Three keys to unlocking founder success

Andrew, our Director of Ventures, wrote a blog post a few months ago, prompted by passing his 2nd year milestone at Allia. Since then, he has had further thoughts for blogs and we wanted to start sharing them here – starting with his 2nd anniversary musings. Watch this space for further thoughts from Andrew over the coming months, as he leads our venture support team in more programmes, initiatives and support for impact ventures and start-ups.

Passing the second year of supporting impactful ventures through Allia’s Impact Accelerator and other programmes I realized that in that time I’ve worked with over 200 entrepreneurs. And due to that, I have synthesized some key learnings from these inspiring leaders. So I’ve taken it upon myself to fill your newsfeed with my commentary in hopes that maybe some of this will resonate with you. These three points aren’t exactly shocking revelations and I’m sure people will say “that’s obvious” but the reality is so many founders don’t consciously register this information because they are heads down building a business.

 So without further ado,

1 ) The ability to build networks and leverage resources

Create opportunities by making new friends and asking for help. Everyone knows the power of networks just by looking at the structure of our society and how things seem to conveniently work out for groups of individuals. I can’t blame anyone for feeling as if the system is rigged, but the reality of the circumstance is founders have to break through this if they want to secure the resources/support/funding/whatever needed to get to the ‘next level’. It is imperative that founders get outside their comfort zone and proactively build networks in a disciplined routine. Easier said than done. I fully appreciate this as someone who has come to the UK knowing absolutely no one.

Establish a routine, reach out to x number of people with an authentic story/reason as to why you are connecting with them. Think about their needs/interests and create value for them. Be cognizant that momentum can take time. Some people will jump in automatically and offer to be an ally/champion, others need to be part of your journey in order to buy in. Appreciate both.  

This isn’t just about people though, it’s about the frameworks that exist in your ecosystem and how to build on them. From traditional networking events to paid-for interns, from grants to mentoring programmes, from company alumni to local meetups – there are shocking amounts of resources that genuinely are free (financially speaking). It requires that you ASK people what you should be doing, your Black Belt in Google – Fu will do wonders, but you have to go beyond.

The founders that have built growing companies from our programmes are the ones that have gone out and continually hustled for the next contact, partner, mentor, and resource with complete recognition that sometimes the answer is “No.”

2) Test, iterate, and abandon dead weight

The classic Fail Fast strategy. You’d think in the 10+ years since the LEAN Startup was published that this would be intuitive, but it’s quite possibly the opposite of human nature. We become wedded to the ideas that we start with or invest in (see meme). The double edge sword of being risk tolerant enough to launch a start-up often is paired with unnatural confidence in the strength of our ideas.

Kudos to those who believe in their ideas and are enough of a force of nature to bend reality to their whims, but I would daresay that is not the norm amongst us mortals. For the rest of us who are destined to walk the earth, it is critical we be brutally honest with ourselves and surround ourselves with people who will ask us for the evidence to prove our beliefs. I don’t mean the market research you’ve conducted speaking to people. I mean the harsh truth of whether someone has bothered to buy your product, invest in your idea, or used your service to relieve a pain.

It is ok to pivot. Countless founders share their stories every day about their pivots, but we tend to focus on the destination and ignore the journey. Even mainstream start-up podcasts like How I Built This dig into this very concept. I’m not breaking new ground here, but it seems we can’t hear this lesson enough. This narrative is especially key for impact/purpose led businesses because DOING GOOD ISN’T ENOUGH. You must accept that your pair of socks that cost £20 will likely not go mainstream (just yet). You must accept that there are billions of people who do not share the same values as you in China, India, and the US and will prioritize wildly different objectives. These ‘truths’ will shape your proposition, they will shape your milestones, and they will affect your ambition. Be willing to say, “the evidence doesn’t support my business model and I have to change”.

Which leads me to my last key – please note that there are multiple doors blocking you on this journey. No magic moments here people – it’s a slog all the way to end.

3) Grit for keys 1 & 2

Angela Duckworth’s book on Grit really is worth reading and re-reading if you haven’t yet. This entrepreneurial warzone is not gentle on your mental/physical/bank account health or your personal/social/family life. Being wrong can be awful and being right honestly isn’t necessarily much easier. Great job winning that new client, but in the early days of start-up that often means a whole bunch of new work has been created. Well done on launching that new feature, but it probably means customers are about to give you their opinions soon. #lovethatforyou

Living and breathing keys 1 and 2 are unfortunately not one time things. It requires that you build on it over a period of years and even then, it is not a guarantee for success. Duckworth reminds us that life is a marathon and not a sprint. Don’t give up after the first lap or the first stumble. If you do stumble, its ok to take some time to reflect and reset. We are all human and it’s important to be led by your values and to let that shape your path. It’s very easy to forget why we are doing something, and it is often why you hear people advising you to speak to your customers. A double win for you because it refreshes your perspective and reminds you of why you started in the first place.

As I write this, I’m reminding myself of why I come to work every day. I genuinely am inspired by the entrepreneurs that I am blessed to work with, but I’d be lying to you if I said it was easy. I also want to see big life changing results for the countless hours the team puts in, but patience is something I’m getting better at (or trying to get better at).

Let’s go Year 3.

Martin Clark and Kelly Xu, big thank you to both for supporting and empowering throughout this journey 🙂