These questions from founders are the first clues as to where your startup ecosystem probably needs help.
Pre-pandemic, I was in both Torino, Italy and Alexandria, Egypt back to back and found myself with entrepreneurs in various Q&A sessions. I find it interesting that many of the same questions show up everywhere I go regardless of the geography. I observe that Alexandria in many ways is no different than Saint John in Canada, Winston-Salem, North Carolina or Buffalo, New York.
I find that you can determine the maturity of an ecosystem from the questions that entrepreneurs ask.
Here are three founder questions asked in nascent or developing ecosystems:
- Should I be afraid to share my idea with others?
- Do I have to give away more than 50% of my company when I first raise investment funds?
- Should I move to a large, known city (London, Berlin, Boston, Silicon Valley) in order to launch my tech company?
These are good, solid questions and there is no judgment here as to why a first-time entrepreneur would ask them. These questions show that the person is thoughtful and trying to get some answers before charting their path forward.
The quick answer to all three questions is NO. In fact, a resounding NO, NO, NO.
I have written many times as to why sharing your idea with others only improves the idea, provides you confidence in these scary early stages, and typically creates more opportunity for you, the idea and the company you may build. It is highly likely that your idea is not novel. In fact, I would posit that there are at least 10-15 others with a similar idea right now. Don’t stop, it’s how you apply your idea to a given market that makes the difference.
All good investors do not want to own your company by taking more than 50%. This in fact disincentivizes you which hurts the company in the long run. In addition, you are likely to need more capital at some point and if an investor owns the majority of shares, you will own even less. I won’t even start with the awkward dynamics this creates in subsequent rounds of funding. On average expect to give away 15%-25% of your equity in every round of funding.
Lastly, there are great startup communities being formed in all of the places I mentioned in the beginning of this post. I have visited at least 100 cities in the last six years talking about creating more robust startup communities. This can be done everywhere (especially at the founding/seed stage). Scaling to a $100M company might be tougher but we can kick that can down the road for now. Bottom line – find your startup tribe in your own city and gather the resources you need to get started.
The quickest and easiest way to start is sometimes just listening to the founder questions.