Questions Entrepreneurs Ask

You jump off the cliff and build an airplane on the way down!

This famous quote by Reid Hoffman (Founder – LinkedIn and Partner – Greylock) sounds motivating and inspiring – it actually reflects the unknown risks entrepreneurs face every day.

The best way to find answers and manage risks is to be empowered by enough knowledge to ask the right questions. Successful startup entrepreneurs don’t know it all when they take the plunge but have an insatiable appetite to ‘learn.’ At VentureBasecamp, we have spoken to many entrepreneurs and one common phrase that echoes through every conversation is, “When I started off, I didn’t know how to…..” If you are a startup founder, then the golden mantra you must follow every day, “Ask questions and learn something new…everyday.”

In fact, an investor I spoke to recently said that she always looks for the ability to listen and learn in startup founders. When describing how he assesses startup founders, another VC investor said, “It’s not about getting the right answers, it’s more about examining the way founders think and approach different aspects of their startup business.”

Entrepreneur forums and online communities are rife with questions that entrepreneurs ask. These questions vary depending on the stage of the startup’s growth. A quick study of these questions shows that most questions are on the basic elements of team, product, business and funding. Here’s a sample set:

Early Idea Stage Startup

  1. How do I find the right idea to build a successful startup?
  2. I have an idea – what next? How do I build a solution and take it to market?
  3. Will somebody to steal my idea?
  4. How do I write a business plan?
  5. Should I write a business plan or just build a lean business model?
  6. When is the right time to register my company?
  7. Do I really need a co-founder? What should I look for?
  8. Should I hire employees or work with interns? Do I outsource or build the product in-house?
  9. I know what MVP stands for, but what does it actually mean for my product?
  10. I don’t know how to build a pitch deck – can someone help me?

Market Validation Stage

  1. How do I make sure customers love my MVP? When do I know that the MVP validation is done?
  2. How long is too long for MVP?
  3. How do I marry engineering with customer satisfaction?
  4. When should I start thinking about revenue models?
  5. What do financial buzzwords like Unit Economics, CAC and LTV mean for my startup?
  6. How do I talk to my customers without being perceived as annoying? What’s the best way to conduct user research/focus groups? What kinds of questions should I be asking?
  7. Is it ok to put in energies towards building a world-class product that adopts the latest tech and focus on the ‘business’ aspect later?
  8. When is the right time to raise funding? What kind of mistakes should I avoid when I seek startup financing?  
  9. I think I need 2-3 crores for a 12-month runway. How much VC funding should I raise? What are the other sources of funding?
  10. Where can I get help to build my pitch deck?

Product Lovability & Product-Market Fit Stage

  1. What are investors really looking for, when I pitch to them? What questions will I be asked?  When should I raise money? How much?
  2. How should I value my company? What are the steps I should take to ensure I don’t risk dilution?
  3. I have a term sheet template, but how do I actually build it out for my startup?
  4. Should I spend time and effort in acquiring more customers, or in retaining existing ones through product stickiness?
  5. I’m not very sure of my role as CEO – I’d love to be part of building the product, but I’m told that I need to look at the macro view of building a business? How do I do that? How do I balance product development with business development?
  6. How do I set up my marketing budget? How much should I spend on social media marketing?
  7. What business metrics should I be tracking?
  8. I have grown from 5 to 20 employees. Is it too early to think about company culture?
  9. I can’t afford to pay corporate rate salaries, but want to make sure I hire the best. Where do I find the right talent?
  10. How much traction is good at this stage? Is 10 paying customers good enough to attract investors?

In a recent workshop conducted by the Capria VentureBasecamp team with a group of 50 incubator managers from around the world, one common train of thought emerged: “Our entrepreneurs are inherently smart problem-solvers and only need to be gently nudged in the right direction – they will ‘figure’ it out.”

So, the question that begs to be asked is: What are the resources that are available in the ecosystem of incubators, accelerators, mentors and peer support groups that can provide that nudge in the right direction?

What is the burning question you’ve asked or been asked in the startup world? Share it with us through the comments below.

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