Matt Ehrlichman, co-founder and CEO of Porch, has earned his start-up chops. He shares three rules that have helped him stay sane and have some fun while he's at it, too.
In the 10 years since I graduated from college, I've had the good fortune of leading two companies through successful exits--a $60M acquisition in 2007 and a 2011 IPO. I'm now on my third venture, Porch, and am starting up again. I've set my sights set on a massive and crowded industry: home improvement.
After running different kinds and sizes of businesses, from a startup in my dorm room to a public company, it feels good to get back to the basics with Porch--hacking on the scrappy stuff that takes you from 0 to 1. A year into it, we're well on our way, with $6.25M in seed funding and a national launch this past September 17.
Here are a few words of advice that have helped me stay focused and driven through the early stages:
1. Don't be afraid to compete.
A lot of tech entrepreneurs are attracted to blue-sky markets and emerging industries. There's a lot to like about this angle; after all, first mover advantage definitely has its pluses in terms of branding and grabbing market share.
When honing in on the idea for Porch, however, I intentionally sought out a space where there were already big players. The presence of other players means the market is mature, it proves the space can be monetized, and it validates the business case for being there.
Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel with a new market, look for disruption opportunities where other players exist but where no one has truly nailed a solution. Think of a way to do it better and hack away in stealth mode until you've got enough of a platform in place to scale effectively. Once you have a working model, then step on the gas.
2. Never give up.
Starting a company is an emotional roller coaster. Your only guarantee is this: There are going to be highs, and there are going to be lows. When those lows come, you have to be able to put your head down, ignore logic, and keep pushing through--no matter how daunting the challenge.
Make no mistake: It's hard. But I truly believe that if you don't allow yourself to fail--if you fundamentally remove failure as an option--you will problem-solve your way through any obstacle. Then, when you reach a point when it's clear that things aren't working out as planned, the default action becomes to pivot. In this paradigm, big challenges are a blessing because they keep your creative gears turning. And surviving obstacles gives you the confidence to try even harder the next time.
3. Have fun with it.
The minute you quit your job and take investment money, you're in it for the long haul. Doing a start-up means years of long hours, and those hours will end up amounting to a big portion of your waking life, so you'd better enjoy it.
Have a fun team that plays jokes around the office. Make sure you like your co-founders. Come up with ideas for company off-sites that get you and your team to try new experiences. Think of the coolest job you can imagine, ask your employees to do the same, and then use them to come up with awesome perks like FullContact's paid PAID vacations that make working for your company that much more rewarding.
Devoting resources to making your job fun will not only keep you sane, it will create loyalty and help you retain the talent needed to build an enduring company.
Matt Ehrlichman is co-founder and CEO of Porch, where you can get inspired by home projects your neighbors have completed, see what home projects will cost, and find the service professionals your neighbors and friends recommend. When he's not working on Porch, Matt is busy building his own home with his wife and two children in Seattle, Washington.