Dear SaaStr: What Are The Things Startups Just Have to Get Right?

Let’s break it down.

Let’s talk about what you don’t have to get right:

  • Rockstar Founders? Not required. Yes, to build the next Slack, the next Amazon, the next Tesla, whatever, perhaps you need one of the greatest founders of all time. But many founders at very successful start-ups are smart and incredibly driven, but no Elon Musk. I’m not / wasn’t.  Many founders with nine-figure exits I’d describe as merely “fairly smart” and sometimes, not even insanely insightful.  They are just all-in, 100% committed, and work harder, sell harder, and importantly, hire better than the rest.
  • Amazing Technology? Nope. See Airbnb and 100s of others.  Many startups don’t start off with particularly amazing software.
  • First to Market? Of course not. Very few SaaS leaders were the first in their space.  Most, in fact, are new versions of old categories. More on that here.
  • 10x Better than Incumbents. Only sort of required. Yes, your new product does have to better than the existing guys. But sometimes only in just 1 small, but important, way. And sometimes just Cheaper and Best Service also work without any real different features.
  • Domain expertise. Not required. Helps, yes. But you can learn a lot if you are 100% committed.  After 12, 18, 24 months of the job, if you talk to 500 customers, you’ll learn the space. It helps, but it’s not required.
  • Work 100 Hours a Week? It helps. But it doesn’t make the business. But time in the office is not as important as time spent thinking about the business.

What you do have to get right:

  • Total commitment. It will take you most likely 24+ months just to get to real paying customers. And 7–10 years to build something of any scale. Most so-called “founders” are not this committed. You’re already ahead of 98% of the folks at WeWork and Galvanize if you are 100% committed to doing the time.
  • Product-market fit. You do have to eventually get to a minimum sellable product. You have to find a product the market wants to buy.
  • A Minimum Viable Team. You can outsource development. You can do a single co-founder startup. But. Many folks start something without a truly Minimum Viable Team. No chance without it. You have to be able to build, ship, market, and sell your product.
  • Commitment to Excellence and Constant Iteration. You can’t build it once, put it on a shelf, and wait. You may need 100 releases before you have a sellable product. And then 200 more to get to $1m in ARR.
  • Obsession. And you need to obsess about your business. Constantly. In the shower. On a run. You may only “work” 40 hours a week. But you need to be thinking about your business 140 hours a week.

Unicorns are usually built one way. But more broadly, Successful Startups can be built a lot of ways.

(note: an updated SaaStr Classic answer)

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