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Weekend Briefing No. 210
Welcome to the weekend.
As a general rule, I don’t spend a lot of time talking about what we’re up to at my law firm. But today I’m going to break that rule for a good reason… I hope.
Our firm – Westaway – is celebrating its 10th year! I know! I’m just as surprised as anybody. There were times when I never thought we’d make it to year five let alone year ten.
Launching a firm straight out of law school to work with startups in New York (one of the most competitive legal markets in the world) just as the 2008 global financial crisis was starting, did not exactly stack the odds in my favor. For so many reasons it should have failed. However, I was dead set that I’d rather fail at something meaningful than succeed at something mundane.
So, we just showed up every day with a passion for learning and desire to create the best law firm user experience on the planet. We’ve stumbled and learned a lot along the way. But we’ve been blessed to survive and continually grow and learn each day.
Over the last decade we’ve worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs that are creating impact by using business for good. We’re inspired every day by the work our clients do. They are the real heroes, we consider it an honor to be their trusted counselors.
We’ll be celebrating throughout the year, but to kick off we’re introducing a few new things:
Fresh, New Look
First, check out our newly redesigned homepage. The images above the fold feature the amazing work our clients are doing. When you go to the page just let the images scroll. It looks good on mobile, but even better on desktop. We think you’ll like it!
$10,000 Series A
Second, legal fees can get out of control on funding rounds. An average Series A tends to be $15,000 to $50,000. I’ve heard horror stories of the fees hitting $100,000+. For an early stage company, every dollar counts. Less money to lawyers means more money to impact. So, today, we’re announcing the $10,000 Series A.
Lastly, this briefing is going to be focused purely on equipping and inspiring entrepreneurs. If you are building a business, hopefully it will be tactical and actionable. If you’re not building a business send it to your favorite entrepreneur. Enjoy!
The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they're something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing. It sounds obvious to say you should only work on problems that exist. And yet, by far, the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has. The verb to use with respect to startup ideas is not "think up" but "notice." The most successful startups almost all begin this way. The clash of domains is a particularly fruitful source of ideas. If you know a lot about programming and you start learning about some other field, you'll probably see problems that software could solve. If you're at the leading edge of a rapidly changing field, there will be things that are obviously missing. What won't be obvious is that they're startup ideas. Live in the future, then build what's missing. Get more tactics from YC Founder Paul Graham (23 minutes).
Leslie’s Law simply stated is: when small meets large, small almost always wins. When a sleek, small player enters the market, it does so by creating a low-friction, high-fit and finished product that is sold at a low price to a large market. These new products are sold to a portion of the market that cannot access the larger products due to the cost of entry (in dollars and complexity) and the cost of ownership. The larger company may not even notice that they have entered the market since there are no mano-a-mano customer confrontations. Inevitably, by the time the threat becomes compelling, it’s too late. The small company has taken root, developing the advantages of a lower-cost structure with a simpler, lower-friction product. As a startup then, your objective should be to build something truly great for the low end of the marketplace, solving an important problem with a simple, low-friction product in a segment of the market that's underserved by the incumbents. First Round Review (18 minutes)
Essentialism & Entrepreneurship
From my experience as an entrepreneur and advisor over the last decade, I’ve learned that the key challenge of an entrepreneur is simply focus. Steve Jobs said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” This essentialist approach requires the following: 1) Explore: discern the vital few from the trivial many. 2) Eliminate: cut out the trivial many. 3) Execute: remove obstacles and make execution effortless. Medium (13 minutes)
Building a Beautiful Pitch Deck
A good deck can be the difference in getting funded or not. There is a lot of advice online about how to build the perfect pitch deck. These articles typically give you an outline of what to cover in your pitch. The problem is that this is often all they do. There is rarely any guidance on how to present the content for each slide in a visually compelling way. I really like this template because: 1) For each topic in your pitch, it offers multiple ways to present your ideas so that you can pick and choose the visualizations that work best for the story you want to tell. 2) It is built in Beautiful.AI, an AI-powered presentation tool that helps you visualize your ideas instantly and takes care of 95% of the design work you typically have to do in programs like PowerPoint or Google Slides. This means that each slide in the template is incredibly simple to edit; will adapt its design as you add or update content; and will be beautifully animated. Beautiful.ai (15 minutes)
One of my favorite episodes of the Startup Podcast is about shadowed qualities. The basic idea is that the culture of a company will mirror the personality of the founder – the good and the bad. The organizations that are most difficult, culturally, are determined to repress the negative aspects of their own behavior. Their own individual leadership behavior drives those behaviors underground only to have it pop up in politics and in nastiness. And we don’t even see it coming. If you’re not consciously, intentionally creating your culture, a culture is going to get created around you, or despite you. In other words, one of the most beneficial things we as founders can do for the long-term health of their company, is to deal with our own emotional baggage. Haul it out in the light, rummage through it. Take a hard look at what’s inside. This tear-jerker episode is a must listen for every founder. Startup (41 minutes)
The Linear Entrepreneur
What if the next hot thing wasn’t a supplementation of an existing network-effect megacorp, but a proliferation of a thousand or million smaller businesses that were given the time and place to breathe and thrive? Exponential growth gets all the glory. Every startup story that lands on the cover of a magazine has a hockey-stick chart to flaunt. But those businesses represent a tiny portion of all business. The VC fueled Silicon Valley model only works for a few types of businesses. But, the world is full of problems that needs solving by people who are willing to put in the work for the long haul. I’m not talking about the freakish 120-hour/week, seven-year death marches, but the patient, sustainable work that might last a lifetime. For that to happen, it needs not only to be seen as feasible, but desirable. To eschew the exponential demands of investors is a sign of strength, not a mark of weakness. To be content with linear growth is streak of independence, not absence of vision. Signal v. Noise (5 minutes)
I wanted to end this special edition of the Weekend Briefing by simply sharing the manifesto of our firm.
We see the world as it could be. We resolve to make change happen. Not content to wait for better times, we strive to lay foundations now. We know that a brighter future is built by the adventurers, people like you and me, who are on the ground charting new territory, motivated by passion and committed to execution.
We believe in the power of the marketplace to generate positive social and environmental change. We believe that the best solutions to complex challenges create long-term prosperity, not only financial but also social and environmental.
We are in this together.