I’ve been fortunate enough to be an investor, an advisor and a startup founder. The last 4 years have been the most challenging, the most uncomfortable and the most rewarding times of my professional life.
As an investor, we've invested in companies that have gone on and done great things. As an advisor, we've helped companies figure out issues from staffing to user-experience. And as a founder, I’ve been through hell and back working on everything at once — product, financing, tech, legal, operations, etc.
Here are 9 things I've learned:
1. Perseverance —
“I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” — Steve Jobs. This fact cannot be stated enough. In order to succeed, you have to be brutally tough, thick skinned and want to succeed. Over the past few months as I've moved into more of an advisory role for a few of our companies, I’ve seen potential new entrepreneurs get disheartened simply because someone challenged their product thesis. Accept criticism and move on. Most good ideas were thought of to be stupid before they became multi-billion dollar companies.
2. Dedication —
It’s surprising to me how many people try to run a startup from their employer’s desk. Not only is it unethical, it will most likely fail. A startup should be your full-time gig. It is the thing that you should protect and fight for. If you can't afford to do it full-time, look for consulting gigs or other flexible assignments that allow you to generate an income to live.
3. Team —
Your team will either set you up to succeed or it will be the reason why you fail. I cannot stress this enough — pick good partners. Pick good founders. And know how they react under significant pressure. Most people crack when you push them against a wall. You can't afford this. Pick people who will either break through that wall or help you scale it.
4. Confidence —
If you're having an off day and you're not feeling confident — please do not go to any meetings. Work from your desk and push meetings to another day. Your staff, investors and board are all going to pick up on the fact that something is off. If you worry, so will the rest of your company.
5. Relevance —
We live in an attention driven world. If you pitch your product to the wrong person — you're not going to get anywhere. If you pitch your company to the wrong investor — you won’t get a response. If you are not a part of the community — no one truly cares when you need help. However, the opposite is entirely true. If you are helping other entrepreneurs with ideas, feedback or intros — they will help you out. They will care about your success.
6. Lean —
When you get your first investor check — don’t go out and spend it at a club with your team. Use it wisely. You will always run out of money faster than you think. There will always be another tax bill, an attorney invoice and paperwork that costs a lot of money. Make sure you run a lean startup — avoid the fancy PR firm — do the grunt work. Avoid the massive launch party — buy a 6 pack if you really need to celebrate.
7. Experience —
This may seem obvious — but make sure that your product is easy to use and clearly communicates what it does. I've downloaded so many apps lately that ask me to sign-up before telling me what they do, how it works and why it is good for me. Make sure you spend time focusing on the finer details of your product. Please. Not having a phenomenal user-experience is almost guaranteed death.
8. Financing —
Fundraising is a necessary evil for young tech startups. It is a distraction and you need an incredibly thick skin. Extremely successful investors, funds and operators will often tell you that they're not interested because you're too early or don't have enough traction. Move on. There are quite literally thousands of investors in any given market category. Find them.
9. Believe —
Not to be philosophical — but always believe that you are going to succeed and that you have nothing else left to lose. You’ve emptied out your bank account, you’ve closed out your savings account and your 401k is now completely done. The only thing that remains is your company. You have to give it 1000% to make it succeed. Always believe that it can be done and you will be surprised as to how far that goes.
Above all — have fun. Starting and running a company is insanely stressful. Make sure you never forget those who stand by you as you chase your dream. Your startup is going to teach you more about you, about the people around you and about the world we live in. You will always make mistakes and you should — because what you're about to do hasn’t been done before. It’s your dream. Live it.