It’s been 2 years since I made the switch from 4 years working on my own startups into helping others as a software developer, mentor and/or project manager.
No, it didn’t go as well as I had hoped, financially. Having achieved only one small exit (enough for a year off!). However, if I went back, apart from applying a bit more wisdom, I would do it all over again.
Founding a startup is a great way to bootstrap a rewarding career in modern times, perhaps even better than a college degree. The knowledge and problem-solving skill acquired while launching a startup are valued by great companies. Companies that promote accelerated learning, personal freedom, and make sure their collaborators are well compensated for their input.
I strongly believe however that if I carried these lessons from the beginning, I would not have had 3 failures and one exit, instead, I would now be a founder of a couple of successful companies.
(Which I still plan on doing, but am currently taking a break, helping others is also a great and enlightening experience.)
So, the lessons I wish I could go back and teach myself are:
Chase negative feedback
Go after as many people as you can for their opinion, keep the more critical ones around. If you convert those you convert anyone.
Reality is a cold dark place, you must validate your ideas with that in mind. Positive feedback is warm and fuzzy, so it’s not representative of the challenges your product will face.
Hard work does not replace Results
A very common mistake in startup founders is to believe that success comes primarily from hard work. Some will make evident to others how they are sleeping little in order to put in more hours.
However, if you put some of those long hours of “drone work” into thinking out strategies, it will allow you to reach the results you need with the least amount of work. This way you greatly increase your hourly output and reach goals faster.
Validate before building / Don’t design while coding
Don’t start by burying yourself and/or your team in weeks that then turn into months of development work. First create prototypes, using code-free tools, and iterate on them abundantly based on feedback.
Business and design work should be completely decoupled from development. Since development takes easily 10x more and the pace is set by the slowest.
You need to first gather feedback and to react to it fast and regularly, during the ideation and validation phase, which can come before coding.
What you can’t do is more important than what you can do
Your brain has a limited amount of work & quality to output.
I’ll even go one step further and say that the less you do the more you have the mental freedom to think outside task scopes.
So, yes, you’ll have to delegate. Delegation is probably the most important skill in any ‘leader’ or even team player. It allows you to scale your output and increase quality with the help from others.
This is actually really hard though. Takes a lot of social skills, humility, confidence, or whatever works for you. But since it’s such an important skill I truly think it’s worth investing in.
The next time you find yourself buried in work don’t just increase the daily work hours or the deadline, think about who can help you with it (or if you can adjust the strategy to require less work, but that’s a few chapters above).
Learn from other’s mistakes
You will learn tons from your experience, and this is without a doubt a huge, almost guaranteed value, you get from creating a startup.
However, if your starting point sits on other’s experiences, your mistakes will be a bit more original, therefore more valuable to the community and yourself.
There are many ways to learn from others, my favorite is attending meetups and becoming friends with people who have been through a lot or know anything better than me. There’s also ted talks, blogs, video blogs, books, online communities, etc.
The community is more representative than friends or colleagues
Friends and people who agree to help you are a great source of positive re-enforcement, either because they like you, because they don’t want to disagree with you, or because they truly believe in what you are doing. Hard to tell.
Making them a very flawed source of feedback, only demonstrative of your inner circle, which is a far from accurate representation of reality.
Instead of relying on inner circles it’s much more realistic if you go after acceptance and feedback from the community, be it potential clients, potential investors, other founders or industry experts. They can convert into organic unbiased followers, which is a great metric to nourish continuously.
So, get out of your comfort zone and meet those people!
Intelligence is overrated & equally distributed
Attributing other’s success to their unique intelligence is denying yourself to learn from them.
What matters is what people do, not how they get to the conclusions, that comes in an infinite amount of forms. Just base your actions on data and abundant feedback and you won’t have to be intelligent.
Have a personal plan for if the startup fails that strengthens with what you’re doing
Putting all your bets in one basket is incredibly stressful, and stress reduces IQ.
So do yourself a favor, align your skill acquisition, newly made contacts or anything you can benefit from working for your startup into what could happen if it fails.
Feel free to also update your LinkedIn or Angel.co and check a few offers from time to time, knowing what you are worth in the market is great for confidence.
Launching a startup is a great career and personal decision, even if it fails.
Feedback from people you don’t know is your most valuable resource towards success.
Base your strategy on getting results with the least amount of work and delegate as much as possible to others, especially if they can deliver higher quality than you.
Have a backup plan that benefits from what you are doing while founding your startup.
Keep in touch
I write in the interest of meeting people with whom to have interesting conversations with. So I would like nothing more than the get a message from you in the comments or on twitter (@esperancaJS).