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10 Lessons I Learned as a First-time Tech Product Founderby@emmmanuelnwaka
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10 Lessons I Learned as a First-time Tech Product Founder

by Emmanuel NwakaJuly 11th, 2023
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Building Blockroll: The Journey in Six months. It's been six months since we laid the foundation for Blockroll. We've had massive challenges, fired a few of the amazing people we hired, and even thought of giving up the whole company. Here are a couple of things that I've learned while building a startup.

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Building Blockroll: The Journey in Six Months.

It's been six months since we laid the foundation for Blockroll, an innovative startup focused on payroll solutions in Africa.

We started building on December 16th 2022, and it's been grace upon grace. At first, we agreed on a founders' agreement to keep us committed throughout this journey. We talked about our roles in the company, how equity will be split, and how expenses will be tracked and kept.

Based on my experience with Content Marketing for a couple of brands like Scholaroo and Hackernoon, I was selected to be the Chief Marketing Officer.

Looking back, it has not all been roses. We've had massive challenges, fired a few of the amazing people we hired, and even thought of giving up the whole company. But here we are today. Here are a couple of things that I've learned while building a startup in six months.

The best is Number 10!

Takeaways:

1. A startup changes you.

Success or failure is a very binary decision for startups.

Either you achieve product-market fit with your business model and succeed, or you lose steam with time and give up. While this isn't meant to scare you, it's the raw truth. 

As a person, you'll be stretched far beyond your comfort zone. 

It has not been an easy ride for me. I was just rounding up my final exams for college when I became the Chief Marketing Officer. With a background in Engineering, planning marketing strategies and creating brand awareness were not part of my course curriculum.

Although the experience I've gathered from Content Marketing helped, I had to pick up steam and familiarize myself with startup lingo.

I've learned how to design and build a product, how to sell it, where to get the money for it, how to attract and retain great talent, which investors to approach, and what to do when our original plan no longer makes sense. These are the most invaluable skills I've learned.

2. Running a startup with personal challenges is like running with rocks in your shoes.

This is so simple that you need someone to help you misunderstand it. 

Prior to raising funds and making a profit, you will be required to use your own resources, time, and energy to fund your startup. If you haven't settled your finances yet, this would be a serious challenge.

I know that this isn't stated enough, but building a startup requires money!

While it takes an idea to succeed, it takes money to make that idea a success. Please have a plan to cover your expenses in the first couple of months while running your business. Cynthia McCahon, CEO of Enloop, says that one of the main reasons most small businesses fail is that they simply run out of cash.

Creating leverage in the form of seed capital is the best gift you can give yourself while building a startup.

3. Building is hard; Building in Nigeria is harder.

Nigeria is a wonderful place to build a startup. 

But with inconsistent government policies, a lack of basic infrastructure, and a rising cost of living, building a startup here can be a headache. As we say here, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

For Blockroll, this has been quite a challenge.

Some of our employees have been arrested due to the stereotyping of young Nigerians in tech. Others have been assaulted and had their properties stolen. Some government policies have been created, and we've had to revamp our whole business model.

Building in Nigeria will cost you your passion. You have to put in the work, acquire knowledge as you go, and be prepared for the unexpected because the unexpected always happens here.

4. The right team is critical to your success.

\Whether it is your cofounders, investors, lawyers, or employees, surrounding yourself with the right people is a great asset when building a startup.

Building connections with mentors and people in your niche can open doors to invaluable opportunities. Apart from investment opportunities, you need to be able to share your struggles and pains with your team. The cohesion between the members of your team needs to be way stronger than your equity.

According to King Solomon, he who walks with the wise will be wise himself.

Blockroll is not a team; it's a family. While we've had our differences, the vision that binds us together is worth the effort. As a young entrepreneur, you need to cultivate relationships that go beyond mere transactions.

These connections can become your biggest support systems.

5. Your belief in what you are selling is crucial.

For the customer to actually believe in what you are selling, you have to believe in it yourself.

It's easy to spot entrepreneurs who are not totally passionate about what they're selling; don't be among them. Before investing significant time and resources, validate your startup idea by conducting market research, talking to potential customers, and seeking feedback.

According to Zig Ziglar, selling is a transference of feelings.

Please, if you don't believe in what you're selling, stop deceiving yourself and go sell something else. You must first believe that what you're selling is useful for changing your customer's life. Second, you must believe that your product or service is required by your customers.

A huge part of your job is proving that you’re trustworthy and convincing the prospect that your product will solve their problem. Nutshell gives some great steps to do this. 

6. Take a while to rest; startups can take a toll on your health.

According to the Shopify blog, neglecting self-care is common among entrepreneurs in the early stages of their business—working a day job and cramming the rest into that time once earmarked for rest, fun, or family.

Nowadays, we tend to glorify the startup culture, which acclaims hustle, hustle, and more hustle. It's easy to get so ingrained in growing your startup that you actually forget to focus on your own growth.

Remember that neglecting your health will do more harm than good to your business.

We're so tired of seeing CEOs make a lot of money but lose their homes, their relationships, and their lives in the process; don't be another one. Spend time with your family while they're alive. Take time to invest in your health by working out, taking breaks, and eating right. Dedicate time to sleeping well.

While the pressures of work still surface, dedicating time to those you love is so invaluable to building a startup.

7. Focus on what you can control.

While hard work is absolutely necessary to build a startup, remember that there are things you can't control.

This is 2023, and we've all been aware of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the advent of the pandemic, more than 750 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported, along with more than 6.8 million deaths, according to Human Rights Watch.

Unfortunately, there could be external or internal factors that play a large part in determining how your business runs.

You won't have control over a recession, market changes due to new technology, government policies, delays, and more. The key thing for entrepreneurs is to focus more on what they can control. Focus on delivering value to your customers; focus on building a great team; focus on what works; and ignore the rest.

Always be on your guard and be prepared to adapt when necessary.

8. Hire with caution.

Mark Zuckerberg stated a rule for hiring during the fourth installment of Q&A with Mark:

‘I will hire someone to work directly for me only if I would work for that person in an alternate universe.’

Anyalewechi Precious, the CEO of DRubix Group, once told me that you should hire leaders, not experts. Leadership is beyond the skills listed on your curriculum vitae and more about your character. A leader should be selfless, respectful, and put the interests of the team above personal interests. 

If you make a mistake with the first ten people you hire for your startup, chances are that it will not survive.

Make sure you vet the interests of the people you hire before bringing them on your team. Remember, when everyone on the team is on the same page, the business grows quickly, and competitors don’t stand a chance. But if one person on your team is in the wrong role, communication breaks down, and the vision gets thwarted.

Take caution while you hire founders and team members, and your team will be better for it.

9. Don't take forever to launch.

Please don't take forever to launch your product.

Once you validate the market, create a minimum-viable product and ship it. This is one of the mistakes we made at Blockroll. We focused on adding a lot of features and integrations to help the customer without focusing on what the customer actually wanted.

A great way to learn what customers want is to launch quickly, get initial customers, listen to their feedback, and iterate on the solution.

Even if your product is far from perfect, still launch it. By taking it to market, you will build momentum for your business and be able to show prospects and investors that you are actively developing it.

It’s better to have an imperfect product out in the world that is giving you feedback than none at all.

Facebook, Amazon, and Google were far from perfect when they launched; they just kept iterating on the solution till it solved the problem of their audience. Build for a launch instead of building for the future.

10. Celebrate your small wins.

Don't be so achievement-conscious that you forget when your ceilings become your floors.

At Blockroll, we had major partnerships in this six-month period. First, we signed a partnership with The Intern Place on March 20, 2023.

Then we altered our design to reflect the intention of our brand.

Then we incorporated our brand in the United States on April 27th. We then selected the top three contestants for the NODO Awards.

I got featured as one of the Top 100 Web3 Frontrunners in Africa.

Currently, we've been signing up partnerships and securing funds.

It's been a rollercoaster all the way through.

And although we are not resting on our oars, the future seems bright for our startup.

Conclusion.

There you have it. These are the top 10 lessons I have learned as a first-time tech product founder.

Looking back now, it’s easy to see how I could have avoided my mistakes. But you know what? I don’t regret them. I am a better person today because of these mistakes. I know what I should avoid next time, and I have lessons to share with new entrepreneurs coming into the space.

I’ll probably make more mistakes in the future; who knows?

Till then, follow the Blockroll team on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Or connect with me here...