Words for Early Stage Startup Founders, from An Early Stage Startup Founder

Handoyo Sutanto
7 minutes
April 25h, 2024
Handoyo Sutanto
7 minutes
April 25h, 2024

Lyrid, An Early Stage Startup Story

Lyrid was formally started in 2019, and although that’s what it says on our website and on all of our social media accounts, the company’s roots were actually planted 15 years ago. My story as a founder is a simple 3-step process: founder leaves corporate job in cloud computing, founder reflects and decides it’s time for a change, founder starts a company. Despite the simplicity within my story, the lessons learned throughout the entire process, from inception to now as an early stage startup, have been extremely detailed and invaluable. In fact, these lessons and words of wisdom are so important to me that I wanted to share them with everyone. 

Any pursuit is bound to create hurdles and challenges that can be learned from. In fact, in the early days of Amazon, Bezos faced countless challenges and product failures (do not ask him about ‘Crucible’). Despite these setbacks, Amazon has grown significantly and cemented itself as a titan within the industry, amongst other illustrious titles. I’m sure that Bezos, throughout his 30 years in business, has countless lessons and advice.

As a disclaimer, I’m not claiming to be the next Jeff Bezos nor is Lyrid as the stage of being the next Amazon … yet. Although my time operating Lyrid is relatively short, I’ve faced and overcome countless obstacles, learning from them and evolving our efforts over the years. My team and I are extremely proud of where we started, and even more excited about where we are now. I hope some of my words resonate with you; whether you’re a seasoned founder or someone looking to get started, I wish you the best with your endeavors!

Relying on Intuition and Insight Throughout All Startup Stages

Before your first couple minimum viable products, before your countless hours of preparing for fundraising, before your first customer, you have two things: a business idea and a problem you want to solve. 

A common problem for many first time founders is determining when to act upon their business idea. A common notion within the startup space is that there will be a perfect time to enter the market, that waiting for the right timing will fare well for your business idea. Waiting for perfect market entry is like waiting for the stars to align perfectly: it’s rare and uncommon. Entering a market with your product at the perfect time is like catching lightning in a bottle, but good indicators of when to enter a market occur everyday.

Like a software developer noticing code inefficiencies, or a baseball player noticing that a certain bat is hindering their performance, problems indicators happen pretty often. These indicators, whether big or small, hint at an underlying problem within an industry, or for founders, an opportunity. These opportunities can be wasted at a moment’s notice, which is why having insight within a market is so important for opportunity leveraging and market entry.

Before working towards making their business idea a reality, many founders have spent in their ideal market and accrued insight on crucial information. The biggest problems, the biggest competitors, the biggest opportunities- all within a founder’s grasp. These personal insights are great for honing your intuition, but won’t always be correct. 

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during Lyrid’s earlier days was to find insight within my friends and network. Some questions you should be asking yourself and your peers include:

  • What are the biggest problems bothering your peers? 
  • Are there any trends you notice amongst different circles of friends? 
  • Are there any common tools that your friends are adopting, and any complaints they have? 

All too often, founders seek to solve self-induced problems, usually contained within their own view of the market but not accurately reflecting the market itself. Having industry insight from your peers that solidifies your problem hypothesis is the main differentiator between a hobby and a business. More importantly, having this insight will prove your product market fit. 

This insight translates into all of your efforts, from when to approach fundraising to how you conduct marketing, to even the development of your core product and business model. In fact, our core product was initially way different from what we have today. Being highly adaptable and ready for change on the fly is great, but having that honed intuition and insight leads to better preparedness for change.

Look Into SEO for Startups and Other Brand Builders EARLY

As a first time founder, you’re the new kid on the block competing against giants, no matter what space you enter. Without things like customer reviews, proven product competence, and general brand recognition, finding your first few customers and supporters is extremely difficult. Building both your personal and company brand are of the utmost importance starting off, so much so that you, as the CEO and founder, become an extension of your product and company. Think of Elon Musk and Tesla- enthusiasm around Tesla grows with enthusiasm around Elon Musk. And this isn’t the case for a handful of companies, many successful companies around the world start off as a derivative of their founder, and then branch off once trust is established. 

In the early days, your company and brand are only backed by people you know. This is an extremely good foundation for your company, and like any foundation, needs to be built brick by brick. Setting these bricks could be as simple as hitting it off with people at a networking event and getting new customers, to joining different communities and becoming a thought leader. One thing is clear though, building your brand brick by brick takes time and effort- the earlier you start the stronger your brand will be as time goes on.

David Brandt, the Ohio farmer behind the 'honest work' meme ...

Perhaps the biggest brick towards your foundation is taking care of your customers before, during, and after their purchase. Finding your first few customers will be hard, but having those happy customers actively champion your brand and product will make leagues of change in your brand building efforts. These customers are also able to influence your future product updates, your future marketing strategy and sales approach, and even your future GTM strategies just based on feedback and usage alone. Treat your customers right!

I wish I had learned this earlier in my founder career but as a startup, SEO is extremely important. Whether it’s through video and display ads or blogs, SEO is a great way for you to get your name out there organically, building genuine interest in your brand. I would say to start your SEO efforts through blogs and website copy. 

Blogs are a great way to build your company’s story and brand by cementing your industry knowledge and thought leadership- informational blogs about what your product or services are involved in go a long way for potential customers stumbling across your company. Evergreen content, or content that is still relevant even after a couple years such as e-books, are also interesting takes when thinking about SEO content marketing. 

Having good content and copy for your website increases the likelihood of search engines picking it up and ranking it higher organically. The higher your ranking amongst competitors and giants, the more credible your brand and content look, the more likely a potential customer will click on your site. 

Remember, at early stages of your company, you are an extension of it. Make sure to put both your name and your company out as much as you can.

The Importance of Startup Communities and Networking

Building Your Team

A company is only as good as the people that run it. 

Before the team that breathes life into everything your company does is formed, early stage startups usually begin with just one person: the founder. Many founders looking to transition to a growth stage also look for a co-founder, and for good reason. Co-founders, usually sharing a founder’s passion and vision for the company, are able to tackle tasks that the founder normally isn’t adept at. Even though I’m a founder, I’m an engineer first at the end of the day. Software development and engineering are my fortes, however, I struggled with the sales and business aspects of Lyrid initially. Lyrid’s co-founder, Simon Loo, came from a sales background and was equally as enthusiastic as Lyrid as I was. While I was able to focus on building our core platform and solutions, Simon focused on expanding our network, building sales processes, and refining our business plan, with both efforts combined pushing us towards funding rounds. Simon and I were longtime friends before Lyrid.

While this isn’t necessarily a new, groundbreaking point, joining startup communities and networking is an excellent way to build your team. Co-founders are typically found through your network, with this individual possessing the same drive and enthusiasm about your idea and product. Don’t think of them as a colleague, but almost another extension of your ever growing company, ensuring that your vision is shared and worked towards.

The same idea can be applied to hiring your team. Once you have funding and a consistent customer flow, you should be looking into team building. 

Your first few hires are as important as finding your co-founder; these individuals will be the ones to set the tone for the company and what you build. Like finding your co-founder, your first hires should believe in your vision and be able to bring it forward, with these hires typically receiving the most equity at first. For Lyrid, most of our first hires were found within my network- hires within your network typically know your vision and work ethic and, if they’re excited about what you’re building, will bring stronger enthusiasm towards evolving your product and company. Fresh graduates are also great for new employees as well!

Raising Capital

From Pre Seed funding to Series A funding, raising capital is extremely important in building a startup. Capital can come from anywhere, including angel investors, venture capitalists, and even family members. For many early stage and pre seed startups, that capital will usually come from your own network in the beginning.

The idea of brand and building trust extends heavily towards raising capital. While your company might be the next Amazon down the line, it’s important to build your network in the beginning stages because your brand isn’t the most built yet. Early investors will believe heavily in your idea and vision, basing their capital on the prospects of future success within your company. Having capital from your network is also important because it allows you to directly hear about industry trends and problems from your network, letting you evolve your product to directly benefit key stakeholders.

As always, funding amount will depend on your stage of a startup, though early funding usually averages between $100k to $5m. 

Although raising certainly helps, it isn’t the end all be all if you aren’t able to secure funding, for now. If you’re bootstrapping, you need $100k to start something sustainable and sizable for the time being, raising once you’re able to scale and grow and prove that your customer base is consistent.

Advice I Wish I Knew When Starting Lyrid

Gathering insights, building your brand early, and networking and being involved in the startup community- these are just some of the lessons I’ve learned from the inception of Lyrid to today. And I’m still learning; Lyrid isn’t a success story, yet, but it’s important to continually grow and learn, encouraging your team and company to do the same in the process.

The aforementioned pieces of advice above were some of the lessons I’ve learned while building Lyrid. Go back to 2019, here are some of the things I wished I had heard when starting Lyrid (and that might benefit you):

  • Build your brand ASAP
  • You won’t know whether you’re doing things right or not until you’re doing it- just get started!
  • Charge your customer ASAP, it’ll help in raising
  • Find your product market fit ASAP, pivot if it doesn’t work out
  • Work on honing your business instinct every single day, indicators on whether things are working or not are everywhere
  • Turn everything into metrics and try to keep up with it as much as possible, specifically converting time into metrics

I hope you were able to gain some value and insight from some of my experiences. If you want to chat more about startups or anything else, book a call with me!

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