Adam Besvinick, an investor at Deep Fork Capital, shared an important insight that the best startups are led by founders who possess a “symbiotic relationship with their product.”
This is how it works.
After receiving degrees in computer science, law, and Rabbinic Ordination startups weren’t likely to be the next chapter in Jonathan’s story.
However, in an effort to find a cost effective and functional solution to watch over his three young sons, Jonathan was left with no other choice than to create his own.
In his episode of Beyond the Headline, he highlights core learnings as a first-time founder, what he would have done differently, and the importance of authentically living your company values.
Here’s a brief guide of what to do and what not do during your startup’s first year. You can gain deeper insight and examples in Jonathan’s interview.
Don’t go at it alone.
Based on his experiences seeking a technical lead to build Nucleus, Jonathan advises founders to wait until they find the right person with domain expertise who will join full time. You cannot sacrifice on these traits. Especially if you are building a complex product.
Jonathan cites the inflection point for Nucleus as bringing on Isaac Levy, his co-founder, and CTO.
A few months later, Jonathan’s father was sitting next to Morley Ivers, a founder, and startup advisor, in the last row on a flight to Toronto.
They bonded as the two standby passengers and when Morley learned about Nucleus he was eager to meet Jonathan. He quickly became an active advisor and his contributions were so valuable that Jonathan asked him to join full time as a co-founder. Today Morley is Nucleus’ COO and President.
Choose people, not status.
Whether you’re deciding on investors or manufacturers the most influential decision you make in the early days is partnering with individuals who genuinely believe in your product and will go to bat for you.
Nucleus is being manufactured by Foxconn, the same manufacturer that produces the iPhone and iPad.
The reason they chose to partner with the Taiwan based team is because the company’s leaders are customers who are eager to use their product.
“We are thrilled with the humans behind Foxconn,” Jonathan shared.
Be where your customers actually are, not where you think they are.
It’s no secret that the heart of technological innovation is in Silicon Valley. While Jonathan certainly agrees, he headquartered Nucleus in Philadelphia so he can be where his customers are. He receives his most important product feedback in the drop-off line at his sons’ school.
“San Francisco is not indicative of the rest of the US. It’s important to get outside of that bubble and talk to people who have never heard of Nest or a smart home before,” he shared.
You have to sell them on something that solves their problem, not what some engineer in San Francisco conceives of their problem.
Today, and in the future, Nucleus has countless integrations enabling it to be “the glue that holds your family together.” Think of it as the single destination to communicate with your loved ones, manage your household, and even request an Uber.
Each of these features is compelling and appeals to me as a 22-year-old. However, calling an Uber is less important to parents of four who are more concerned with whether the baby is sleeping and that the other three aren’t sliding down the stairs.
The key value to remember is: “Sell people on their problems.”
Don’t hire a marketer before you have a product.
It’s always tempting to get press but as Sam Altman recently wrote in Startup Playbook:
“Press releases are easier to write than code, which is easier still than making a great product…Eventually the press figures out who is actually winning, and if your company is a real success, you’ll have more attention than you’ll ever want…Focus and intensity will win out in the long run.”
Jonathan’s taken this principle to heart and hires individuals based on the company’s needs.
Don’t invest in marketing until you’re ready to have an exceptional product. You have to get everything to work first.
When you are ready to get press, Jonathan recommends partnering with a quality PR firm. Nucleus is working with Inner Circle Labs.
The team helped them get “surround sound” coverage from Engadget, TechCrunch, and USA Today.
If it’s not in your budget to work with a highly dedicated team who has a deep understanding of your product don’t opt for a medium tier organization. You can get press yourself.
Similar to pitching customers and investors, you need a compelling story with a hook to entice readers and reporters. Prepare for all of the questions you could be asked ahead of time.
Live your values.
Whether they’re taking off from 6 – 8 pm or making to their son or daughter’s soccer game, the Nucleus team understands that family comes first.
“We are selling to families. It’s not a perk we can offer. We have to understand it to better understand our customers.”
Most of the product features in Nucleus are inspired by Jonathan and his team members personal experiences. Voice activation, for example, stemmed from Jonathan needing reinforcements at the changing table.
Break your product. Then break it again.
Jonathan and his team are constantly trying to simulate real life conditions to operate Nucleus.
Catering to multiple demographics (me, my parents, and Nana), it’s important that the technology works with a single bar of Wi-fi, and one day none.
Determine each valid use case and demographic for your product and be relentless about optimizing it.
Exercise hard logic.
As a founder, it is inevitable that you will face tough challenges. To survive, you need to be capable of removing your emotions when approaching problems.
Jonathan shared an example of how he approached equity with his co-founders.
“It’s important to look at it and understand the emotions. You need to understand the factors that are at play and that people correctly and incorrectly tie their worth in the company to their number on the cap table.”
Despite being challenging to come to terms with, this is reality. Approaching it with hard logic will save you future heartache and mental debt.
Remember: “Remove your emotions. Weigh your options.”