Fund-Build-Scale / Fund-Build-Scale

Evergreen Advice from Two Iconic Founders: Key Takeaways

We partnered with Walter Thompson, former TechCrunch senior editor, to create Fund/Build/Scale as a podcast to provide actionable advice to ideation stage AI founders. The final episode of our 10-part series features Manish Chandra and Dheeraj Pandey, two Mayfield serial entrepreneurs who have built iconic consumer and enterprise companies: Poshmark and Nutanix. Their evergreen advice is a great guide to founders who are starting their journey.

Listen to episode 10 on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or read the full transcript.

1. Prioritize reducing friction from every process.

Holding a company together is not the CEO’s main job. Instead, founders should search for ways to remove friction from every process, internally and externally. Manish Chandra spent the first year of Poshmark handling customer service requests, making himself a bridge between the community they were cultivating and the company’s product team.

Years later, that work is still paying dividends. “Sometimes I’ll find that the site has a problem because some customer contacted me through Instagram, through text messages, through email, through something before my team sometimes knows it, and that, I think, is just the ability to keep connected,” Manish said.

2. Embrace a design-first mentality from Day Zero.

Every market is crowded, so adopt a design-first mentality to differentiate your products from those of your competitors. As the lines between where the product ends and the brand begins are increasingly blurred, particularly in enterprise software, prioritize usability over complex features.

“We were probably one of the earliest companies 10-12 years ago to say, ‘Design is how we lead, and simplicity is how we’ll sell,’ ” Dheeraj said. “I think that’s been my biggest journey in the last 15 years of entrepreneurship: Do I understand what ‘less equals better’ means? And it’s a struggle of a lifetime.”

3. It’s tricky, but you need to find the right balance between confidence and humility.

Since 90% of all startups will eventually fail, tech founders must cultivate an enormous reserve of personal confidence without becoming so ego-driven that they lose touch with reality. Like walking a literal tightrope, a staggering amount of cognitive dissonance is required.

“Finding people who have hunger and humility together — like fierce resolve and humility — has always been hard, because these are paradoxical values,” Dheeraj Pandey said. “I think it was a great challenge and an opportunity to find people who actually had both.”

4. You are the face of the company, so “keep it 100.”

You’ll need to become your company’s first evangelist if you plan to recruit, raise money, or sell to customers. It’s not a skill that comes naturally, but the time and energy put into building a core team, creating product roadmaps and learning the needs of prospective customers will help any CEO build conviction as they refine their unique value proposition.

“When I listen to myself, I know if I’m BSing or is this authentic? And along the way, it forces me to think about the real user, the real buyer,” Dheeraj said.

5. Idea-stage founders have more freedom than CEOs of public companies.

The best VCs fill gaps in your skills and experience, but they’re ultimately betting on your ability to solve the problem you’ve identified. Like someone who bought a movie ticket, they’re financially and emotionally invested in your premise, which gives you less room to evolve as time goes on.

And that’s all the incentive you need to iterate fast and fail quickly. As Dheeraj said, “The more and more money you actually raise, the less you can pivot. You have to go and really convince a whole lot more people, and [it’s] not that many of them won’t come with you for this change in direction, but most direction-changing is proportional to the amount of money you raise.”

6. Building a strong personal network is part of your job.

Successful startups take years to get off the ground, and you can’t do it all on your own. Compared to people in other careers, tech founders spend an inordinate amount of time and energy thinking about their work, so build relationships with colleagues and mentors who intuitively understand the path you’ve chosen.

“I think the worst feeling in the world as an entrepreneur is that you’re all alone, and the answer to that is that you’re not alone,” Manish said. “There’s many people going through that same journey, many people who are on that same path. And by thinking that you’re part of a whole system, you can actually start to overcome some of the mental challenges.”

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