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Mooney: Good, Bad, & Learning Founders

Guest post by Clayton Mooney.

Topics that will repeatedly pop up when building a company from the earliest stage, and the various mindsets a founder can have while going about them.

Being self-aware as a founder is difficult. Maybe it’s because none of us actually know what’s going on, or if the direction we’re going in is the right one. Or, put another way, we’ve sat out to build a future that doesn’t exist yet, and convincing the world it needs to exist is no small undertaking.

Here are my thoughts on the mindset of a founder, on various topics that will repeatedly pop up when building a company from the earliest stage.

On recruiting a co-founder

  • Learning founders go in search of someone like their self. Similar skill sets, similar outlooks on life, and similar upbringings
  • Bad founders go in search of someone to control and micromanage, and someone they see as below them with skill set and experiences
  • Good founders go in search of someone whose strengths are their weaknesses

On team building

  • Learning founders convince friends to join their cause and expect them to live as minimally as the founder does
  • Bad founders convince people to join their company and then forget to clearly communicate the objectives and metrics.
  • Good founders convince people to join a mission and vision, and then begin to delegate day-to-day decisions

On product building

  • Learning founders decide to perfect features 2 through 5 before they validate feature 1 with customers
  • Bad founders decide that they disagree with customer feedback and continue building what they want to build
  • Good founders decide that customers are judge, jury, and execution of their value propositions

On customers

  • Learning founders believe in small sample sizes of public data and allow it to falsely highlight that what they’re building is working and worthwhile
  • Bad founders believe it’s not worth their time to have conversations with every customer, because that approach “doesn’t scale”
  • Good founders believe the only way to scale in the future is from 1:1 conversation with each and every customer they can get on the phone with

On fundraising

  • Learning founders think they can fundraise while in sales or build mode
  • Bad founders think they should meet with whoever can write a check, at any time
  • Good founders think about building their funnel and list of investors they’re looking for warm intros to, before the first investor is ever contacted

Clayton Mooney is the co-founder of the Ames-based companies Kinosol and Nebullam and is a familiar face in the Iowa startup ecosystem. This story was originally published on Substack.

Mooney: Good, Bad, & Learning Founders | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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