Bootstrapping a start-up from three to 30 people (and counting) has, without a doubt, been the most challenging thing I've ever done in my life. While it's extremely rewarding, nothing really prepares you for the emotional ups and downs, organizational challenges, and on-the-fly decision-making required to have any degree of success when turning nothing into something.
With that said, here are three pieces of advice I received that have stuck with my team since Day 1:
- Watch out for the most dangerous 4-letter word in the dictionary. These words of wisdom were given to us prior to starting by Russ Fradin, the very successful founder of Adify. He noticed that we were using the word "just" a lot: "If we just close a few clients and just buy some search campaigns, then we'll be generating revenue in no time!" Of course, we didn't understand until about six months in, when each of our "justs" took twice as a long as we expected and were four times more challenging. Today, it's a mantra we live by internally: There is no such thing as "just."
- You don't know anything until you've actually done it. Coming from backgrounds in consulting and finance, our team members were experts at building fancy Excel models with amazing projections. "Buy this many clicks, have this percentage of users convert and only 5 percent market share, and we're billionaires!" It all made perfect sense as we analyzed and projected...until we actually did it. Then, we purchased clicks at three times the price we budgeted, converted a tenth of the users we projected, and realized that 5 percent market share was actually made up of hundreds of thousands of transactions and sales that needed to be closed. The takeaway is to analyze less and do more; only after doing do you get the actual data you need to understand your business.
- Decision and action are always better than indecision and inaction. This is much more important for early business success than any other factor, and has been absolute hardest thing I've had to learn thus far—make a decision and push the ball forward. It sounds so simple: Do we hire him or not? This office or that office? Green or orange? In the early days, each of those questions took us between a week and a month to answer, and often at our peril. We lost a talented person, had nowhere to work, and missed a client because our website was still "under construction." A good decision far outweighs the best decision if it can happen in half the time. Even a bad decision can be better than no decision! For example, our first hire was terrible (and, thus, let go after two months), but he got enough momentum going that we landed our first few clients. Then there was no turning back.
All of this advice is squarely focused on doing. It's a cliché, but execution really is 99.9% of success in the early days of any start-up. Doing is far more important than thinking for start-up success!
Jesse Pujji is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ampush Social, a technology-driven online marketing company that helps advertisers turn clicks into digestible customer actions. The company has built a proprietary media acquisition tool and an analytics and attribution tool that leverage social, search, and display biddable media platforms. Follow him on Twitter @jspujji