Starting on an entrepreneurial journey can be thrilling as well as daunting for first-time founders. I have spent more than a year trying to navigate my startup journey. Here are a few of my learnings from being a first-time founder:
Customer-first, build later
It's so easy to get started with building a product because, as a technical founder, it's exactly your skill. But from my experience, building a product is the easiest part of the startup journey. Do not simply jump into building a product before you find a customer who is willing to spend money on it.
Find a problem that's worth solving
Identify the problem you are solving and the market opportunity. Determine the market size, competition, alternatives to your service, and if the problem is big enough to spend your time on. If you found a problem and did not see any product in the market, it's most likely because the opportunity is not big enough to build a company around it.
Identify the buyer
Your product user may not be the buyer. For example, if you are building products for developers, your developer may not be the buyer at all. The VP of Engineering for the organization is the buyer. Instead of just interviewing your user, talk to your buyers as well to understand their priorities. If you're planning to sell to large enterprises, oftentimes it's incredibly hard to clear Vendor Risk Assessments (VRA) to be able to sell to these enterprises. Make sure you understand what it takes to sell to your customers.
Self-service is useless for most enterprise startups
As a first-time founder, I thought if a product is solving an issue, users will sign up and input their credit card details to complete the purchase. While this is true if your customer is a small startup and the dollar amount is minimal. However, most enterprise purchases are handled by procurement teams and most purchases happen offline via a purchase order (or credit card for small dollar amounts). If you are selling to large enterprises, don't bother building these self-service flows right away. Simply build a "contact us" or tirelessly contact them yourself.
Identify the dollar amount you expect to bill your largest customer for the products you are offering. You might be building a product that's solving a real problem, but if your product only brings in a few thousand dollars per year from your largest customer, your startup may not sustain itself. For example, imagine you are building a product that brings in $10K per year, to hit $1M ARR you need 100 such customers. Assess what it takes to find 100 customers paying $10k/year. In most cases, if you are looking to raise money, the higher the dollar amount/customer, the better the chances of finding an investor.
Ad spend vs. sales guy
If your startup is selling to enterprises, you have a better chance of finding a paying customer with a salesperson rather than spending money on ads. At least for the first year, I wouldn't dream about PLG. Even if you have a great product, without sales, you're still toast. If selling is not your forte, hire/find a person who can sell.
Bootstrap vs. raising money
I would recommend trying to raise money even if you plan to bootstrap. Most investors will say "it makes sense" to whatever you pitch. But ultimately they will write a check only if they see potential in your startup. Talking to potential investors will help you identify issues with your theory and helps you fail fast and move on.