The Early Start-up Founder Fundamentals

Start-ups have always been synonymous with some level of scrappiness and doing all things at the same time.

This means that everyone is more or less doing a bit of everything all the time, often to achieve very different goals. Almost like a divide and conquer , except you’re dividing effort and attempting to conquer the startup world.

Embedding lean methodologies early can save time (and money):

The arrival of methodologies like lean have changed that narrative or at least are trying to change that narrative. Not only by injecting structure to startup processes but also agility to large companies.

Here is a summary and introduction to lean product methodologies.

Many assume that the less process oriented approach always wins as founders and early employees look for quick results. This means building features, making a sale, having a call to discuss a sale… building more features.

In so doing, we miss a lot of the softer touches that I believe make for the foundation of a scalable company.

These things are not tangible and many times tedious, but we must remember, whether or not you know it you are implicitly making decisions about the future of your company and it’s propensity to scale.

The lack of doing so often shows when funding is injected into the company and investors expect exponential growth, but often what happens is a period of rapid growth followed by a pulling back, and this is often to put systems in place, define culture, hire the right people; to support growth.

What are these things, I hear you ask?


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Culture eats strategy for breakfast (and lunch, and probably dinner too…)

I start with culture because I’m passionate about organisations scaling with people who believe in them but also love what they do and with whom they do it.

We can all agree that written or not there is an ethos you live by, and you only see how great or terrible it is at scale.

Culture has been romanticised, misused and is often misunderstood.

Your culture defines your way of doing things and points to not only defining the kind of leader you want to be and hire, how you want your employees to feel about your company, how you want your customers to feel about you, it also speaks on how you pay your employees, the culture of recognition, the companies view of failure among other things.

This ties into your brand as a company, it ties into your hiring practices, your capacity to retain good talent, I could go on. This is a living breathing document and it’s okay to change, but the lack of self awareness as an organization is not. And it shows.

dilbert innovation comic


Some of the more interesting things I’ve read about culture is the infamous quote by Peter Drucker “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. And in the next series I’d like to highlight some of the misconceptions and truths about culture in an early stage startup.

I’ll leave you with this.

“Now, thanks to the radical transparency made possible by a connected world, your business is a glass box. People can see all the way inside. And that means that now the brand is everything they see. Every person. Every process. Every value. Everything that happens, ever. There’s a single word that sums up what a person sees when they look deep inside your business: they see your culture.”

David Mattin, Head of Trends & Insights, TrendWatching

The Baobab Network Accelerator Application Banner


Process, process, process

For a start-up that is trying to pull all levers and see what sticks, this is potentially the least liked one. But really, the tragedy of a brilliant product not scaling as fast as it could as a result of the lack thereof, is probably even less liked.

I’m here to assure you, you will pat yourself on the back when investors begin to put the bucks behind the idea.

Process here refers to:

  1. Standardising processes: Downloading templates and creating templates to standardise processes across your business. E.g create an excel sheet to track customer conversations. Use a single format for feedback. Have a sprint planning and retrospective format/ tool. Use the same sales deck.
  2. Document: As much as you can document. It’s a great help when you can go back to a file and understand + justify a decision made 2 years ago. When the investors come knocking you will be well informed and easily provide data.
  3. Measuring: Attaining product market fit needs to be as scientific as possible, the data should guide what market you target, what customers need, your value proposition. For this you must collect data, measure and iterate.
  4. Reporting: While it doesn’t seem critical, one of the first things an investor will want to see is your numbers. Learning to keep records is critical. Learning to track the right thing, determining your north star metric among others.

There are some great resources out there that allow you to create traceable actions, feedback, iteration and have a view of where you started.

Here are some links to templates, more templates, product management templates.

It’s fairly cathartic to see your progress. Make use of it.

In our next series, we will dive deeper into this and the value of process to founders in their early stages.

Understanding the customer

Lastly, friends, there is nothing like too much time spent with your customer. A customer focused product is the only kind of product there should be.

At the early stages of a company, the greatest skill you could have is the capacity to collect feedback and iterate quickly.

How you pull yourself from market definition to your high fidelity MVP is a process heavily involving your customer. Books like the Lean Playbook by Dan Olsen and the Lean start-up by Eric Reis describe this in great detail.

Either of these two books are a must have for founders in the early stages of their startup.

When I analyze the root causes of why products fail, a common pattern emerges. The main reason products fail is because they don’t meet customer needs in a way that is better than other alternatives. This is the essence of product-market fit. Marc Andreessen of Netscape fame coined the term in 2007. In the same blog post he also contends, as I do, that startups “fail because they never get to product-market fit

Dan Olson, The Lean Product Playbook

You need to understand your customer needs. You need to empathize with their needs.

By Christine Namara

Venture Partner at The Baobab Network


The Baobab Network Accelerator Applications Banner


The Early Start-up Founder Fundamentals

Start-ups have always been synonymous with some level of scrappiness and doing all things at the same time.

This means that everyone is more or less doing a bit of everything all the time, often to achieve very different goals. Almost like a divide and conquer , except you’re dividing effort and attempting to conquer the startup world.

Embedding lean methodologies early can save time (and money):

The arrival of methodologies like lean have changed that narrative or at least are trying to change that narrative. Not only by injecting structure to startup processes but also agility to large companies.

Here is a summary and introduction to lean product methodologies.

Many assume that the less process oriented approach always wins as founders and early employees look for quick results. This means building features, making a sale, having a call to discuss a sale… building more features.

In so doing, we miss a lot of the softer touches that I believe make for the foundation of a scalable company.

These things are not tangible and many times tedious, but we must remember, whether or not you know it you are implicitly making decisions about the future of your company and it’s propensity to scale.

The lack of doing so often shows when funding is injected into the company and investors expect exponential growth, but often what happens is a period of rapid growth followed by a pulling back, and this is often to put systems in place, define culture, hire the right people; to support growth.

What are these things, I hear you ask?


Want market insights delivered direct to your inbox?

Sign-up to our free weekly email:


Culture eats strategy for breakfast (and lunch, and probably dinner too…)

I start with culture because I’m passionate about organisations scaling with people who believe in them but also love what they do and with whom they do it.

We can all agree that written or not there is an ethos you live by, and you only see how great or terrible it is at scale.

Culture has been romanticised, misused and is often misunderstood.

Your culture defines your way of doing things and points to not only defining the kind of leader you want to be and hire, how you want your employees to feel about your company, how you want your customers to feel about you, it also speaks on how you pay your employees, the culture of recognition, the companies view of failure among other things.

This ties into your brand as a company, it ties into your hiring practices, your capacity to retain good talent, I could go on. This is a living breathing document and it’s okay to change, but the lack of self awareness as an organization is not. And it shows.

dilbert innovation comic


Some of the more interesting things I’ve read about culture is the infamous quote by Peter Drucker “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. And in the next series I’d like to highlight some of the misconceptions and truths about culture in an early stage startup.

I’ll leave you with this.

“Now, thanks to the radical transparency made possible by a connected world, your business is a glass box. People can see all the way inside. And that means that now the brand is everything they see. Every person. Every process. Every value. Everything that happens, ever. There’s a single word that sums up what a person sees when they look deep inside your business: they see your culture.”

David Mattin, Head of Trends & Insights, TrendWatching

The Baobab Network Accelerator Application Banner


Process, process, process

For a start-up that is trying to pull all levers and see what sticks, this is potentially the least liked one. But really, the tragedy of a brilliant product not scaling as fast as it could as a result of the lack thereof, is probably even less liked.

I’m here to assure you, you will pat yourself on the back when investors begin to put the bucks behind the idea.

Process here refers to:

  1. Standardising processes: Downloading templates and creating templates to standardise processes across your business. E.g create an excel sheet to track customer conversations. Use a single format for feedback. Have a sprint planning and retrospective format/ tool. Use the same sales deck.
  2. Document: As much as you can document. It’s a great help when you can go back to a file and understand + justify a decision made 2 years ago. When the investors come knocking you will be well informed and easily provide data.
  3. Measuring: Attaining product market fit needs to be as scientific as possible, the data should guide what market you target, what customers need, your value proposition. For this you must collect data, measure and iterate.
  4. Reporting: While it doesn’t seem critical, one of the first things an investor will want to see is your numbers. Learning to keep records is critical. Learning to track the right thing, determining your north star metric among others.

There are some great resources out there that allow you to create traceable actions, feedback, iteration and have a view of where you started.

Here are some links to templates, more templates, product management templates.

It’s fairly cathartic to see your progress. Make use of it.

In our next series, we will dive deeper into this and the value of process to founders in their early stages.

Understanding the customer

Lastly, friends, there is nothing like too much time spent with your customer. A customer focused product is the only kind of product there should be.

At the early stages of a company, the greatest skill you could have is the capacity to collect feedback and iterate quickly.

How you pull yourself from market definition to your high fidelity MVP is a process heavily involving your customer. Books like the Lean Playbook by Dan Olsen and the Lean start-up by Eric Reis describe this in great detail.

Either of these two books are a must have for founders in the early stages of their startup.

When I analyze the root causes of why products fail, a common pattern emerges. The main reason products fail is because they don’t meet customer needs in a way that is better than other alternatives. This is the essence of product-market fit. Marc Andreessen of Netscape fame coined the term in 2007. In the same blog post he also contends, as I do, that startups “fail because they never get to product-market fit

Dan Olson, The Lean Product Playbook

You need to understand your customer needs. You need to empathize with their needs.

By Christine Namara

Venture Partner at The Baobab Network


The Baobab Network Accelerator Applications Banner