The Care and Feeding of a Startup Founder

I am starting a company, and I need your help.
May 24, 2012

I’m your colleague, your classmate, your drinking buddy—and I’m on the verge of my entrepreneurial leap.

I’m your niece, nephew, husband, wife, daughter, or son-in-law—and I’ve just launched that new business I’ve always dreamed about.

Don’t worry. I’m not hitting you up for money (at least not yet). But, if you want to help me to get my business off the ground, here are four key things I need from you.

1. Candor. I need for you to care more about the success of my venture than about making me comfortable. Like every startup founder with a compelling idea, I’m a true believer. As I build my business, I will occasionally lose my ability to see the world objectively. I’ll fall under the spell of the passionate entrepreneur’s reality distortion field. I’ll surround myself with polite people who will tell me I’m brilliant and egg me forward. At times, this will be a good thing. I’ll need the encouragement to keep moving despite obstacles and challenges.

But this feel-good bubble will also bring danger and risk. To balance my optimism, I need sober, clear-headed feedback. I need for you to point out facts that may be obvious to everyone but me. Tell me when my blue-plate special is soggy. Let me know when my e-mail blasts are turning users off, or if my “valued customer” program is actually driving customers insane. Every startup has blind spots. If mine has spinach in its teeth, I need to know it. Even if I protest at the time, I’ll be smart enough to take your feedback and pivot for improvement.

2. Patience and understanding. I need you to give me space to be a hermit, an obsessive geek or even a crazed sales guy. I will put in very long hours that fall beyond the confines of a convenient schedule. Despite the popular myth about entrepreneurs, there is no such thing as “being your own boss.” Instead, I’ll have many bosses. When I say no to your lunch or happy-hour invitations, I won’t be feeling superior or aloof. If I spend more time with prospective clients than with you, don’t take it personally. I’ll be married to my business for a while.

3. Contacts. If you will pour through your contact list and provide “warm” referrals to potential team members, business partners, investors or customers, I will be forever in your debt. Ultimately, business is about people, relationships and trust. Perhaps the most valuable resource available to a startup founder is a network of referrals from trusted sources. Every successful startup walks through doors that the founder couldn’t have opened on his or her own. And if you don’t believe in me or my business deeply enough to refer trusted contacts, please see point number one!

4. Sales. Most of all, startups need early adopters. I need people to try my product, visit my restaurant or hire me as a consultant. You can do this directly, and you can refer your friends and colleagues to do the same. With your help, these early sales will generate cash, but that will not be the primary benefit. Until our new business engages the marketplace, serves real customers and generates repetitions, we are no more than an idea. A startup is an iterative learning process. Help us climb our learning curve, one that can only be scaled by serving customers, hearing their feedback and responding in kind.

What do you think entrepreneurs most need from friends and family?

John Bradberry is the CEO of ReadyFounder Services and author of 6 Secrets to Startup Success (AMACOM, 2011). He helps entrepreneurs and their ventures improve performance and achieve healthy growth.

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