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Silicon Valley mythology would have you belive that great ideas magically occur to founders - particularly young college-age founders - who whip up pitch decks and then are suddenly off to the races. In reality, however, founders usually come up with ideas because they are intimately familiar with a certain industry or space. Sometimes they are able to see a gap in the market that no one else has yet identified or that the industry things is simply not fillable.

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Ask yourself this question: How different is your idea from what already exists? If it’s only a 10 percent improvement over the incumbent, it’s not a good idea … Instead, your idea needs to be 100 percent better than what already exists. This usually requires some kind of a leap.

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As you look for a cofounder, keep the following questions in mind. If you have doubts about any of these, think hard before joining forces:

  • Can you trust this person?
  • Do you like this person?
  • When you disagree, are you able to come to a resolution in a mature way that enable you to keep moving forward?
  • Does this person know how to be supportive?
  • Does this person care as deeply about the business as you do?
  • Do you have any reason to secod-guess this person as a cofounder?

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Maggie Wilderotter, the former CEO of Frontier Communications, says she always sought to hire “great athletes.” … Maggie meant that you had to be a person who naturally sought to continuously learn, practice, and get better at whatever they set their mind to. She called such people “students of the game.” “They’re always expanding their minds and their horizons,” she says. They’re often also very competitive, or at least hugely ambitious. “You have to have that fire in your belly.”

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The four pieces of collateral you need before approaching investors:

  • The Elevator Pitch
    • 100 words or less
  • The Executive Summary
    • A 1-2 page PDF, or a short video (3 minutes max)
  • The Business Model
    • Just detail how much case you have left, your monthly (or quarterly) burn rate, your current headcount, and the projected number of customers (or subscriptions, sales, or whatever your key metric is) by quarter for the next 8 quarters.
  • The Pitch Deck
    • They include slides on: Vision, Problem, Market Size and Opportunity, Product or Service, Business Model, Traction (or other proofs of validation), Team, Competition, Financials, and Amount You’re Raising. Keep it succcinct, however. Twelve slides max. No one will sit through a 30-slide deck.

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“If you can’t tell something, you can’t sell something.” … Mastering your story is crucial for fundraising, but ti will be important in other areas too. You’ll need to tell it to the first employees you try to hire. To customers, especially early ones who take a risk in handing over money to an unproven entity. To the media. At conferences. To potential partners. Even to your own family.

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Sales really are all about relationships. People buy from people … Enterprise sales are different. They’re time-intensive. You have to invest hours, days, and months persuading your propsects that your product is something they want and can trust. With some companies, you only have to work with a single person.

Two book recommendations:

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Little Red Book of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer

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Here are three ways he baked the “Steeler Way” into his company:

  • Empower employees
  • Help your employees solve problems by asking questions
  • Hire managers and executives who operate this way