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Curiosity, communication, and capital efficiency: Investors share their tips for startups in 2024

Clockwise, from top left: Kellan Carter of Fuse; Madin Akpo-Esambe of Tacoma Venture Fund; Maria Gilfoyle of Madrona Venture Group; Greg Gottesman of Pioneer Square Labs; Elisa La Cava of Trilogy Equity Partners; and Sheila Gulati of Tola Capital.

Be curious. Communicate openly and honestly. Maintain capital efficiency with a focus on growth.

Those are some of the top tips for founders heading into 2024, according to Seattle-area tech investors we polled.

It’s shaping up to be a unique year in the tech startup world, following a steep decline in venture capital in 2023 as investors tightened their belts and companies curbed costs.

However, there are reasons for optimism. The excitement around AI, a strong stock market, and additional talent flooding the market following thousands of layoffs last year could help boost prospects for startup leaders in 2024.

Earlier this week we shared top predictions in 2024 from investors. Here’s what they had to say about advice for startup founders this year.

Sheila Gulati, managing director at Tola Capital

“This is the most exciting time to be a founder! We’re in the early stages of AI innovation, and the potential is limitless to invent the new world of work. AI is a game-changer and founders who pair technical AI innovation with those who have proven enterprise expertise will find market traction even faster.”

Greg Gottesman, managing director at Pioneer Square Labs

“Be more curious than you’ve ever been. We are entering a time of radical change in tech and the world. The founders who are the most curious will be able to pivot most effectively and take advantage of new opportunities and change.”

Maria Gilfoyle, investor at Madrona Venture Group

“Founders should aim to maintain capital efficiency with a focus on growth. At the beginning of 2023, we saw founders pulling back growth to achieve operational efficiency, reduce burn, and in some cases achieve profitability. Companies that achieved capital efficiency and reduced their burn rate are well positioned do rebound in growth in 2024 and accelerate efficiency. One way founders can continually reach new customers and expand contracts in the new year is to frequently revisit the pricing and packaging of their product. A new pricing strategy can help reach new customers or expand contracts to drive growth in the new year.”

Madin Akpo-Esambe, investor at Tacoma Venture Fund

“The bar to raise growth capital rounds is getting higher and higher so our advice for startups is to have a firm grasp on their financials and start conversations early to map out exactly what metrics they’ll need to hit in order to reach successful future raises. Founders will need to be ahead of the curve on their industry’s market dynamics, communicate openly and honestly with their advisory teams, and be proactive on the difficult operating and product decisions that may be required to get to the best possible outcome for their teams.”

Kellan Carter, founding partner at Fuse

“The 2021 bubble is a recent memory of which the pain is still trickling through VC land. Our input to founders is to have very strong communication and board alignment on cash runway, growth levers, and plans to be ‘default alive.’”

Elisa La Cava, principal at Trilogy Equity Partners

“It’s as important as ever to paint the big vision, share the unique approach you are taking, and showcase the early proof points (this includes learnings from prospective customer interviews, pilots you’re running, and/or feedback from customers) that are giving you conviction that you are building a product the market wants. For AI applications, it’s all about the data. How are you gathering proprietary data that, when fed into or used for the training of AI models, will deliver highly valuable, unique insights to customers? For AI infrastructure and tooling companies, how will you build and test quickly, and what is your vision for advancing the rapidly evolving landscape? And finally, for AI and non-AI startups alike, what are your go-to-market strategies?”