What advice would you give to first-time entrepreneurs who are just starting out? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
That is a great question, and I'll try to make this answer as practical as possible (not like one of those numerous blogs or books that are claiming to reveal all the tips and trick of startup life).
- Do NOT invent a problem because you have a solution. This is a common problem, especially in Silicon Valley. People start a company because they've discovered a cool solution, but it might not be something consumers care about. Only start a company if you're solving a real pain point for consumers.
- Make your company your obsession. Make sure that you have the tools to make this problem the focus of your next five years (experience, position, or skill set). There is a common myth that companies are overnight successes, but I can assure you, it just seems that way. Let's take a look at some recent IPOs: Pinterest, Stitch Fix, and Lyft. Lyft was founded in 2012, Pinterest in 2010, and Stich Fx in 2011. The founding teams spent years working before you ever heard of them and even longer getting ready for their IPOs. For anyone who wants to build a world-class company, pacing yourself is essential.
- Be confident, but not arrogant. Confidence is crucial - it's helpful in everything from dating to job interviews to fundraising to starting a company. No one likes being around people who always are second-guessing themselves. Remember, there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Unlike confidence, arrogance is a negative trait that can be damaging to your company and your reputation. It's also usually unfounded. When you start thinking a little too highly of yourself, remember that there are millions of smart, talented people in the world, and only a small number are famous, rich, or successful.
- Always help people that are in the same situation as you. Share your experiences, be generous with your time, and help others. Karma is surprisingly present.
- Surround yourself with technical expertise: Hire people who have technical expertise in the space you're working in. This is harder than it might sound. Silicon Valley is filled with incredible engineers, but recruiting talent can be brutal, especially when you're up against companies like Facebook, Apple, and Google that offer incredible comp packages and perks. Even though it's hard, don't hire so-so engineers who don't have the experience you need. Be patient and invest in recruiting to ensure you get the right talent.
- Don't underestimate logistics: you need to have the best tools (Gusto, Atlassian, etc.) This may sound boring but it's critically important. Logistics and operations really matter, especially in the early days. There are a million things that need to happen to make sure employees and vendors are paid on time, your office is clean and organized, that your lights and internet is working, you get the point. Hiring a strong office manager or operations manager is vital.
- Surround yourself with people smarter than you, and ask them LOTS of questions. Having a growth mindset is a key component to being successful. By surrounding yourself with smart people who feel empowered to challenge you, you A) demonstrate that you're confident and not territorial with your positions, B) eliminate the risk for group-think and/or yes people, C) showcase a growth mindset that contributes to constant learning and will increase your chances of success.
- ...But take advice with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, any individual is only one data point in the whole space, no one person is the absolute authority.
- Create a healthy founding team. The people you start this adventure with are critical to whether or not you'll succeed. Be sure to partner with someone who compliments you, has unquestionable integrity, and is someone you can imagine going through hard times together. As for your founding team, recruiting top talent early on is extremely important A) because talent attracts other talent, and if you have a strong core team it will be easier to recruit Allstars and B) getting a company off the ground is extremely difficult, especially in the super early days and you have to surround yourself with people who are easy to work with and who are willing to work on projects both big and small.
- Map out your business plan, and get it wrong. It drove me crazy when people had it mapped out from day one how they were planning on making money four years into the future. It sounded absurd to me. BUT after a few years of building a company, I realize how important it is to still do the exercise. You're going to be wrong somewhere, and everybody knows it, but at least you have a north star.
- Backup your "concept" with numbers. Never start a single sentence or thought with an "If." Investors and partners want to see numbers.
- Be pessimistic when it comes to cash flow and expenditures. To be realistic is not safe enough. The number one rule when thinking about your burn is everything is more expensive than you think. And I mean everything. Renting not so nice office space? Expensive? Hiring lawyers to review your contracts? Expensive? Be obsessively frugal when it comes to spending money.
- Build relationships. All along the way of building your little empire, you'll meet people. Some will be nice. Others, not as nice. But the only thing you have control over is how you act. When you leave an impression, make sure people remember you in the best possible way. Who knows who can help you down the road.
- ALWAYS SELL. I'm an engineer. Even worse, I am (was) a researcher. And like all researchers, I used to believe that "selling" is a skillset that you only need if what you're selling isn't convincing. Selling is to business what "compensating" is to life... and I can't say enough how wrong I was. Selling is key. Don't be presumptuous enough to think the person in front of you will see as clearly as you do the advantage of your algorithm or solution. Remember, this is something you've been thinking about for years, and you're usually just introducing them to the problem. Selling here is key. Make them understand the problem, the solution, and the whole relevance of your endeavor. Because if you don't, no one will.
- Establish your culture as a foundation. Culture is key and is something that shouldn't be neglected early one. Find out your values and what really matters to your team, while excluding behaviors that seem hurtful. This requires a lot of introspection and time. Establishing solid, authentic company values isn't easy, but it's 100 percent worth the effort and will lead to a stronger, better team, and company.
- Don't take any book about startups too seriously. A lot of time first-time entrepreneur try to find the "quick solution at the end of the chapter" by reading tons of books or interviews from CEOs, venture capitalists, Silicon Valley superstars or even Beyonce and try to apply what they wrote to their startup. A couple of points to remember A) Google is NOT a startup, don't try to copy-paste their MO. B) Don't necessarily apply the leadership rules of CEOs to your less than 10 person team and last but not least C) remember what you're doing is unique. Your path is unique, your team is unique, your solution is unique, and if it's not the case, stop right now. Only read those books for guidance and examples without copy/pasting the answers.
- Know your competition, even the most absurd ones. Today's silly competition might turn into tomorrow's serious threat. Always pay attention to what your competition is working on. There's no reason to obsessively follow them, but being aware of their key hires, good press, and market expansion is your job. Not paying attention doesn't make you seem cool, just incompetent.
- Cherish your critics. It's hard hearing negative feedback, especially on something you have worked tirelessly to build. It can also be frustrating getting criticized by nontechnical people (I'm talking to you VC :) who don't understand how hard even seemingly small changes are to make. But remember, A) their feedback is super important, everyone is a potential user/customer and B) no one cares about your feelings. Toughen up and take feedback seriously but not personally. And remember, if you can convince your critics, you can convince anyone.
- Continue Learning no matter what. When building a product and a company, work hard at having a growth-mindset vs a fixed mentality. A growth mindset is the belief that with enough effort and education, you can vastly improve various skills. This is, of course, vitally important for your development and growth, but it is also a good mindset to have when employed. Let smart, hardworking employees stretch, don't keep them tethored to their lane. Give them - and yourself - big challenges and tasks and rise to the occasion.
- Don't take this advice too seriously. Remember, I'm just one person building one startup.
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