3 Things I learned This Year While Starting a Business
By Mike Koranda, Co-Founder of Pacific Issue
Hey there champ. Want to learn hard entrepreneurial lessons the easy way — aka reading them in blog form? Well, it’s your lucky day. Because this year I launched a company with my business partner, Aaron. Our company is called Pacific Issue, we make men’s custom button-downs, and our mission is to rid the world of boring shirts. Sounds pretty cut and dried — whatever that means — but it really wasn’t. So strap on your thinking cap, grab some volcano water (pictured), and get cozy. You’re about to go to the entrepreneurship school of hard knocks. Actually not really, but read below for some lessons learned in 2015.
1. Create structure or don’t pass muster
Reid Hoffman has described entrepreneurship as jumping off a cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down. While I would definitely never try this because it took me 2 hours to build my Ikea desk chair, I can confirm that this is a good analogy. The main point is that you have very limited time and nearly endless possibilities on where to start.
With endless possibilities, comes overwhelming choice and uncertainty. And to make sense of the uncertainty, you need to build structure. Think about it another way. If you are planning a vacation to a country you’ve never been to before, there are almost infinite options. Where to stay? What season to visit in? What activities to do? What to bring? What to see? So where to start? You could just show up and wing it. But if you had limited time and money to spend in the country, the smarter thing to do would be to research and plan. Maybe even create a google spreadsheet of cities you would like to visit and the activities available — NERD! Building a company is no different. You need to give yourself some structure to guide your journey.
When we returned to the U.S. from our initial supplier sourcing mission, we were at a complete loss for what to do next. How do we promote our brand? How do we improve the product? How do we even collect money? What do we do first? And then what after that? We ended up feeling our way in the dark for months, taking days to do things that seemed easy on the surface. Even filing LLC paperwork took us a few months. In the year since that time, we have picked up loads of of tools and tricks to give ourselves structure and hold everyone at PacIssue accountable. We have daily meetings, weekly KPI updates, monthly whiteboarding strategy sessions, and to keep track of literally everything, we use project management software (thanks Asana!). We’re now focusing on finding the right mentors to inform this structure even more.
2. Pursue feedback in all the forms. Challenge all the norms
See what I’m doing here?
Starting a company is like entering an echo chamber. Sound, outside opinions are invaluable and will often keep you sane. Just as a writer needs a good editor, or a musician needs a competent producer, an entrepreneur needs a solid sounding post.
Most of our best product ideas have come from customers. For instance, when a beta tester didn’t like the way his collar bent, we started making all of our dressier shirts with removable collar stays (and shipping free branded collar stays with each shirt). We changed our standard pocket size because quite a few customers wanted to fit their sunglasses or glasses inside. Our palm logo at the bottom of every shirt placket started because a bunch of our customers wanted to rep the PI brand in a subtle way. The point is, we listened as much as possible to the people that count — our customers. Ultimately, improving is mostly about listening, pinpointing the best ideas, and executing on them.
With this in mind, feedback can come at the most unexpected time or from the most unexpected people. Not only are friends a great support system through the trying times, but they can also be amazing sources of honest feedback, even when they don’t know it. Here’s a list of questions I’ve received from friends in the past six months: “So what’s your monthly revenue looking like? How’s growth going? What metrics are you using to track progress? How do you stack up to x competitor? What makes you different from x brand? What’s your strategic focus for the next year? Have you considered a subscription model?”
I’ve found that I didn’t think about some of these questions before they were brought up by a friend over a beer. Bottom line: friends will often point you in the right direction, even when they’re just being curious.
3. All timelines are just guidelines
OK I’m not Nas. You get the point. Projects can take a lot longer than expected.
We started Pacific Issue over a year ago with the goal of ridding the world of boring button-downs. In order to fulfill our mission, we needed to build a fully custom website that would make buying radical custom shirts stupidly easy. We also needed an easy to manage back end to help us keep track of the 1000s of variables that go into making these badass custom shirts. Sounded pretty straight forward.
So we hired a freelance developer in May 2015 with the end goal of being production ready by end of June 2015. We wireframed, we talked specs, we wireframed some more, we chatted with our developer, and we dug in with twice-a-week google hangouts. June turned into July. July turned to August. Both founders literally turned a new age. Finally in October and we put out the “finished” product. Even after all that, refinements are still happening. It took a LONG time and there were LOTS of unforeseen problems and questions to answer.
Part of this timeline can be chalked up to little experience in building websites. But a lot of the delay was because it is impossible to anticipate every single problem you will have in developing something new. The point is, building something — whether it’s a website, a brand, or a physical product — even with a roadmap, takes time. It’s really important to embrace this and to not beat yourself up when you hit a stumbling block. Hitting milestones is awesome and that’s what most people celebrate. But real progress happens in fits and starts.
Originally published at www.pacificissue.com.