12 pieces of advice from the frontline of “Startup-ing”

Enter with eyes wide open when you create a startup.

This isn’t something I’ve heard. This is something I’ve lived.

  1. Ideas are worthless. Execute. No one wants to sign your NDA. No one cares that you think your idea is so special. Guess what? Any VC or well connected person in Silicon Valley will know 10 other people with the same idea, some of whom will be working on it. Talk to people. Get feedback. Improve your idea. Most importantly make it happen. That is where the value is – execute. “Vision without execution is just hallucination” Henry Ford knew what was up.

*I know a ridiculous number of people in SV. I have heard your idea 10x before. I am not even a VC being pitched 3000 times a year.

2) Define founder roles clearly. Make sure the founders have complimentary but different skill sets. If you are both strong in the exact same area but have no one with skills in others, your weaknesses will be an even greater hurdle to overcome. You also need to have people involved who do not want to do each others jobs and who you can trust will get the job done. You won’t always know how to do everything but you need to cover a broad range of bases and reduce areas of friction. Also make sure everyone actually has skills. Unless you are a business development or sales business, you most likely only need people who can actually contribute to the product.

3) Hustle. I’ve watched several friends have an idea that was not taking off but seemed like it was interesting. They hit a hard point and stopped. Several months later several other startups pretty much came out with the same product idea and all got funded. I don’t think the later products were better but the teams had more push to do whatever it takes to make it happen. You have got to have push in this world. One of your team members better know how to do the hustle.

4) Ship It. There is no such thing as perfection. Holding back and waiting too long can prevent you from learning very valuable information about your product and the market. There is rarely a tech product that is “done.” If it is “done” it is probably a one time use service or obsolete. Ship it. Rinse and repeat.

*I’ve built in a vaccuum and I’ve built products with users testing from week 1. What people do and what they say they want is different. You want to observe rather than listen as fast as possible.

5) Problem Solve. You will never have all the answers or know how to do everything that needs to be done to get your startup off the ground. The ability to identify problems and solve them quickly is at the core of creating a company from scratch. Starting a company is like being on the island in Survivor. You have to be consistently resourceful to make things happen. Part of solving problems is being honest and open to criticism and taking it less personally. It’s also a great opportunity to practice the art of constructive criticism.

6) Practice self-compassion and be very honest with yourself. Creating something from scratch is challenging. Have compassion for where you are at, the imperfections that happen, the ups and the downs and the people around you. To succeed you need to be ruthlessly honest about your strengths and weaknesses. They will come out in both the good and bad direction so the more aware you are of this the more you can set yourself up for success.

7) Have vision. People will ask you about x, y, z competitor etc. You are the only one with the power to know where you are sailing your ship. You never will understand why something is working or not if you are only copying nor will you have direction. Be the real thing. This does not mean close yourself to the world and don’t learn from others: this means know where you are going.

8) Ask for advice. You will not know all the answers. Ask your friends, your network, and people you respect for their advice. You are not alone. People will help if they can. That said I always take the time to try to help others if I can. We are all here to help the whole human race move and excel. I guarantee it someone in the world has dealt with a variation of your problem. It won’t be your exact issue but your problems are not quite as unique as you think they are. That said – advice is advice and not meant to be the solution.

9) This is a marathon not a sprint. Work hard and constantly but consistently. A company takes time to build. If you are pulling all nighters constantly and run down you are setting yourself for worse output overall.

10) Persist. It takes time. Things are never as good as they seem. Things are never as bad as they seem. Just do it and keep moving.

11) Enjoy the journey. This Miley Cyrus song came to mind when I was writing this article because so few startups make it – you better be in it for the win but you better also be in it for the climb. There is only a myth of the overnight success propogated by the press to feed into people’s fantasies. There is overnight awareness. There is usually years of work behind that. And don’t take yourself too seriously. I can illustrate with Miley Cyrus. The point is to be accessible, real and get the job done. I am enjoying my journey :-)

The Climb (I guess Medium does not allow you to embed videos) http://youtu.be/NG2zyeVRcbs

12) GO FOR THE WIN. There is no such thing as being partly in this game. If you’re not all in, you aren’t even on the playing field. There is no such thing as a company started on the side with people working on it part time and continuing to do it part time and that somehow blew up to be worth a billion dollars. (You can code an app like SnapChat at college but when things are blowing up you can’t be on the sidelines.) Show me the company that was part-time and I will show you a mirage.

*added in explantions for how I’ve learned lessons per request. Some explanations I have saved for individual blogs.

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