What I’ve learnt from building a start up.
Firstly, it’s not what I expected. I think I learnt more about what not to do. I didn’t learn a whole lot about scaling a business because we didn’t. I got some good time behind the keyboard but lacked someone to learn from. I took took too long off work, I should have set max 6 months aside and set goals and had a more structured approach in terms of timing and money I was willing to invest.
Start from the assumption that you’re going to fail because you probably will. Then think about what is a comfortable loss to you. Think about what you want to get out of it. What is your mission? If you don’t have a strong connection to what you’re doing nor to making money and truly making it work then it’s probably not going to succeed greatly.
Can you argue strongly with your business partners? Are they going to lift you up when you’re struggling and are you going to do the same? Do you know them really well? The answer is probably no unless you’ve worked with them before. Do they have the skills you need?
What is your business model? You need to really rigorously understand your own proposition and be able to explain it in a sentence. Otherwise how are you going to change your direction in light of new discoveries? How do you justify your next piece of work? How do you sell people on your idea?
Feel the pain before solving the problem. Necessity is the mother of invention, sure, but necessity is a key word, minor convenience is not the mother invention, it is the mother of pointless tangents. Try to figure out what is utterly necessary to your business model.
We didn’t really get many hard won customers. They were easily won, close contacts or within our day to day lives. But a fairly basic website was enough to attract hundreds of people to register and upload a picture and describe themselves. We might have faked traction and got it more easily, by creating fake events and fake users but we didn’t. We didn’t have big enough numbers to bother really tracking anything yet. What we really needed was to fail. We didn’t try very hard to find customers and provide hosts. When we did, it actually went fairly well and to plan, we should have spent more time doing the difficult thing of going out and trying to find customers. It was stressful though. This is the blood sweat and tears part.
A very clear up front agreement about how money is going to be split up based on time and effort is important. Clarify how money is going to be split up front.
I spent a fair amount of time working in my spare time, I value this time far more highly now that I have felt it squandered, gone unrecognised. I enjoyed it at the time because I was solving problems for the first time and also therefore I wasn’t confident in my skills. Now I would not be happy to help anyone with anything for the fun of it, I would value my spare time more highly.
I should have set time bound goals. X users by 1 month, X revenue by 2 months and so on. Its something to aim for and measure your progress against and to discuss your business model with respect to. But more importantly, its something that can help you to understand when you’re not succeeding as well as you expected. It’s tempting to celebrate wins and bury losses but you also need to be realistic or you’ll lose motivation. And you can’t keep pulling the same levers to make more motivation come out, you need bigger aims, bigger goals and to accommodate creativity.