10/28/2016 02:36 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2017

This Is What Startup Founders Need to Get Right

What are the things startups have to get right? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Jason M. Lemkin, CEO and co-founder at EchoSign and co-founder of NanoGram Devices, on Quora:

"What are the things startups have to get right?"

Let's break it down.

Let's talk about what you don't have to get right:

  • Rockstar founders? Not required. Yes, to build the next Slack, the next Amazon, the next Tesla, whatever, you probably need the next Elon Musk. But many founders at very successful startups are smart and driven, but no Elon Musk. I wasn't, and I'm not.
  • Amazing technology? Nope. See Airbnb and hundreds of others.
  • First to market? Of course not. See Google, Jet, etc. This definitely can help, but it's not really necessary.
  • 10x better than the incumbents? Only sort of required. Yes, your new product does have to better than the current guys. But sometimes only in just one small, but significant way. And sometimes just being cheaper and having the best service also works without having any different features.
  • Domain expertise? Not required, but it helps. You can learn a lot if you are totally committed, making up for this.
  • Work 100 hours a week? It helps, but it doesn't make the business. Time in the office is not as important as time spent thinking about the business.

What you do have to get right:

  • Total commitment. It will most likely take you at least 24 months just to get to real paying customers. And it will take 7-10 years to build something of any scale. Most so-called "founders" are not this committed. You're already ahead of 98% of the folks at WeWork and Galvanize if you are 100% committed to doing the time.
  • Product-market fit. You do have to get to a minimum sellable product eventually. You have to find a product the market wants to buy.
  • A minimum viable team. You can outsource development. You can do a single co-founder startup. But many folks start something without having a truly minimum viable team. You have no chance without it. You have to be able to build, ship, market, and sell your product.
  • Commitment to excellence and constant iteration. You can't build it once, put it on a shelf, and wait. You may need 100 releases before you have a sellable product. And then 200 more to get to a $1M in ARR.
  • Obsession. You need to obsess about your business. Constantly. In the shower. On the run. You may only "work" 40 hours a week, but you need to be thinking about your business 140 hours a week.

Unicorns are usually built one way, but successful startups can be built a lot of ways.

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