As the venture capital world continues to push the buzzy phrase 'founder-market fit', serial entrepreneur and current CEO of architecture services platform Resi, Alex Depledge, counters with her view that deep industry experience doesn't help founders crack a market.

When it comes to founder-market fit, often the first thing investors look for is industry experience. Have you spent a decade in the field? Do you know the lingo? Who can you boast about in your network? And on paper, it makes sense, right? To create a successful business you want an insider, the founder who’s been there and done that – or do you?

iStock
iStock

I’d like to play devil’s advocate and suggest that not only can you create a startup as an outsider but that it can even be an advantage.

Question everything

To understand my point of view, you only need to look at my career history. I’ve created two start-ups in two very different sectors: cleaning and architecture. Did I have any industry experience going into either business? Nope.

But I believe that rather than hold me back, it allowed me to see the industry I was entering with my eyes wide open. Instead of shrugging my shoulders and saying: “that’s just how it is”, I questioned everything relentlessly.

  • Why does this take so long?
  • Can this be streamlined?
  • What is the customer looking for at this point?

This fresh perceptive in both industries allowed me to see holes many others had been ignoring for years. And when you acknowledge something is broken, only then can you really fix it.

Customer first, business second

When we talk about founder-market fit, we often forget that there’s more than one way to experience industry. For me, when it comes to running a B2C business, it’s the C (customer) that reigns supreme. 

For both my businesses, I came into them first as a customer and then as a founder. Take, for instance, my current business. Before founding Resi.co.uk, I was just a homeowner who wanted to do a simple extension. However, I had a bad experience with an architect that saw me spend thousands on a slow and unimaginative process that included lots of back and forth emails.

Now while I would certainly have preferred to learn these industry lessons without taking such a hit to my bank balance, coming into the sector from the perspective of customer has been the best education. I took those bad experiences and asked myself: how could things be different? And, because I had tech expertise not architectural, the solutions we came up with were innovative and different from those offered by our competition.

Forget the competition

One of the biggest advantages of being an outsider is that no one really cares about you – at least when you’re starting out.

As the new kid on the block, few people in the industry will pay you much attention. This is ideal for those early stages, as you’re allowed to work in peace and get stuck into those initial big hurdles. What’s more, you’d be surprised how generous people can be when they don’t see you as a threat. I had plenty of industry experts lend me a hand simply because I was, in their minds, not much to worry about.

Even now, three years into the journey, I tend to ignore the competition. This might sound brazen but it’s my experience that if you’re constantly watching what other people are doing, you’re mostly just distracting yourself from your own ideas. I see lots of companies launch products simply because their rival did the same. But if all you’re doing is the same thing your neighbour just did then it is an easy way for an industry to grow stagnant.

And when a sector grows stagnant... well, it’s just a matter of time before a plucky outsider comes in to shake things up.