In one of our previous blogs we talked about why loving/living the problem was an essential step in finding effective solutions. We also talked about how startup founders could generate eureka moments in a systematic manner by loving the problem they’re solving.
This blog looks at the problem-solution process from our perspective, the accelerator perspective. It also includes our thoughts on what the solutions can be for common founder problems. Lastly, we talk about what parameter setting we as an accelerator do for our founders in order to drive results.
Let’s jump in.
Living the founders’ problems
We refer to our startup/founders as our “customers” because we believe we provide a product/service to founders. With this approach, we apply startup fundamentals to ourselves in the same manner as we coach our founders to apply them within their companies.
One of the fundamentals we believe in is identifying the problems our founders face, living these problems, and then building effective solutions to solve these problems. Founders understand that we do this. As they’re problem solvers by nature themselves, their first instinct is to merely tell us what they want. We’ve learnt that in most cases, that doesn’t work.
Even in a true product development scenario, the solution never comes from the customer. Their viewpoint is not what should be taken as a solution but should be taken as a deeper understanding of what the problem is.
When we apply this to an accelerator or a founder development program, we see it manifest quite often, when founders push us towards certain program design or methodology. For instance, founders think that the best way to solve a problem they’re facing is through funding. They’ll push us to design in a funding-first manner or develop a methodology which would lead to funding.
As founder builders, we’ve learnt that this approach may not always be the best one. Funding must not be an end goal for a founder, but rather a means of achieving startup success in terms of growth and an input to the overall strategy. So when founders came to us with funding as their goal or overall strategy, we helped them backtrack in this manner:
Both thought leaders and practitioners within the startup world use this approach to drive results in startups. As we live with the founder’s problems, we feel that a “founder development” aspect is missing in this solution.
So what really works?
A “people first” process
When we started working with startups, the fundamentals in order of importance were: Product, Customer Centricity, and People.
But while working with startups, we’ve realised that it is actually the other way around that works better. Essentially, starting with people, linking it with customer-centricity, and then moving onto product and value proposition. In our ideal solution, founder development and leadership related work precede customer centricity and product design.
If we revert back to the funding problem, we can see how this solution plays out. Let’s say founders have fundraised; in many cases, the use of proceeds becomes a bigger challenge than fundraising itself. If the right founder coaching has been missing, we see founders crawling towards their goals as opposed to gliding towards them. Many founders fundraise without doing the leadership-related work that needs to be done. Usually, this is how founders set themselves up for crawling rather than gliding.
So how do founders glide?
Well, it’s a leadership play.
One of our past blogs will help you form a further understanding of what we think is important for founders’ journeys. For context: the world is undergoing the transformation age. Leaders are in demand to transform industries with the help of new technologies, business models, and cultural shifts.
Back to our thought on gliding rather than crawling, we think that addressing the people and leadership aspect of founders, is the right way to begin. When the important principles or values are communicated first, not even assimilated but rather adapted by the founder’s personality the rules of success start applying. This, we think, applies to any leadership domain.
So how do we effectively communicate in order for founders to adapt?
We’ve observed four stages that founders must go through when adapting to the rules of the game: read/listen, learn, immerse and adapt. Essentially, curriculum infusion or reading a blog’s content merely helps the founders read and comprehend – it does not lead to adaptation. Immersion is what usually results in adaptation as long as the reading and learning processes were given due time.
Driving the “people first” process home
We’ve established that startup leadership is the preamble to the overall framework of the startup lifecycle.
In this context, we want the startup leadership framework to be clearly understood by founders and we want them to work within this framework. By setting these parameters, we’ve defined an arena for founders to play in – our parameters remind them what is important and why it must be adopted. Within these boundaries, success becomes a real possibility.
It is our firm belief that founders going beyond these boundaries would negatively impact our accelerator’s process. Without adhering to the principles of startup leadership, founders inadvertently hinder our effectiveness. This is why we encourage founders to work within this framework and not go beyond it.
The startup founders whom we’ve helped gain funding or helped strengthen their product have still struggled with startup success. Eventually, their problems were solved through the process of founder development before aiming for funding or customer-centricity within our well-defined arena. After this process, they glided towards their direction in a much painless manner.
To sum it up: leadership principles essentially give you the ability to absorb the true nature of startup concepts, such as the significance of execution, the power of the product, and all that helps founders glide. This manifests itself during our follow-ups with startup founders. It is delightful to work with these founders as they’re gliding in the right direction without us having to engineer that glide in a manner that is painful for both us and them.