Series V

“I have an idea”

Conventional wisdom says that with the right startup idea, success for a founder is all but guaranteed. Eureka moment -> Startup -> Cha-ching. Everything else is a matter of details. But the devil is in those details.

It’s easy to come up with the idea of a food delivery service, for example. Obviously, people need to eat to stay alive and they don’t always have the time to go buy food for themselves. Obviously. But it’s not as straightforward to make deals with restaurants who were doing fine before you came along. It’s not as easy to get permits, or manage a fleet of blue-collar delivery staff, or design scale-proof processes. The idea, in itself, is incomplete.

This has led the startup community to the other extreme: “ideas don’t matter; execution is everything”.

One reason why execution is valued higher is that ideas are often replicable. As soon as a market gets proven and a product starts making money, it will get copied to the ends of the earth. This is expected, and so the only difference between all the many versions of the product is how well they were executed.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean the ideas themselves are worthless. But the execution is what makes them valuable. Those little actions and decisions add up to make the whole. As Sam Altman said, “What being a founder means, is signing up for this years-long grind on execution — and you can’t outsource this.”

Here’s an interesting comment from Mike Sellers on processes first-time entrepreneurs are completely blind to:

An idea is not a mockup

A mockup is not a prototype

A prototype is not a program

A program is not a product

A product is not a business

And a business is not profits

Profits are not an exit

And an exit is not happiness.

All in all, good products involve a series of ideas executed continuously.

Links from the Internets

  • Mindshare before market share. [Link]
  • Management is a deeply, deeply personal thing + other lessons [Link]
  • The today and tomorrow of Machine Learning. [Link]
  • Leading the people. [Link]
  • Money. [Link]

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Series V

How Culture Happens

Startups should ask themselves, “What is constant?” “What doesn’t change as we grow?” “What binds us in this journey?” The ‘what’ that remains constant characterises your startup and its purpose and is the answer to why people should you on your journey.

These are your values and they form the bedrock of every decision your company makes. They paint a clear course of action, so your people can make decisions without spending time seeking and getting permission. This is how empowerment happens. This is how employees become owners.

A company’s culture is the product of its successes; the behavior that gets rewarded implicitly. It’s not something the company ‘has’, but something the company ‘is’.

When startups start small, it seems like a great culture should create itself. They hire people that are like-minded from their social circles, they interview everybody in the same way, and they work hard. They think an outstanding culture will be a byproduct of those choices.

The problem is that teams don’t operate in a vacuum. When culture is not cultivated, it is present anyways. While you put it off till a later date, you are handing control to some [one / thing] else to shape your values.

Founders/CEOs must be deliberate about what behavior they incentivize. Creating team values is, in itself, helpful for seeing where team members are aligned and where they diverge. What is valued offers a shared “guidebook” that each individual can fall back on when challenging situations arise.

If a company’s values are its bedrock, then its culture is the shifting landscape on top of it. Culture is the current embodiment of the values as the needs of the business dictate. Landscapes change over time. For that reason, values remain stable as a rock while culture emerges from and revolves around it.

Links from the Internets

  • Stay paranoid. [Link]
  • Gradually, then suddenly. That is how disruption happens. [Link]
  • Fast eats slow for breakfast, lunch and dinner. [Link]
  • Planning & Execution. [Link]
  • Andy Rachleff on mental models. [Link]

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Series V

You vs. Yourself

Companies don’t get killed by competition, they usually find creative ways to commit suicide.

Competition is a curious thing. It can make founders go crazy. It can turn them into obsessive, win-at-all-costs lunatics. “How much did they just raise?”. “Who did they just hire to run marketing?”. “What did they add to their latest release?”. “Who just offered to buy them? How much?”.

Measuring your company against competitors is an absolute waste of time. Even if you’re in an extremely competitive space, your competition should never act as the measuring stick for your success.

The key to successfully growing your business is to have a healthy obsession with constantly measuring and improving a handful of metrics that determine the health of your business.

The existence of competing products is a meaningful signal and you should by no means ignore them — look over your shoulder every now and then — but make it a few times a year, not a few times a week.

If the real validation of any business is its customers (and it is), then it makes more sense to keep the focus on them. One of the advantages of this approach is that customers lead you to down interesting paths to interesting discoveries. Keeping a finger on their pulse helps you work out what next to build. For example, Steward Butterfield started Flickr started as an online game but observed customer interactions and realized that the inbuilt photo sharing tool was a more compelling product.

Note: being customer-centric doesn’t imply that you ask customers for every feature to build — it’s looking at their pain points and asking yourself with making the experience 10x better for them. It’s not asking if customers want a faster horse, it’s figuring out the problem — in this case, faster, more efficient mobility — and creating something that gets people to their destinations 20x faster with less work required on their part.

In reality, the fight with competition is for market share. That said, you’ll sooner die from failing to provide a valuable service than from your competition taking all your share of the pie, leaving you to starve to death.

Strong brand names and brand value in itself only carry a passing weight. Rather, the new economy will be defined by those who sit closer to the customer, who really “get” them, and who anticipate a solution before customers can even visualize or express it themselves. Strong brands are customer obsessed brands.

The business model canvas is designed with this in mind, keeping the customer segment and the value proposition at the heart of the business while giving only a cursory nod to the competition.

In the end, it is not your purpose to beat another company. The only thing that matters is that you win over more and more customers.

Links from the Internets

  • Finance as a strategy. [Link]
  • Much ado about valuation. [Link]
  • Insights from code conference 2018. [Link]
  • Lessons from Toys R Us. [Link]
  • Join The Hustle Bootcamp by Starta. [Link]

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Series V

Day Ones.

Making your first hires isn’t a walk in the park. It is not like a video game where you can choose from a selection of accomplished superstars you have to go through the daunting task of bringing on board the right people (from a short supply) to grow your company and develop your product.

It is tough and imperative to hire good people seeing that the quality of a team plays a major role in the success of a startup, especially a young one and you can’t build a great company by yourself. But where in the world are these people and how do you get them to join you on your journey?

The struggle is real. All the different startups are competing for the same competent talent but if finding top talent is hard, getting them interested in your startup is a different ball game because you are perceived as high-risk.


What to do when you do not have you are still early-stage and do not have enough clout? Begin with building a company people want to work for. Not by free lunch and ping pong tables but by sorting out the identity of your company and its values. Defining these early is important.

Do it yourself first. Learning the job in detail does two things: it clarifies the need for that hire and what to expect from them. Two, you are intimate with the position and can track goals and growth.

Shoot your shot. The best guys wouldn’t come knocking on your door. You are going to have to look for them and reach out. Twitter and LinkedIn are valuable in this regard. Even if you think you can’t get these people, make a move regardless. The upside is, they usually have access to other top talents, and a word from them will do you good. The downside is, they say no. Leverage your network and use their network too.


Honestly, from day one. Start looking for good people from day one because it takes time to find and hire great people. Build and nurture relationships and connections for when you have a hiring need. Also when you are sure that there is enough work for the person to do for at least 6 months, that hiring this person will free you for more value-adding work, and you can afford to pay the person a salary that can at the very least cover transportation and feeding.

In the early days and even the days that follow, you should look for attitude, smarts, and culture fit. Note: culture fit = different pieces of a puzzle, not pieces that all resemble each other. Hiring clones thwart creativity and diversity.

Before growth and proper HR, prioritize your legal docs and have a contract to make sure both parties are protected.

Also, whether it’s employee one or 50, there should be an onboarding process that captures the culture, intent, history, and strategy of your company.

Hiring is not sexy work and so the thought, process, and structure that is required are hardly put in but hiring should be one of the top priorities for startup founders and they should be prepared to dedicate a lot of their time to everything associated with the hiring process.

Inside VP

Our overarching mission at VP is to provide smart capital and support for Africa’s boldest entrepreneurs using technology to solve hard problems. So, we are excited to share that we have a new company joining the VP family: Piggybank. [Why we invested]

Portfolio Propaganda

  • Lizzie’s Creations have been working on a project and they have a beta version out on play store. It’s called Decisions: Cecilia’s choices. Check it out and leave feedback por favor. [Link]
  • Paystack will be hosting the maiden edition of Paystack LIVE with MTN where some of the high-performing businesses who use Paystack share the strategies that help them dominate their industries. + Mr Olubayo Adekanbi, the Chief Transformation Officer of MTN will be there. [RSVP]
  • Thrive Agric have farms open. [Link]

Links from the Internets

  • Does your product do new things in new ways? [Link]
  • Build for people. [Link]
  • Don’t fuck up the culture. [Link]
  • Andrew Chen on paid ads. [Link]
  • Repositioning and Pricing. [Link]

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