2 min read

Highlights from How to Be a Founder (Alice Bentinck and Matt Clifford)

On learning as you go

While most would-be founders are concerned with whether they know enough, success is not dependent on what you already know. Instead, it’s dependent on what you learn through pursuing a particular solution to a particular problem.

On willpower

Willpower is the only resource that you can’t afford to run out of during the early stag. Failure is often a choice; it’s what happens when you stop trying. The good news is that there are several ways you can extend your reserves of willpower, just as there are ways to extend your financial runway when needed.

The first and easiest way is simply to internalize the fact that willpower is indeed a resource.


Lastly, willpower wanes when you feel you don’t know how to fill your time and you aren’t generating the productive energy that helps propel you forward. We know a team is failing when the founders begin packing up at 6pm every evening or spend long periods browsing Hacker News. They’re not getting enough done, and even worse, it suggests they’re not motivated by what they’re doing. The antidote is to set concrete, ambitious goals with very tight deadlines and strict check-ins. It’s much harder to run out of willpower if you’re driving hard toward a pre-agreed goal.

On perseverance

Steeling yourself against giving up is the most useful thing you can do as you found a company. As we’ve seen many times now, if you can put off The End just a few weeks longer, you often find that failure is no longer looming quite so large on the horizon.

I've heard of this sort of research before, not sure it applies to big goals though

Rather than broadcasting your big goal to ‘become a founder’ broadly, research shows ambitious people should make ‘implementation intentions’ that focus on smaller, specific step-by-step planning goals. (Such as: this weekend, I will reach out to three people in my LinkedIn network who might be potential co-founders.) This keeps your brain’s goal mindset active and helps you avoid the premature dopamine hits you’d get from all your contacts congratulating your on going after your dream. Implementation intentions create accountability to the behavior needed to achieve your major ambition.

On Founder-idea fit

It’s not enough to have the idea whose time has come. You need to be the right person for the idea. We call this founder-idea fit. When we talk about your ‘right to win’, we are referencing the unseen competition that’s working on the same idea. Many founders make the mistake of thinking it’s great to have no competition. But if no one else is doing what you’re doing, it’s usually a bad sign. It probably means it is a bad idea! Given this, one of the filters we use at ER is to ask: ‘Let’s assume that there are going to be a lot of people trying to do this—why will you win?’

On asking for introductions

Finally, when possible, get specific about asking for introductions. For example, when you enter an online community, introduce yourself to the person who set up that community. Then tell them that you’re interested in XYZ, and you’d like to know three to five people you should meet who are into the same topic matter. You’ve given them enough context, and you’ve been specific, which makes it easier for them.

On selecting mentors

A good mentor for an early-stage founder is often a startup founder who is two years ahead of them on a similar journey—someone like Elon Musk doesn’t remember what it was like to have your problems. The right mentor will have granular experience and be able to help you understand how to move through this problem.