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Founder Foundations: The 5 Pillars of a Strong Venture

Explore the essential foundations needed to build a strong venture, informed by the successes, learnings, and mistakes of the 100+ ventures we've worked with.
April 3, 2024
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Co-Founder, The Delta

The startup world is unpredictable. Its rocky, shaky terrain pushes ventures to their limits and only the strongest survive. 

So, what makes for a strong venture?

While the landscape may be unpredictable, there is certain predictability in identifying a venture that will make it or not. Over the years of building ventures, our ever-evolving bible of venture-building frameworks has come to reveal that there are a set of foundations that, if done correctly, categorically multiplies a venture’s chances of positive growth and sustainable scale.

Similarly, these foundations when shaky, unstable, or poorly laid, can lead to dreaded results: product rebuilds, organisational redesigns, or exhausted runways. 

It's a tough balancing act for any startup founder: what feels like the weight of the world resting on those initial decisions, often made by a team navigating uncharted waters. 

In this article, we're giving a snapshot look at the most common missteps we've observed – time and time again – in the foundational stages of building a startup. ‍

Foundation #1: Idea Validation

If there’s foreshadowing in the startup world, it’s this: 

Anything built on an unvalidated idea will be destined for some extent of failure. 

This stands as one of the most prevalent foundational failures we encounter with founders who cross our path. This is often because, quite simply, founders love to get building. They dive deep into the exciting world of development and bypass, side-step, or skim through this absolutely critical step. 

They dive into development before gathering sufficient evidence to support their initial concept. 

Beyond the rush to create, founders may also skip validation due to overconfidence in their idea, fear of discovering it might not work, or a misunderstanding of the importance of market validation in mitigating risk.

Yet this is a principle deeply ingrained in how we build at Delta Accelerate, with its value proven with each and every venture we support. It exponentially increases the likelihood of building a viable, feasible, and desirable product – first time. 

And it doesn’t have to be complicated; from engaging in conversations with your customers to crafting prototypes and conducting user tests, or even running Wizard of Oz or Concierge experiments, the process of experimentation profoundly shapes and directs the product you eventually launch to the market. Moreover, it furnishes you with invaluable data, enhancing your likelihood of achieving product-market fit.

Read our article on our favourite tried and tested validation experiments.

Another suggestion is to leverage frameworks such as the Strategyzer framework, or the Disciplined Entrepreneurship 24 step process. These are robust frameworks developed by some of the smartest minds out there, that firmly guide you towards ensuring your idea foundations are set up to support the next stage of your venture. 

Foundation #2: Tech

So you’ve successfully validated your idea to the point where you are ready to build the first iteration of your product, or your Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Firstly, well done on validating. We’re proud of you! 

Now, choices around your tech stack come to the fore. What will you build with? How big will you go? What features do you need to deliver first?

These are once again critical decisions that call for founders to slow down at the drawing-board stage. With your validated concept in hand, your next step should be your product strategy: a guiding document that should answer – with as much clarity as absolutely possible – questions like: 

  • What specific goals is my initial product aiming to achieve?
  • How many features should be incorporated into the initial product?
  • Which aspects should be prioritised during development?
  • How scalable or minimalist should our first version be?

Your answers here will inform choices around your technology stack which, in turn, will significantly influence whether a product rebuild becomes necessary down the line.

It's essential to factor in your growth objectives, budget constraints, and overall roadmap when making decisions around your tech to avoid investing time and resources into a solution that may not be viable from the outset.

A general rule of thumb (which, as with any good rule, has exceptions) is that unless your product requires third-party integrations and/or is in a regulated industry such as HealthTech, FinTech or InsurTech, you should be able to get away with launching a low-code or no-code MVP. 

There are a number of great platforms available to founders that are rapidly evolving to accommodate increasing scalability, such as Glide and Flutterflow, enabling startups to operate effectively with their first product iteration.

We often refer to WorkWeek as a low-code success story. Having developed the product using the low-code solution Retool, they successfully onboarded over 40 business customers and operated for over a year before considering transitioning to a custom build. WorkWeek's story serves as a testament to the efficacy of building lean, cost-effective initial products while still achieving desired product goals.

Foundation #3: Go-to-Market Strategy

For early-stage founders, stacking sales and marketing strategies on top of ongoing product efforts can be exhausting and overwhelming. Hiring someone with the necessary experience can be time-intensive and a bit of a gamble.

However, the old adage "if you build it, they will come" simply doesn't hold true in the realm of product building. A solid go-to-market strategy is absolutely critical, and it's a challenging step that requires expertise and a deep understanding of your customer. 

Over the many audits we’ve made on the GTM strategies of young but growing ventures – typically around Seed stage – there are a few typical “red flags” we see: 

  • The venture does not have clarity regarding the ICP (Ideal Customer Persona) they are trying to access; or, they are not being specific enough for fear of “losing” a sub-segment.
  • As a result, the incorrect marketing channels are being prioritised.
  • Their brand voice and tone does not compliment or consider their customer. In other words, there is a misalignment between what the customer cares about and the way the brand is communicating its offering.
  • They are unaware of key techniques they could be leveraging in order to gain access to their customers.

Fortunately, if you've laid the groundwork for Idea Validation (Foundation #1), you'll already possess invaluable insights into your customer base. This knowledge will empower you to make informed decisions about how to engage and compel them effectively.

To turbocharge these findings, you’ll also have done the following:

  1. Define your ICP and buyer personas. Here is a great guide from Neil Patel on crafting these major marketing and sales assets.
  2. Map out your ideal customer journey and the different touch points you will need to support. Identify your weak points of your customer journey and optimise these.
  3. Develop tailored strategies for each stage of the customer funnel, maximising your reach and conversion potential.

If you don’t have the internal expertise to navigate this, bring someone in. Find someone early on with the necessary experience to identify the correct tactics, channels, and opportunities – and how to take advantage of them. ‍

Foundation #4: Product Analytics

This is something I’ve learnt the hard way: bake analytics into your product before you launch.

With my first startup, the excitement of launching our much-loved product saw us going live without any analytical tooling or infrastructure. This became glaringly obvious when the product didn’t execute like we had envisioned and, to make matters worse, we had no idea why. 

Panic ensued, and there was a complete scramble to quickly deploy something to give us visibility. 

Needless to say – I have never skipped this step again

Incorporating analytics in your product is critical to being able to evaluate whether you are moving in the right direction. It enables you to: 

  1. Understand if and how customers are using your product. 
  2. Identify issues or pain points they may be experiencing. 
  3. Minimise customer turnover.  
  4. Maximise customer retention.  
  5. Run A/B experiments to guide your product decisions. 
  6. And more!

Regardless of whether you are launching an entirely new product or a single feature, my suggestion is that you introduce the analytics process as early as possible. This should be tied into your development process, and every user story you develop should have the analytics requirements included.

More specifically, always ensure you: 

  1. Establish the success criteria that you are looking to measure: This could be transaction size, number of users, number of transactions, time spent within a particular feature; it will be up to you and will correspond with your business goals. 
  1. Identify the journey the user will need to undergo before achieving that success: Understanding where drop-off is happening is important; often you may put triggers in to measure that specific success metric, but none of your users end up getting  there. Understanding where drop-off is happening before the user is able to perform your intended action is vital in understanding why users may not be achieving what you intended.
  2. Set up your triggers within the software of your choice: Once you have your success metrics and your journeys defined, you or your team will need to set up triggers within the tool you decide to use in order to access these insights. Tools that we leverage for our startups use include Matomo, Mixpanel, Tableau and Google Analytics.

These insights will guide your product development decisions. Without them, you are flying blind and – more importantly – reducing the pace at which you could be progressing. 

Foundation #5: Organisational Role & Goal Clarity

In Measure What Matters, John Doerr talks about his gift to Google: the OKR framework. A framework for tracking their progress, and measuring what matters.

I'm a definite believer in building strong goal-setting foundations. I also believe that this needs to be supported by foundations outlining who is accountable for what. Clarity in regards to accountability (the roles), your north star (mission) and how you are going to get there (strategy), is something that developing as a part of your culture early on, will create stability and autonomy as your team and business grows. The bigger your team grows, the harder it will become to introduce change, roll out new frameworks, and drive stronger accountability.

The earlier you incorporate strong accountability and goal setting into your foundations, the better. These role and goal foundations will make it easier for you to hold your team accountable, as you work collectively towards a shared goal. Without role clarity, performance management becomes impossible. Without objective clarity, prioritisation and autonomy within your team will be difficult to achieve. 

Adopt this early; build accountability and goal clarity into the foundations of your business. 

Conclusion

To tackle startup unpredictability, there are many (if not endless) areas of your business that you will need to continuously take measures to optimise. The five mentioned here are only a handful, but – from our viewpoint – they are either the most common or hold the most room for impact. 

It’s important to note that, similar to our own building blueprint at Delta Accelerate, the way you form and manage these foundations will need to evolve alongside market changes, tech advancements, and venture-building capabilities. It’s busy, unpredictable, and often messy. We love it, and if you’re reading this, you obviously do, too. 

Speak to our team today if you’re looking for a partner to help you navigate these foundations. Our team of strategists, product builders, and growth specialists have aided over 100+ startups across various markets and industries, and we'd love to support you on your journey, too.

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