Reid Hoffman said it best: "Starting a company is like throwing yourself off the cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down." Creating something that has never existed before is a truly death-defying feat, with plenty of ups, downs, and confusion. However, I've found that there are a few things that can make the ride a bit smoother. Here are four things that I wish I knew when I was starting out.
1. Shoot, then aim
Overthinking is the company-killer. You should always be in the shipping mindset. Facebook codified this mindset in its slogan, "move fast and break things". This doesn't mean that you should be reckless. No. You want to be clever and thoughtful. But there comes a time where the only way you'll know whether or not an idea is good is by releasing it in the wild. Let it roam free. Look at the numbers and the reactions. What are people saying? What are people doing? If they're not using what you've built, figure out why. Look at where they drop off. If they are using it--awesome. Amp it up further. Testing every idea in the marketplace is the only way to operate.
2. Read as much as possible
Specifically, I suggest reading about behavioral science and evolutionary psychology. You want to upgrade your mental operating system. All of us have beliefs about why people do what they do, which we've collected over years of living and learning. However, most of us have faulty operating systems, consisting of anecdotes and random beliefs about people that we've amassed in a hodge-podge manner. Dig into the real science of human cognition and behavior.
Your entire goal is to develop a sophisticated understanding of how people think, so that you make accurate assumptions of how your customers and team-members think and feel (and how you can actually change/influence them). Unfortunately, most of us tend to believe that humans are more rational than they are. This causes us to use a variety of ineffective persuasion strategies that only result in frustration (and failure).
3. Get 8 hours of sleep a night
Only 5% of the population can operate effectively on 6 hours of sleep a night. You're probably not one of these people.
In the entrepreneurial world, working insane hours and burning the candle at both ends is often seen as a badge of honor. It's not. There's nothing cool or admirable about mistreating your body and brain. If you're not getting 8 hours of sleep a night you're going to make poorer decisions--and a business is nothing but the sum of the decisions (and subsequent actions) that you and your employees have made.
You shouldn't trust any of the thoughts you have on 4 or 5 hours of sleep. Make sure to review the decisions and plans you've made during those sleep-deprived work sessions with a fully rested head. Seriously.
4. Get the right people on the bus
A startup is a family. And there are few things that are more important for a family than interpersonal chemistry. Don't hire too quickly. Be very careful in who you let through the doors. How long would it take for you to go crazy if you were stranded on an island with each of your team members? Have you hired people that care deeply about the mission and purpose of the organization you're building?
Don't just hire for the skills you need--grabbing the first person that comes along that can do some decent Photoshop and branding work. That's the lazy path towards organizational oblivion. Google, for example, has built their entire hiring process around minimizing the number of false positive hires. The company makes sure that all hires are done by committee, and they use a standardized set of interview questions across candidates. This means that each candidate can be easily compared to other candidates (because of the standardized questions), and each candidate has to pass through the critical filters of multiple people to be accepted. Google understands that getting the right people on the bus is the most important thing they as a company can do, and they do everything in their power to make sure that no bad fits ever make it onboard.
Sure, this approach slows down the hiring process. But you're building a family, not a motley crew of hired guns who are "good enough."
If you stick to these four pieces of advice, I guarantee that your ride will be smoother than mine. At the very least, you'll be well-rested and well-read.