Featuring MIT delta v alumni Sanjay Guruprasad and Bjarke Felbo
by Dana Hwu, MIT delta v Program Manager
At MIT delta v, the capstone educational accelerator for MIT students run annually by the Trust Center, teams work throughout the summer to form and grow their startup companies, focusing on customer, product, and go-to market strategy during the three months of the program.
Kicking off this year’s virtual NYC Startup Studio (the New York-based teams in the delta v cohort), we welcomed delta v alumni and co-founders of Rune, Sanjay Guruprasad and Bjarke Felbo, to speak to teams about the top five things they wish they had known on day one of their delta v experience, back in 2018. Here’s what they had to share.
Build something people want; don’t fool yourself into thinking people want what you’re building.
As a baseline, Sanjay and Bjarke talked about getting at least 100 people to love your product. To do this, a founder will most likely have to go ahead and launch their product and begin the “feedback loop.” Business-to-business (B2B) companies may have an advantage by not having to officially launch, but still being able to “sell” and gauging market appetite for what the company is creating. But beware of being too optimistic with your own idea; a pivot may be in the cards if the competitive landscape is unfavorable, or people like your idea, but will never pay for it.
Cut out the “busy work.”
The Rune co-founders advised teams to stop with the “busy work” (things like polishing up the website, joining a small industry conference, or working to get your company posted on a local blog). It’s not that these things don’t add any value, but it’s crucial to move fast in the beginning to push your startup forward. Busy work won’t be moving the needle.
Don’t fundraise too early.
Venture capitalists will often reach out to startup founders very early in the process. While it’s great to receive this type of interest, you don’t want to share information too early that won’t benefit you in the long run. Postponing meetings until the right time, such as after your product and value proposition are more clearly defined and positioned, is often the right move.
Venture capital is also the most expensive type of funding as they are taking equity away from your business. “Every time you fundraise, it should be the last time you fundraise” because the goal is to generate revenue, which is the best type of funding.
Grow your team at the right time.
New founders will often have people who are excited to join your team and even offer to work for free, but be cautious. Growing your team too early can require significant training and getting teammates up to speed may not be worth the value added or, even worse, slow you down. Instead, focus on full-time team members that are committed to the company for the long-term. The extra time spent interviewing and hiring to find the right people is well worth it.
Make sure your company survives.
Most startups fail. Fail quickly, and overcome these challenges by being positive on the big picture and critical on small steps. Be efficient with time, but give time to people. Mentors, advisors, and investors can be your champions. Don’t try to impress them; build your company, and they’ll be impressed.
Sanjay and Bjarke are graduates of the MIT Media Lab and the co-founders of Rune, an online community using artificial intelligence and machine learning to connect mobile gamers. Rune raised $2 million in funding in 2019.