For Founders
Founder Tactics 2023 Session Digest

Founder Tactics 2023 Session Digest

Written by 
Pilot Team
June 12, 2023
Founder Tactics 2023 Session Digest

ICYMI: Pilot recently held its highly anticipated annual summit, Founder Tactics, which aimed to equip founders with valuable tactical insights to take their startups to the next level. The event brought together a remarkable lineup of unicorn CEOs, startup experts, venture capitalists, and industry professionals to delve into the pressing questions that founders face in today's macro environment. Attendees were treated to actionable strategies for success and invaluable lessons learned from failed startups.

You can watch all the sessions on-demand if you missed this year's Founder Tactics event.

Opening Keynote: Founder Confidential

About Immad Akhund / Session: Founder Confidential

Watch On-Demand

Join Immad Akhund, Co-founder and CEO of Mercury, for an exciting keynote where he shares valuable lessons as a founder and investor. Learn about his journey building Mercury, insights as a part-time YC partner, and mistakes from 300+ angel investments.

“I think all of it comes from having a product that really fills a need and people really love it and want to share it. That helps any other strategy that you could come up with.” - Immad Akhund

Key Takeaways:

  1. The importance of market opportunity and founder-market fit: Evaluate the size and interest of the market opportunity and emphasize why the founding team is uniquely qualified to address it. Focus on finding lead investors who believe in the opportunity rather than trying to please everyone.
  2. Align distribution strategy with economics and target market: To reach a large customer base, a word-of-mouth strategy is necessary as it is not feasible to reach a significant number of customers personally. Having a product that fulfills a need and is shareable helps drive organic growth.
  3. Deliberately target a specific market niche: Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, concentrate on a smaller set of customers you can effectively serve and grow from. Start in a niche but work on building brand recognition within that niche and expand as your business grows.
  4. Storytelling and positioning: Tailor the story to the audience, highlighting what makes your product or service great rather than focusing on competitors. Avoid unfavorable comparisons that can make you appear defensive or desperate.
  5. Measure ROI of intangible investments: While measurable metrics like sales and customer acquisition are essential, also allocate resources to intangible investments that create brand reach and impact, even if they cannot be precisely measured.

Tactics for Management and Company Building from Stripe and Google

About Claire Hughes Johnson / Session: Tactics for Management and Company Building from Stripe and Google

Watch On-Demand

Learn how to set your startup up for long-term success. Former Stripe COO Claire Hughes Johnson shares tactical insights on foundational documents, strategic planning, hiring, and feedback mechanisms to help you scale sustainably.

“Leadership roles like CEO are extremely psychologically difficult. It's isolating and can be lonely, so you have to think about how to build psychological resilience and manage yourself and your energy.” - Claire Hughes Johnson

Key Takeaways:

  1. Create explicit processes and systems for effective work: To achieve clarity and alignment and move faster, it is important to articulate and establish common procedures for getting work done. 
  2. Articulate common belief systems and avoid chaos: It is crucial to articulate standard belief systems within the organization to avoid chaos and ensure consistency. 
  3. Establish a strong foundation and onboarding culture: As the team grows beyond a specific size, it is essential to focus on onboarding and operating culture. 
  4. Balance the need for process and flexibility: Process should not be seen as a burden but a means to empower and push decision-making throughout the organization. 
  5. Leadership challenges and psychological resilience: Leadership roles, including the CEO, can be psychologically challenging, isolating, and lonely. Building psychological resilience is essential for managing oneself and one's energy.

The Science of Scaling Efficiently

About Mark Roberge / Session: The Science of Scaling Efficiently

Watch On-Demand

Discover the key to healthy growth: understanding when and how fast to scale. Join former HubSpot CRO and venture capitalist Mark Roberge as he shares insights from his guide "The Science of Scaling Efficiently." Learn about growth stages and essential metrics to track at each stage.

“Product market fit should symbolize that your product actually delivers the value that you promised to your customer.” - Mark Roberge

Key Takeaways:

  1. Product-Market Fit is essential before scaling: Determining whether your product delivers the value you promised to customers before scaling is crucial. PMF is not solely based on the number of customers but on whether your product meets customer expectations and generates value for them.
  2. Measure PMF through customer retention: A key metric for evaluating PMF is customer retention. It is not enough for customers to make a one-time purchase; the accurate measure of PMF is when customers repeatedly buy and continue to derive value from your product.
  3. Find PMF before scaling, then focus on Go-To-Market fit: PMF should be achieved before scaling but followed by GTM fit. 
  4. Define a leading indicator for PMF and revisit it: One of the challenges in assessing PMF is defining a leading indicator. While choosing a good metric is essential, it doesn't have to be perfect. 
  5. Do unscalable things early and consider unit economics: In the early stages of PMF, it is crucial to do unscalable things to validate and refine your product.

Fundraising in Today’s Environment w/Sequoia

About Jess Lee / Session: Fundraising in Today’s Environment w/Sequoia

Watch On-Demand

Prepare for a future fundraise in today's competitive landscape. Join Sequoia partner Jess Lee for an insightful discussion on best fundraising practices. Gain valuable insights into investor thinking and tips for successful pitching.

“Now really is the best time to start a company.” - Jess Lee

Key Takeaways:

  1. Benefits of starting a company now: There are several advantages to starting a company in the current environment, including access to a critical mass of talent, lower funding rounds, fiscal discipline, and a focus on capital preservation. 
  2. Importance of the first ten hires: The initial hires in a company are crucial as they form the organization's DNA. It is essential to take the time to hire the right individuals, even if the market is tight. 
  3. The role of investors: Investors can serve as shock absorbers during lows and sparring partners during highs. Choosing investors who align with your vision and can provide valuable guidance and support throughout your entrepreneurial journey is essential.
  4. Metrics and customer focus: Metrics such as customer retention, testimonials, and usage can help bridge the gap when communicating your company's potential. 
  5. Key qualities of an outlier founder: Outlier founders possess unique competitive advantages that set them apart. It is essential to articulate what makes you unique as a founder, whether it's speed/hustle, grit, or specialized knowledge.

Perspectives From a CFO

About Hudson Bova / Session: Perspectives From a CFO

Watch On-Demand

Ensure efficient operations to decrease cash burn and extend your runway. Join Hudson Bova from Pilot's CFO Services team as he shares insights on cost-cutting strategies, financial best practices, and preparation for your next fundraise based on current macro environment trends.

“We need to be risk managers, and the name of the game is managing risk and managing it well.” - Hudson Bova

Key Takeaways:

  1. Comparison to the dot-com correction: The current market cycle is likened to the dot-com correction, with a contraction of 45% since 2022. This suggests a challenging investment climate that founders should be aware of.
  2. Limited runway for VC-backed companies: A significant portion (44%) of VC-backed companies have less than 12 months of runway, indicating potential financial pressure and the need for fundraising in the near term.
  3. Investor concerns and implications: Investors may hesitate to invest in the current market if valuations continue to fall, potentially prolonging the VC downturn. This means founders may face a longer due diligence process, increased competition, and higher standards from VCs when seeking funding.
  4. Focus on cash management and profitability: Cash management should be a top priority for founders, especially given the challenging fundraising environment. Demonstrating a path to profitability, sound margins, and strong efficiency metrics are essential for successful fundraising in this environment.
  5. Data-driven storytelling and risk management: Founders should craft a compelling equity story that resonates with investors, using data to support their narrative. Additionally, being effective risk managers is crucial, as managing risk well can help navigate challenging market conditions and increase the chances of securing funding.

Avoiding the Most Common Founder Pitfalls

About Jeff Arnold and Kimia Hamidi / Session: Avoiding the Most Common Founder Pitfalls

Watch On-Demand

Discover the costliest mistakes for your business. Join Jeff Arnold, Pilot's COO and Co-founder, and Kimia Hamidi, Ramp's Head of Savings, in discussing the top three mistakes every founder should avoid and learn how to mitigate risks in the face of bank failures and interest rate hikes. 

“What founders need to focus on is hiring, selling, and building the product -- that's it.” - Kimia Hamidi

Key Takeaways:

  1. Hiring strategically: Hiring people who will help your business reach the next stage is essential. Don't hesitate to pay a little more for critical hires. Focus on getting amazing candidates and treat others well on their way out.
  2. Milestone-driven hiring: Identify the milestones you need to achieve for the next stage of funding or revenue goals and hire strategically to reach those milestones. Avoid hiring generalists and look for specialists who excel in specific areas.
  3. Founder focus: Founders should primarily focus on hiring, selling, and building the product. Augment your weaknesses by hiring individuals who can fill those gaps. Time is the most valuable resource for early-stage startups, so prioritize activities directly contributing to growth.
  4. Infrastructure and financial management: Save time on non-core activities like legal, taxes, and filings. Instead, delegate those tasks to professionals. Establish a solid infrastructure to ensure smooth operations, including primary and backup bank accounts. 
  5. Start with customer needs: In the early days, create energy around your product and get it in customers' hands. Prioritize product development, distribution, compliance, and tax considerations in that order.

Closing Keynote: Acquired Podcast Hosts Join Pilot’s FT

About Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal / Session: Closing Keynote: Acquired Podcast Hosts Join Pilot’s FT

Watch On-Demand

Join Acquired podcast hosts Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal as they share insights and trends from 200+ interviews on their show. Moderated by Pilot CEO and Co-Founder Waseem Daher, this session includes a not-to-be-missed Q&A.

“Focus on the thing you're good at, and outsource the rest of it to the folks who are best at those things.” - Ben and David

Key Takeaways:

  1. Optimism always wins: Maintaining an optimistic mindset can lead to better outcomes in business and life.
  2. Moore's Law and market opportunities: The continuous advancement of technology, as represented by Moore's Law, leads to cheaper computers, larger markets, and broader opportunities. Embracing technological progress can result in significant outcomes.
  3. Let your winners ride: Instead of focusing on short-term growth rates, consider the long-term growth potential of your successful ventures. Allowing them to thrive and grow over time can lead to greater success.
  4. The will to survive: A strong determination to overcome challenges and persevere is powerful. Nothing can stop a relentless choice to survive.
  5. Buying options vs. investing in cash flow: In early-stage investments, you often buy options with the potential for significant outcomes rather than investing in immediate cash flow. Evaluate the range of outcomes and their likelihood when valuing options. 

Watch Founder Tactics 2023 On-Demand
Gain tactical insights from experts and take your startup to the next level
Watch now
Watch Founder Tactics 2023 On-Demand
Gain tactical insights from experts and take your startup to the next level
Watch now
Watch Founder Tactics 2023 On-Demand
Gain tactical insights from experts and take your startup to the next level
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