Biggest Mistakes in the Founder Growth Journey with Maelle Gavet
INTRODUCTION: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. Each day we welcome transformational executives to share their real world experiences and practical advice about scaling yourself, your team, and your business.
Matt Blumberg: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. I'm Matt Blumberg, co- founder and CEO of Bolster, and I'm here today with Maelle Gavet. Maelle is the CEO of Techstars. Good to see you Maelle.
Maelle Gavet: Good to see you too, Matt.
Matt Blumberg: So you are in the business of working with founders. Techstars has... How many founders graduate every year now? Five, six, 700.
Maelle Gavet: This year it's probably going to be around, 700 and total we've made around 3, 600 pre- seed investments since we started.
Matt Blumberg: Amazing. So very large body of founders. So my question to you is, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see founders make during their growth journey?
Maelle Gavet: I would start by saying that making mistake is part of the journey. So no one should feel bad, no founder should be bad about making mistakes. If they haven't made mistake, it's probably that they haven't taken enough risk. Making peace with the fact that you are going to make mistake as a founder is very important. And then in terms of very specific mistakes that we see very often I think, one, and it's less the case now, but for a long time it was like chasing valuation at all costs. So growth at all costs. Profitability really doesn't matter. Building a resilient company really doesn't matter. It's all about getting to this status of being a unicorn, being valued over a billion dollars. And that has plenty of side effect that we won't have time to talk about today, but that's a pretty big one. The second one is founders tend to be excited people. And what I mean by that, and it's a positive. They tend to be looking at life as a series of problem that needs to be solved and have the energy to go and solve them. The challenge with that is that often founders lack focus. They want to do a bunch of stuff. They want to solve a bunch of problems. And so a lot of the work that we do at Techstars is to say, " No, no, no, you need to focus. What's the one problem you're trying to solve? What's the one type of customer you're going after?" Just narrowing it down to something that forces focus. And then the last one that I see very regularly is founders often, not always, have a really difficult time to make hard people decisions, especially when the people in questions are people with whom they built the company from the ground up.
Matt Blumberg: For sure.
Maelle Gavet: And it's this question of is the business a team or is the business a family? And what we keep telling them is, your business is a team. To be on the team, you need to perform. You need to have the skills that the business actually need, that the team actually needs. You can be a fantastic human being and be a great friend of the CEO, and have been through war with them, and not have the right skill that are required right now for this company. And so the founder needs to be able to have this tough conversation and consider his team as a team, not a family.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah. Look, all three of those resonate with me having seen lots of founders over the years too. Let me ask a follow- up question about the second one, which is focus in on just getting one thing right. What do you do with founders that have a very broad, and expansive, and exciting vision? I don't know where to start with it, or the vision is just a very large thing on its own. Institutionally, what does Techstars do? Is it about shrinking the vision or is it about making sure there's a realistic starting point?
Maelle Gavet: It's about phasing the vision. It's not about shrinking it unless the vision seems completely delusional, which sometimes does happen.
Matt Blumberg: It happens, yes. Yeah.
Maelle Gavet: But the reality is in our business at pre- seed level, you never fully know whether it's delusional or just revolutionary. So we tend to err on the side of, " We think the founder is onto something very different. Let's see how much we can support them." But the phasing part is very important. It's like, " Okay, you have this big vision. What is the first step that you need to take to get there? And then what's the second step and what's the third step?" And a lot of what we do during the three months program, what we call entrepreneurship bootcamp, internally, is to some extent that for a lot of founders is like, " Yeah, yeah, you have all these things that you want to do. What's the one thing that if you do it now, it will allow you to get to the next level and then the next level." With some founders, we use the analogy of gaming. You're in a video game and yes, there's a quest and your goal is to go all the way to the end, but-
Matt Blumberg: You still have to unlock level two.
Maelle Gavet: ...Exactly. You have to unlock level two. So why don't we focus on level two and make sure that you unlock that while still going after the big thing.
Matt Blumberg: Great advice, phasing the vision, and hopefully founders can listen to this and learn from the mistakes of others. While they will also, no doubt, as you say, make some of their own. Thanks for being with me, Maelle.
Maelle Gavet: My pleasure.
No founder should feel bad about making mistakes. If you aren’t making mistakes, you probably aren’t taking enough risk.
Maëlle Gavet, CEO of Techstars, joins us in today’s episode of The Daily Bolster, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience from Techstars' vast portfolio. Maëlle and Matt talk about the biggest mistakes founders make on their growth journey—how to avoid them when possible, how to navigate them, and how to learn from them.
Tune in to find out how growth is like playing video games. 🎮