What I Wish I Knew Before I Founded A Startup
I’ve been a full-time entrepreneur now for more than two years and I’ve been getting a lot of questions from aspiring entrepreneurs: “What is it like to be one?” From the outside, people think it’s a glamorous job especially if you get media attention. But the truth is closer to what the Under Armour commercial says — for every moment in the spotlight, there are countless days in the darkness.
People often compare startups to a roller coaster ride and I agree. You’re always trying to push your cart uphill but when it starts going, you hang on for dear life! In building our company, Simple Wearables, I’ve faced many days pushing uphill and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. I’d like to share them with you.
1. Fear never goes away
Fear is what keeps most people from jumping head first into entrepreneurship. At first, I was in constant fear of running out of savings, not finding the right idea, or someone else stealing it. Then later on, I feared whether potential customers will like the product or if we can raise enough money. Fear is always there but it shouldn’t stop you.
Fear is on the other side of the coin of pursuing your passion. It’s an ever-present companion so learn from it. Sometimes, fears are just multiple problems converging, appearing larger than they are. Sit down, break them into bite-sized pieces and eat them one by one. Other times, fears represent personal development opportunities. Face them head on. My inspiration and former professor Steve Blank once said, “only by steering yourself into the place you want to avoid can you hope to arrive in the place where you need to be.”
2. Find a problem that you want to solve without pay
In other words, it should become a personal mission — using all your strengths, talents, networks and creativity to solve. Because if it is so important to you, you will always find a way to get back up whenever you fall down. Sure, they may be some financial reward while building your own company, but if that’s your primary motivation, go work at Google or Wall Street instead. Less risk, more pay.
3. You need to work on your emotional intelligence
Startups are, by nature, highly emotional because they are fueled by passion. The highs are so high and the lows are so low, and they can switch back and forth very quickly. You need to be able to pause when you’re about to lose your temper. You need to protect yourself from the avalanche of destructive speculation and find factual ground. You need to be able to gauge the temperature of the room and observe body language during a negotiation. You need to be able to sense the crowd when you pitch so you can land the best punches. And you need to be able to motivate and inspire because your team needs you! All of these are aspects of emotional intelligence that rarely get attention.
4. It’s all about the team and the culture you build
As your enterprise grows, you will never be enough. You need to build a team to take on the different problems your startup will face. If you build a culture that waits for you to decide, you will be the bottleneck for all decisions, you will slow down progress, and you will kill the creative thinking required to solve tough problems. You will become the single point of failure for the company. Instead, choose collaboration and welcome conflict. Let the best ideas win. Hire the best people from very different backgrounds, then learn to trust them. Motivate them and empower them. Once a trusting culture is in place, they will stay with you through the darkest days and will give you the best solutions beyond your imagination. Culture takes time to build but once it is set, it is very difficult to change.
5. Nobody ever regretted being an entrepreneur
My friend once told me that nobody ever regretted being an entrepreneur. Even if you fail, you will learn so many lessons that can equip you in your next venture. On the other hand, there are so many people wishing they had done it once they see their private ideas blossoming in the marketplace.
So go take the risk and learn from your fears. Bring to life that burning passion! You will learn so many things but best of all, you will learn who you really are... When you grab onto that roller coaster, remember to have fun and enjoy the ride!