even though I’ve never technically read it all the way through...
- Customer Dev Labs - awesome content on how to validate an idea/market
Why am I writing about this, when there’s already so much great content out there? Because as a design/dev shop we talk to first-time startup founders a lot, and we still see them making the same mistakes and asking the same questions.
So in this post I’m going to try to address some of the most common questions and problems we get from first time founders. I’ll be drawing on our own experience building Krit (trust me, we made a lot of mistakes) as well as all of the reading we’ve done in the past 5 years of studying startups.
This post will be an experiment in iterative blogging (a phrase I just made up). Many of these topics deserve their own post. But in the interest of the lean startup I’m starting with a Minimum Viable Post. So I’ll begin with a small list of questions and relatively short answers. Based on the feedback we get, I’ll elaborate more in further posts, add questions, etc.
Also one last note: The single best way to learn how to start a startup is just to do it. I don’t share these mistakes and questions to make anyone feel bad. We all make them, and that’s okay.
Do I need a NDA?
But, what if-
For those who don’t know, a NDA is a Non Disclosure Agreement. It’s essentially a legal way of saying, “Hey, keep your mouth shut about this.” First-time startup founders have a really bad habit of thinking their idea is what’s going to make them successful and everyone is out to steal it.
A few quick reasons why this is a horrible habit.
1). Your idea doesn't matter, execution is everything.
Ideas are like multipliers. A great team, with a big, hungry market and a mediocre idea could still be relatively successful. A great team, with a big, hungry market and an incredible idea could be really successful. But both could still fail. And a horrible team without a market who has an incredible idea will fail every time.
2). It gives away your inexperience.
So to an experienced entrepreneur asking them to sign a NDA just shows that you haven’t learned this lesson yet, which shows them you don’t know what you’re doing. And it makes it seem like you don’t have much confidence in your team’s ability to execute.
3) Your idea will change over time.
Your idea will also most likely change drastically over time. Look at the most successful startups, dig into their origin stories, and see how many started out with the exact same idea that made them successful.
4). You should be talking to as many people as possible.
Finally, and most importantly, you should be talking to everyone you can about your startup. Validating what you’re working on is one of the hardest things to do as a first time founder (more on this next). NDAs make it harder to validate your idea. And starting a startup is hard enough as it is.
If you still don’t believe me I have an experiment for you. Come up with a new idea. Now try to give it away. Try to convince someone to give up everything and work on it. See what happens.
Just to play devil’s advocate, here are a few cases in which you might want to use a NDA:
You’ve developed a drug to cure cancer, and you’re showing someone the formula.
You’ve designed an algorithm that can solve any problem you put in front of it, and you’re showing someone the code.
You have a really big corporate customer who doesn’t want people knowing they’re a customer yet.
What do you think of my idea?
First of all, unless your target audience is cynical nerds who spend all of their time running a dev shop then you shouldn’t be asking me. You should be asking your customers. And really you shouldn’t straight up ask them because that feedback is going to be not only useless, it could be harmful.
Why? Because false positives are the single most dangerous thing for a first time founder.
When we launched Ink, our contract tool for freelancers, we got a lot of false positives. We got to the top of Product Hunt. We got a couple thousand free users. But only 3 of these users converted to paying customers.
False positives are the single most dangerous thing for a first time founder...
I'm not going to go into too much detail about how to properly validate your idea here because it's an incredibly hard thing to do. Instead I'll just link to Justin Wilcox of Customer Dev Labs because he's awesome at breaking down how to do exactly that.
The jist of it is this:
- Throw out your idea.
- Define your target customer.
- Get to know them and find out what problems they have.
- Make sure the problem is painful enough they will pay you money to solve it.
- Make sure enough of them have it that you can build a business by solving it.
- Solve it.
- Work your ass off for a really long time.
- Profit... maybe
How much will it cost to build my app?
No seriously, hiring someone to build software costs a lot of money. Why? Because building good software is hard. And it takes a lot of time. If someone isn’t charging you much to build a product, in most cases they’re not building a great product. Which can be worse than no product.
To give you an idea, building a responsive web app from scratch with minimal design work would usually take a minimum of two people working on it for 6-8 weeks. With us that means a price tag in the range of $25-40k. And that’s the absolute minimum. An iOS or Android app will start in the same range if you need us to build the back-end too.
Best way to get the price down? Start smaller. Scale back the features. Get something out there faster and iterate on it. Or learn how to build it yourself, and just hire someone like us to do the design work.
To get a super rough estimate check out Crew’s online pricing calculator: http://howmuchtomakeanapp.com/
How do I find a technical co-founder?
The best way to find a developer? Become one. It’s not as hard as you think. And becoming a developer doesn’t mean you have to build everything.
But developers get inundated with people wanting them to build stuff all the time. “Hey, do all the work and build my app, and I’ll give you 50%.” So they get jaded. Even if you just learn enough to put up a landing page and hack together a rough prototype, you’ll earn 10 times more cred with any developer. And you’ll know more about how your product works, and how to communicate with your tech team in the future.
Once you have some programming chops, start hanging out in places where developers hangout. We like reddit, craft beer, meetups where we can geek out about the latest technologies over craft beer… we’re not that hard to find.
Or if you’re looking to prove your model before you start building an in-house team, then you could always hire someone like… oh I dunno, us. By working with Krit you get a top-notch product team all in one who’ve been there and done it all before. ;)
And we’re happy to help you screen developers when you’re ready to start building your in-house team.
Crew, again, is also a great resource, if an agency is outside of your price range. God, those guys are good. Although keep in mind with a firm you don’t have to find a back-end developer, front-end developer, designer, etc. separately.
The best way to find a developer? Become one.
If you're not sure where to start learning how to program check out:
Codecademy - an awesome website that's been helping people learn how to program for more than 5 years
The Iron Yard - one of the best programming boot camps around. We know these guys, and they want to do everything they can to help you succeed.
How do I decide how to give out equity?
At the end of the day it comes down to what feels right in your gut. I generally err on the side of being generous with equity. I like to go by the rule: you don’t get rich by making your slice of the pie bigger, you get rich by making a big ass pie.
Make a bigger pie.
At the same time you need to be able to explain your cap table to investors (why you gave out as much equity as you did). And equity can create tension and bad power dynamics if you or someone else feels like they don’t have enough or someone else has too much. In this case long vesting schedules are your friend.
Here are some rough ranges to go by:
1st Employee: 0-15%
Employees 2-10: 0-5%
With investors it should be a question of math. How much is the company worth now? And how much money are they putting in
How do I find my first customers?
You know those customers you talked to when you were validating your idea? Well hopefully you finished up the conversation by saying something like, “I’m working on solving your problem of nose hair that grows way too fast. Could I keep you posted on how my project's going and get your feedback?”
Most of the time they will say yes. Now go back to them and say, “I’ve developed a magical nose hair app that will remove nose hair using the vibrations in the iPhone. Do you mind giving me some feedback?”
If the problem was painful enough, and you did a good enough job solving it, a couple of them will probably give you money for your solution. Now focus on doing everything you can to make them happy. If you do all of these things then they will sell the thing for you. They will tell all of their friends.
At the same time, get to know them, understand what makes them who they are. Now go out and look for more people like them. Tell them your story.
How do I raise money?
For now I’ll assume you’re asking how to get in front of investors.
The best way to get in front of investors is through a warm introduction. Look through your network and try to see who might have connections that could help you. Just remember if you ask something from someone you need to try to help them out in return when you get the chance.
If you’re an early-stage startup and you’re looking for investment, email me with your elevator pitch, and I can try to help connect you to someone.
The second best way is, shocker, to pitch them in an email. But to succeed this way you have to make sure your pitch is really good. How do you make your pitch really good?
Well first have a really good product. If you don’t believe in your product, don’t raise money.
Second, do your research and find an investor who fits you. If they don’t invest in early-stage startups, or only invest in biotech, you probably shouldn’t reach out to them.
Finally, think about what the investor wants. Investors want to make a lot of money. How do they do that? They find really big markets, and the teams that are most likely to succeed in those markets. So learn how to convey your market size in a succinct way and have the research to back it up. And then make sure you have traction. Revenue is ideal, but a shit ton of users can work too. If you’re really good, you can get both before you even have a product.
P.S. Don’t say you’re going to make money with advertising unless you already have a shit ton of users.
Starting a startup is incredible. Starting a startup is hard. You’re going to fuck up. The best way to learn is not to read a blog post, it’s just to do it. Stay humble, ask for help, have fun and be really, really stubborn.
If you didn’t see a question answered here, ask it in the comments. We’ll try our best to answer it, and maybe include it in another version of this post. If there’s something you want us to elaborate on, mention it in the comments. We’ll be breaking some of these out into their own posts.
If there’s anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to reach out. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and my number is 803-673-2863.
Andrew is our fearless leader. He writes about business, culture, front end dev and our 5% referral fee here at Krit. If you want to chat about startups, MMA or Rocket League you can hit him up on Twitter. It would make his day if you would leave a comment and/or sign up for our newsletter.