In Part 1 written a while ago, I talked about creating a lean startup, and how I made the mistake of not beginning with a minimum viable product. Upon more reflection, I realized I have learned a great deal more in the past year or more of working on a startup. By the way, as my startup approaches the next stage, I am sure I will have a Part III coming — stay tuned!
Here is my list of 10 lessons (and these are the first 10 that came to mind and not the only ones, I’m sure) that I would like to pass on to my audience:
1.Take Advice, but stick to your gut feeling
When you begin a startup and continue through the journey, there are going to be a lot of people throwing advice at you. “You should do this…” and “You should do that….”. It will be up to you to discern what advice to take, but you should just do what makes sense, and if you feel uneasy about any advice, maybe don’t take that advice right away.
2. Choose your co-founders very carefully. Choose your contractors just as carefully.
You will find this advice repeatedly, and I concur. First, with co-founders, you need to be very careful who you select as co-founder. In my experience, the most important factor is that they are as passionate about the idea as you are. If they’re not, they will not be motivated enough to endure what you’re about to face. Because many have this notion that startups are fun, trendy, and easy, and they may be trendy, but you will find few things harder to do. And when the going gets tough, if your co-founders don’t love it, they will leave it. Trust me, I know from personal experience.
Once you are past that hurdle, the next question is how well do you know your co-founder? You will hear that being co-founders is like a marriage, and that is true. Also, if you are wanting to attract investors, they always like it better when the co-founders have known each other for a while because they know it could be disaster later if the partners just met at a bar a couple days ago!
The last point I’ll make here is try to find a co-founder or co-founders that have what you lack as far as strengths. If you code or you’re the technical one, then find someone that is good at business management and/or sales.
3. Identify the most important thing to work on every day and ignore the rest.
I have struggled with this one and still do sometimes. It is so easy to work on the things that are not most important. We do this because we like to put off those things that are going to torture us, whatever it is. But these are usually the most important things — the things that keep us from obtaining our goals. The other things we would rather work on can probably wait.
4. Try to read a blog or listen to a podcast once a day.
I have received quite an education listening to podcasts. There are so many good podcasts now, that it should not be hard to find one to listen to every day or most days. Listen to the stories of the ones that went before you and made it — that 10% that actually succeeded. These messages often are exactly what I need to hear. If you need suggestions of podcasts to follow, I would recommend jason’s This Week In Startups (search on You Tube for the one with Chris Sacca — classic must hear!), Tim Ferriss’ podcast or Gary Vaynerchuk’s podcast channel.
5. Don’t listen to anyone negative about what you’re doing.
It doesn’t matter if they are close friends, family members, co-workers, or pundits. If you truly believe in what you are doing, then block out all that is negative and move forward with it. Identify the ones that will only have negative things to say and stop talking to them about it. Or, use the criticism as practice for what you’ll be up against in you decide to raise investor money. But there is a difference between intelligent questions and blatant criticism. In the end, just ignore the negativity.
6. Don’t worry, just grind.
Worrying is energetically expensive and does nothing to change the thing you’re worried about. There are so many things we can worry about: our competition, failing, no funds, leaving our secure job, etc. The thing that seems to help is just working towards addressing the thing that’s bothering you. Work, read, search forums for solutions — what did others do in your situation? As Tom Petty wrote in his lyrics to his song,”Crawling back to you” : “Most things I worry about never happen anyway.” — so true.
7. There is always a way around a road block.
What is your road block? Is it money? A co-founder or lack thereof? Or some skill that is missing? Is it time? All of these can be road blocks. In fact, many of these issues prevent would be entrepreneurs from starting in the first place. But I believe true entrepreneurs will find ways to bust through these road blocks. Actually, every road rock I mentioned above is one that I have dealt with personally. And I have found ways around each of them. For example, with money, I just used revenue engines I had built from a previous part time business to generate some funds as needed. Being an entrepreneur is all about finding new solutions to existing problems. So if you seriously cannot overcome these common startup problems, maybe you should not be an entrepreneur.
8. When things are stagnant for too long, it’s time for a change.
We used a developer for almost a year in 2016 and didn’t see a lot of results. It was like we were on cruise control. The developer wasn’t bad, but just were not getting anywhere. When this developer asked for more money, it was a signal to me that it was time for a change. As they saying goes, If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will keep getting what you always got. Changing our developer brought in a fresh perspective and a different way of thinking. It energized the team too.
9. Don’t waste time.
Wow are humans are good at unknowingly wasting time! I am guilty of this myself. As I get older, I think more and more about how precious my time is and how I want to utilize it. How important is it to me to push the progression of my startup? How quickly do I want to go and how does that priority measure against something like watching tv? Or web surfing? Reading/watching news? Reading articles or being on Facebook? Checking all my email accounts and all the social media accounts? Even writing articles like this?? Most of us need leisure activities and should do them to avoid burnout. We need recreational things to do. But with me, for example, I make time for running. I train for races and run 10+ miles often. That is my recreation, my stress reliever. But that plus watching tv or playing games, etc. cuts into too much time, especially since I am still in the early stages of my startup.
10. Stay focused on one thing and don’t get distracted.
This sort of goes with #9. I have a lot of ideas for prospective startups. Should I be spending time on them though, or spending all my time on the main startup I’m building? In my opinion, it is best to pick just one and work on that. For example, last year I turned some office space into a biochemistry research lab. I bought the equipment I needed off Ebay and was running some experiments during the summer. But it was taking time away from my main startup — the one I am trying to grow. At the end of 2016, I decided I just needed to pick the one that I wanted to work on the most, rather than trying to do both with mediocre results. If I can find another way to have a stake in the other idea but not a big time commitment, then I will do that. But as far doing day to day tasks, it just doesn’t work. We are all limited by our time.
Bonus. Make sure you’re doing a startup for the right reasons.
This has to be stated. Entrepreneurship has become very popular. It is considered a cool thing to do. It is regarded as the key to becoming rich and many dream of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg. It is a reality distortion field because most startups fail — Google it. Most do not survive, and it is a very tough way to make a living. So if you are doing it because it is cool or because you think it’s the fast track to a beach front mansion, sorry to say that it is just not reality. If that is your focus, you might have a rough time.
So why am I doing it then? I am not doing it for the money. I have a decent paying job right now, and it is pretty stable. But I am not satisfied with my day job. The word there is mundane to me. It has been the same conclusion at my previous jobs too. Basically, I have some great business ideas that I want to build because they don’t exist the way I want to do them. And I do not care if it pays less. I care about the impact I will make and that I am doing something I really like. If it happens to be successful financially, that is great, but it is not a thing to focus on.
These are the things I have learned so far. I hope you find some of these lessons helpful. As I stated before, these are definitely not the only things I’ve learned, but the ones that came to mind first. Good luck to you on your journey.
Follow me on Twitter @ejameswhite1.