It’s been a year since jumping into the startup world as an oblivious 22-year-old. I read every blog post I could for first time founders, but these 11 lessons, no matter how much I heard them, never made sense until now:
1.) Ideas are nothing: It took over four months for this to click. Ditch the NDA’s, stop being obsessed with your idea. Instead, start a company based around an “opportunity.” Making it much more general will allow you to be flexible as you move forward.
2.) Take praise with a grain of salt: It’s like when a 14-year-old girl is performing the Star-Spangled Banner. She finishes, everyone claps, tells her how great she was and next thing you know she is trying out for American Idol even though she is HORRIBLE. Simon Cowell makes her cry, and everything ends poorly.
Especially as a young entrepreneur, take praise with a grain of salt. When I first started, I was so excited and bright-eyed about my idea that 90 percent of the people I pitched were “too nice” to criticize it. This creates a fake snowball effect. You are already excited about what you are working on and this adds fuel to the fire. It was difficult to get honest feedback until I walked into a VC with a slide deck and no traction. Which leads to…
3.) Don’t talk back to criticism: I remember listening to founders get so frustrated at constructive criticism. Why!??! They are giving their honest opinion and helping you. So for a while I told myself: “I will never be like that. I will always appreciate criticism.” That was until someone shot down my perfect idea, the one that was bullet proof, the one that my mommy told me was good. I immediately fired back: “but what about this, this and this” with a little bit of anger. Afterwards I realized that it’s very hard to have someone criticize something you work on, think about, and sweat over on a daily basis.
Just sit there and listen, ask questions politely, and even thank them for the help. You make the decisions, so put the feedback to good use and learn from it.
4.) Finding a technical co-founder is hard: It took me 4 tries and 6 months. My best advice is that every successful startup needs a hustler. If you can’t hustle to track down a technical person to start your company, then it’s a good sign to quit now. I went through the phase that many probably do, of trying to learn how to code. That lasted about 7 hours and was more motivation to find a co-founder.
5.) Hire a lawyer: My father is a divorce lawyer so I thought “Awesome, I’ll do all this myself and ask him when I have a question.” That lasted until he said “Justin, when I incorporated I hired a lawyer.” Budget for a lawyer.
6.) Stay organized: There is too much going on and things change so quickly. Use Google Docs.
7.) Moonlighting works: Well, it worked for me at least. I think it’s dumb to wildly leave your secure job with just an idea for a startup. I made sure to have a team, a little bit of traction, a plan and some money. My job wasn’t much more than 40 hours a week and I didn’t have kids or a wife so it left me with enough free time. Moonlighting may be harder in different situations.
8.) Create pressure and stress, but don’t be crazy: The more you structure your life so failing isn’t an option the better, but choose a worst case scenario. If you are naturally a hard worker without anything pushing you, more power to you, but the thought of flipping burgers at McDonald’s is a powerful motivator for me.
9.) Nothing happens if you just sit there: I remember hearing Dave Schappell from TeachStreet say: “You can drool on your keyboard at most jobs, and it doesn’t matter.” It’s true, but at startups, you don’t get points for showing up and nothing gets done if you’re on vacation or watching TV.
10.) It sucks: This is the first Dave McClure video I ever saw, and it scared the shit out of me. I thought he was wrong. I saw “The Social Network.” It looked like a lot of fun, easy and all around good times. The point of Dave’s video is to scare you off, but I think if you watch it and it motivates you, then you will be a great founder.
11.) It’s worth it: Too many Seattleites look at startups as risky. They feel the correct path is to stay on their corporate path with Big Seattle Co. They are wrong. Sure you won’t make the money if you fail, but one year in startup life is five years at a corporation. It will make you a better person, leader, networker, marketer, hustler and employee. So, do it!