Seems like everywhere you read, students are dropping out of college or quickly exiting business school to start their own company. Start-ups are like the gold rush of our era. While the enthusiasm is commendable, would be start-up CEOs should consider a few things BEFORE striking out for the wild frontier. Here are four real-life experiences you should consider in order to guide your early start-up days:
Long before I launched TripAdvisor and CarGurus, I worked at Lotus Development as a product manager to get hands-on software experience. I had just graduated from business school. While many of my classmates took extremely lucrative jobs at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, I took a significantly lower profile role and pay scale as an assistant product manager.
The experience was invaluable. I learned the business of software development: product development, managing a software team, public relations, etc. And indeed, I made a few mistakes along the way, but it was in an environment where the costs were not catastrophic. Believe me when I say that you will make mistakes in your start-up career, and it's better to learn from them on someone else's dime. All of these experiences at Lotus shaped my view of the companies I would go on to launch.
Think carefully about why you want to start a company. Is it for the money? Is it because it is the "trendy" thing to do? If so, don't do it. You should start a company because you are passionate about building products. You see a need for a product that is not currently served. The money and accolades are not the goal. The greatest thrill I ever got from my days at TripAdvisor or my current company CarGurus is getting fan mail from consumers about how much they love the product. That is the greatest reward of all.
Don't fool yourself into thinking that it's going to be a "quick win." Oh yes, there are the Facebooks and Instagrams of the world who go public or sell for billions a few months after starting up. But believe me, those are the rare exceptions not the rule. More likely, it is going to be a 10 year journey. A fun and trying journey, so get ready for the long haul. Don't get too excited or upset about any one event. Keep an even keel as there will be many bumps along the way.
Your first few hires are crucial to setting the tone for your company, so find the smartest people possible and don't be too concerned with their relevant experience. At TripAdvisor, our first hires knew nothing about the online travel business. This turned out to be a good thing. We came to the space with no preconceived notions or baggage, just a smart team.
At CarGurus, we joke that we have to interview 15 candidates before we hire anyone--it's an exaggeration but not by much. It only takes one bad apple to pull your vision off its tracks.
You want to start a company? Well, just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons and with the right set of expectations and experience. Seventy-five percent of all start-ups fail, so make sure you do what you can to increase your odds of success.