8 Startup Lessons I Learned the Hard Way So You Don’t Have To


I don’t profess to know everything about starting a company but I’m happy to share what I’ve learned over the last 18 months.

1) Starting—-shiiiiiit—-Finishing
Everything between starting and finishing is very scary. No outcomes are guaranteed and a certain emotional fortitude is requisite. Without emotional fortitude in you and your team, your company will be dead within 12 months.

2) Raising a lot of money versus raising a little money
When you raise less money you are forced to move quickly, but risk missing key opportunities for your business. When you raise more money you have time to think more clearly, but risk getting out-built by your competitors who move swiftly and with a purpose. Decide which is more important to you, the answer varies per market and per startup.

3) Business models are important
Start with a business model in mind, investors appreciate you thinking it through even if you aren’t fully able to execute on it yet.

4) Obsess over users not features
Obsess over your users and not over features in your product. Your users will be honest with you about your product if you engage them often enough. Look at patterns in their day; do they have room for your product? If so, when? And how can you prove it? Don’t lie to yourself here, it is a learning process and if you figure out how to properly fit into your user’s day, you have a real shot of becoming gold for them.

Also, when you see competitors launch feature-after-feature in their product, more often than not it’s because they are doing it out of insecurity and not because the features are critical. If you copy them, they will beat you because they will always be a step ahead. If they copy you, you can easily corner them. Have you ever played chess? It’s a whole lot like chess.

5) Patience with your brand
Be really patient with your brand. Focus on your brand’s message and continue to experiment with what does and doesn’t work. As an example, Flud started off as a “Sexy news ecosystem” and moved into “Be well read” and then moved into “Your news personality” and then moved into “Read news with friends.” The first one worked the best in terms of bloggers hooking onto the message, but I think the latter one is the strongest in terms of brand promise and clarity. Each tagline had a shelf life of about 4 months and we are still experimenting.

6) Find your breaking point quickly
Find your company’s breaking point early on. You will constantly be under pressure from users, from investors and from the market to deliver day after day. This means you need to manage the pressure your employees feel every day and when the going gets really tough (and it will) you need to know how far they are willing to go before they break. You never want them to break, so move swiftly, but tread softly.

7) Don’t be a bitch to analysis-paralysis
Don’t fall victim to analysis paralysis. Whatever you do, make a decision and execute on it. Change the decision if it was the wrong one, but at least you will have decided on something. Don’t let anything linger, the market isn’t lingering and you can’t afford to. Instill this into your company’s culture and make sure everyone is equipped to make decisions without requiring a team meeting for everything.

8) Throw it all away if you know you can do it better
Don’t be afraid to throw it all away and start over if you can afford to. The best designers and developers in the world don’t get “it” right the first time, rarely get it right the second time and maybe get it right the third time. As an example, Flud designed and launched four web apps privately, and we’ve continually thrown them all away because they weren’t creating the right experience. We finally have something that works and it will be launching soon. It is far from perfect, but it is an experience our team believes in.

Startups are hard, hard work (thank you captain obvious) but the force is with you if you choose it to be.


P.S. Please share your own startup wisdom with me on twitter so I can add it to this list. Im @ghoshal on twitter.


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