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May 26, 2021
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This week, a repeat founder opens up about what's most critical to get right when evaluating startup ideas. 

Starting a Company in a Space You’re Not an Expert in — This Founder Shares 6 Lessons

Bowery Farming founder and CEO Irving Fain recently introduced us to his go-to startup analogy, one that we've since added to our list of favorites: "It’s like a video game where pieces of the game map only illuminate as you walk around the different regions. Building a startup is in some ways like staring down this map that is mostly dark — so you don’t know if you’re maneuvering off a cliff.”

At points along the journey of building the indoor farming company, the game map felt particularly poorly lit — he was tackling an immensely complex problem in an industry he had no prior experience in. But looking back on the earliest days, Fain believes that naivety was an asset as he dove unreasonably deep to understand what might be possible in modern agriculture — rather than coming in with assumptions about its limitations.

As investors in Bowery's seed round, the First Round team was in the weeds as the company sprouted from just a seedling of an idea to a flourishing business that’s opened three farms so far and partnered with top grocers like Whole Foods and Albertsons. On the heels of announcing a $300M Series C fundraise this week, we sat down with Fain to rewind the clock for a behind-the-scenes look at the earliest days of exploring startup ideas and gaining the conviction to build a company in an unfamiliar space.

We came away from this interview with an even deeper appreciation for how Fain approaches thorny problems. He starts with the exploration phase, and why he encourages founders to not just dive deep into the problem with evangelists—balance the scales by spending just as much time talking to folks that express doubts.

Next, he pulls on his experience as a second-time founder to drive home how critical it is to assess founder/market fit to build a company with staying power, tackling a problem you'll still be excited about many years down the line. Moving from the idea phase, he explains how he approached fundraising and intentionally hiring a small but mighty team of five equally eager to bring a first principles mindset.

Fain shares tons of profound advice particularly for folks still toying with the idea of starting a company and he opens up pages from Bowery's zero-to-one story that aspiring founders won’t want to miss. Let’s dive in.

Thanks, as always, for reading and sharing!

-The Review editors

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Made with ✨ by First Round Capital.
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