10 things we learned in our first year as a startup

You are born, you go to school, then you attend college and in an instant you are thrown on the workforce market. At some point you are under the impression you get the hang of it. But one morning you wake up and realize you could be more than another brick in the wall. You could be actually changing things instead of keep on complaining. You find a bunch of people with similar thinking and you create a startup. You have no idea what will follow, and yet you are thrilled to start from scratch. Nothing can prepare you for this experience. Well, watching Silicon Valley might help a little. Without further ado, here are some of the things we’ve learned this past year.

1. Talk as much as you can. Not only it will help you refine your pitch, but also you will exchange valuable info. In our case, talking to other entrepreneurs and people we met during networking events saved us time and a lot of money. Which are kind of essential when you are a startup. Also, talking to others has helped us understand we were getting into too many technical details and people did not understand what we were saying, ergo they lost interest. This led to simplification and easier communication.

2. Trial and error becomes a full time job. You are doing something no one else has ever done before. You have no model to rely on. In fact, you have no one and nothing to rely on but yourself. This will give you tremendous confidence in yourself. And even if you don’t succeed, you know you’ll keep on trying no matter what. Perseverance pays off at the end of the day.

3. The team can make or break the deal. The team is the one that turns the idea into reality. You have to choose your crew very carefully since you’ll be spending quite a lot of time together. Sometimes you’ll be around them more than you’ll be around your family. Some will stay, some will go. Recruiting can be a very painful job, especially when you’re part of a niche. It will take up a lot of time to find the exact people you are looking for. This is where networking can step in. People in your circle might know and recommend someone. Or the people in the team can bring their friends along for the ride. Either way, it’s important to be able to trust them. And give them a chance, even though they are not experts, they can learn along the way.

4. There is always room for improvement. Everything starts from an initial idea. But as time passes and new people join the team, they bring in their input. Their visions will be different, adding up to the original concept and taking it to the next step. In just a few months, you will evolve as business, and everything and everyone needs to keep up with that. This also has to be reflected in the way you appear in front of the others. It’s important to never stop learning (our CEO might have repeated that a gazillion times, so it’s ingrained in our brains). So keep up with the latest trends and research.

5. Not everything will go as planned. You start with a journey in mind, and, having no experience, you imagine things will go exactly according to it. Wrong. There will be a gazillion bumps and twists along the way. Maybe sometimes it will feel like you lost a battle. But keep in mind the war is made up of tens of smaller battles. You can win the next ones. Failure doesn’t have to be a dead end, it should motivate you to refocus your efforts and find that something you lost from sight before. You have to adapt to changes as they come along.

6. Build the right network. We all know people, but you should wonder how relevant they are to your business. Efforts should be focused on building bridges with those who can really help, offering advice and valuable resources, contradicting you when you are wrong. The right network will contribute to your growth as a person, and also to business development. It’s important to find mentors who will also warn you about the downsides of what you’re about to do. They are rare to come by, we’ve only met one in the past couple of years. Opportunities will arise, waiting to be seized. People will come to you when you have the reputation of a knowledgeable, reliable entrepreneur.

7. Forget everything you’ve learned before. No matter if you’ve just graduated from college or you come from a corporation, you should start clean. Your previous habits aren’t very helpful. A startup is a thing that grows along the way, and freedom is the keyword. Don’t expect to be told what to do very often, or to be guided every step of the way. You’re in charge of your own development as a person and as a professional.

8. Agree to disagree. Contradictions are norm when everyone thinks their idea is better. Every member of the team would like to see their suggestion is chosen to be turned into reality. Defending your opinion means you trust it and care enough about it. Compromising means you care about the other as well. Accepting their opinion does not mean you lost, it means you gain more knowledge and insight. Plus it develops negotiating skills, which are in high demand nowadays.

9. Don’t listen to popular opinion or the voice of reason. Not everyone will understand what is it exactly that you do. Don’t expect to receive only encouragement for something that involves high risks. Time will prove you, not them, right. Not everyone will understand your choice of being part of something that has equal chances of success and failure. “Get a real job!” We grew bored of hearing that. We have a real job, and it so happens that we do something we love.

10. Don’t be afraid to share your idea. When it comes to telling other about what they are developing, entrepreneurs are very paranoid. They live in constant fear that someone might steal and replicate their idea. What they don’t realize is that an idea does not equal a finished product. The concept they have in mind will be executed by a team, the keywords here being “executed” and “team”. If you don’t tell others, how else will you get feedback? How else will you know if people need whatever it is that you’re planning to offer? And how else will customers know about you?