It’s been over a year now since I decided to found a startup. To build a company immediately upon graduation. To become an entrepreneur without a complete understanding of what that meant.
I can safely say it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. Although often difficult and discouraging, it has been an incredible learning experience.
Because of CareerDean, I receive a good amount of emails from aspiring entrepreneurs who are still in college. They want to know what mistakes I’ve made and what advice I can give them before they venture out on their own. That got me thinking, what do I wish I had known about entrepreneurship when I was still an undergraduate student?
I had so much fun with this question that I decided to make a post out of it! Hopefully this list can serve to help and inspire future entrepreneurs.
Side note: this list is for first-time founders. It’s very elementary and you’re going to come across many more lessons on your startup journey. ☺
25 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Founding a Startup:
*Not in any particular order
1. Don’t wait for perfection. Just launch something… unless you are manufacturing airplanes or developing a cure for cancer or something along those lines… then you should aim for perfection…or else you’re going to be in trouble.
2. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas. Nobody will care enough to steal it. And even if someone does, just do it better.
3. Ideas mean nothing. Execution is everything. But ideas are still very important. (wait….what?)
4. You’ve got to become a good networker. Your network is important. Network often and strategically.
5. Get LinkedIn Premium. It’s like 25 bucks or something. It’ll help you find people you need to meet.
6. Learn how to find people’s email. Hint: Download Rapportive.
7. You will get a lot of rejections. Learn to deal with it and don’t let it get to you.
8. Your cofounders will make or break your company. Choose wisely.
9. There is good advice, and there is bad advice. You’ve got to learn to distinguish between the two.
10. Never go into a meeting without a specific purpose. “Wanting to connect” is not a specific purpose (at least not a good one).
11. The ability to bootstrap is important. If you are a first-time founder, I’d argue that you should build your first product with no money.
12. Don’t try to raise money until you have a product built. If you just graduated college and this is your first startup, nobody will trust you with money until you can at least prove you can build something. If your friends and family give you money, then fine. But I’d still argue it’s best to build something with as little money as possible. Again, this doesn’t apply if you are making airplanes or a drug to cure cancer.
13. Don’t ask people to sign NDAs. Especially investors. Trust me. It makes you look amateur. Exception: If your last name is Zuckerberg. Or if your last name is Gates. Or if you are a Nobel-Prized Scientist.
14. Make sure to have a ‘no-shame’ policy.
15. Do fun stuff outside of work. But not too much.
16. Talk to your users as often and early as possible. And when I say ‘early,’ I mean before you start working on your startup.
17. Make sure you know a thing or two about data analytics. And make sure to track all your analytics.
18. Try to get into a startup accelerator. Y Combinator. Techstars. AngelPad. 500 Startups. Boost. There are tons more. If you are a new entrepreneur and you don’t have crazy successful parents, your network and expertise will be limited. Accelerators can accelerate you. Or I’m pretty sure they can…I’ve never been part of one, but am working hard to get CareerDean into one of these programs. (Edit: Although this article was published in August, I wrote it a few months back. Since writing this, CareerDean was accepted into BoostVC!! Wohoo!! The experience has been absolutely amazing. The network and advice you receive is priceless. I’ll explain more in a future blog post.)
19. But accelerators aren’t everything. Don’t depend on them. If you get rejected, you got to keep moving on. Accelerators don’t invest in companies who need them for survival anyways.
20. Don’t spend too much time on business plans. In college, I took a business class that said that a business plan was the single most important aspect of a company. With all due respect, I disagree. Work on your product. Forget the business plan. At least early on. (But do have a plan)
21. Build good relationships with journalists.
22. Figure out who you need to win over. Hint: It should not be everybody.
23. Don’t obsess too much about your competition. Just build an AWESOME product.
24. Making an awesome product that you love is cute. Making an awesome product that others use is AMAZING.
25. Be nice.
I didn’t go into much detail about any of these. If you would like to discuss any of these points, let me know!