Finding Your Edge
By Alice Bentinck, EF Co-Founder
Finding your edge
If you’re applying to EF you’re applying because you want to build something big. Something that can make a difference, impact millions and be valuable.
If we select you for EF, it means we think that you have the potential to do that.
A key part of fulfilling that potential is understanding what you should be working on.
At EF we help you build your team and develop an idea from scratch. Our methodology helps you find the right cofounder and idea for you. It starts by helping you discover your Edge.
What is Edge?
There is an opportunity cost to the startup you build — it’s the other startup you could be building. To ensure you’re building the most valuable startup possible you need to leverage the skills and knowledge you already have.
Your edge is your secret weapon. It can take the form of a technical skill or area of expertise:
- What are the things you know that few others know?
- What can you build that few others can?
- What unique or rare insights do you have that others don’t?
It’s likely there are many ideas you could work on. But, you should focus on ideas where you have an unfair advantage compared to other founders. Pick the idea where you have an Edge.
Types of Edge
There are three types of Edge — Technical, Domain, and Product. Most people have one clear strong Edge, with knowledge and skills in the other Edges. You should use your primary Edge to lead the startup building process.
We love funding technologists who want to apply their skills to hard problems in the real world . Even if they’re not yet sure what problem they want to solve. Most people at EF fall into this category.
Technical Edges have usually worked on a specific technology. For example, they have PhD or postdoc in a technical field; final-year projects focused on a specific technology; experience working on specialised industry applications of technology; a consistent technical theme in your repertoire of side projects.
At EF, we like you to take technical risk. This means we like you to build something that’s on the edge of your ability. If you have advanced technical depth you should use it to build your startup. Very few applicants recognise this is their Edge during the interview process. It’s common to hear machine learning researchers want to build a ‘better’ dating app. Don’t undervalue your skills and what you can build with them.
Alex (co-founder of Tractable) graduated from Imperial and during his Masters had worked on a specific application of deep learning for the inspection of polyethylene pipe welds. At EF, we helped him to apply the technology to different industries. Tractable is now part of the top 100 AI companies worldwide. Watch here.
Zehan (co-founder of Magic Pony Technology) graduated from Imperial with a PhD in Medical Imaging Computing. EF helped him to apply the visual processing skills from his PhD to video compression. Twitter acquired MPT for a reported $150m.
If you have years of experience with a certain industry, and have insights on how it could be improved, you have a Domain Edge. Your insight is something that no-one else has realised. You connections and a network that will allow you to test and iterate your idea.
Your insight should be valuable and have early validation. Not superficial observations easy for an outsider to guess.
If you’re still a student, or straight out of academia, it is unlikely that you are a Domain Edge. If your idea is in music, sport, dating, housing, food or entertainment and you don’t have experience in that industry, it’s unlikely you are a Domain Edge.
Gareth (co-founder of AdBrain), had spent eight years working in the mobile advertising space and knew how difficult it was for advertisers to track users across devices. He met his cofounders at EF and built AdBrain, an artificial intelligence powered cross-device ad platform.
Phoebe (co-founder of Brolly), spent two years working in insurance before joining EF. Insurance is hard for consumers to understand and manage. Phoebe’s experience in the sector gave her the knowledge and network required to solve this problem. Read more about Brolly here.
A Product Edge is a powerful combination of generalist technical skills and a strong product-mindset. If you fall into this category you also have founder traits such as a growth mindset and personal exceptionalism.
Product Edges sit along the technical spectrum. They are well-versed in development cycles, have worked with tight release deadlines and love creating high quality products.
Often Product Edges have also tried starting their own ventures in the past. If you’re a fresh graduate, it’s likely that you’ve played big roles in projects outside of your course.
Product Edges should be open to other people’s ideas and be clear on what skills they can bring to their cofounding team.
Aleksandra (cofounder of Cleo) left her job as a full stack developer at big data company to join EF and had previously worked as a Software Engineer at Google. Her experience building scalable and secure software products used by millions of people meant that she was uniquely well positioned to build Cleo — an intelligent assistant for your money — alongside her co-founder who she met on the programme.
Kingsley (cofounder of Keypla) came to EF after setting up an ecommerce company age 12 and time spent working in Growth teams at AirBnB and Uber. He teamed up to build a VR product for real estate agents to provide better instant viewing experiences for their customers, significantly reducing property completion times.
Choosing your Edge
It’s important to know your Edge coming in to EF. Sometimes people are mistaken about their Edge, or do not choose to work on ideas that align with their Edge. Don’t worry though, we’ll help you figure this out during Form.
It’s also common to identify with aspects in each category — you might be someone with a Technical Edge with a strong product-mindset. We encourage you to choose the one you most closely identify with as your primary Edge.
Think about your skills and expertise which are the most developed. Then compare yourself to other potential founders in the space — can you compete? If yes, then you’ve found your Edge.