What I’ve Learned Launching a Startup at 18

Left to right: Abraham/Hina/Nasir (Abyss Solutions), Kyrylo/Olga (Persollo), myself/Ed (Fluid Education), Jay (Uprise). Photo by James Alexander.

As the 2015 holiday season approached, I naturally began to reflect on, what was for me, an incredibly weird year. I say weird, as most typical teenagers don’t go from being a first-year university student, to CEO of an award-winning and funded startup, in only a matter of months*.

*(I promise that’s not a humblebrag; I’m often overwhelmed by symptoms more akin to imposter syndrome than ‘success’.)

I knew that I wanted to publish a piece on my weird 2015 — and here we are. However, rather than list my accomplishments this year, I’ve instead chosen to focus on what I’ve learned, in the hope that others can take something away from my writing.

Shut Up and Do It Already

Throughout 2015, I met startup founders that left behind impressive careers and cushy corporate salaries to pursue their own companies. Some even moved halfway across the world to make it happen.

I also spent three months building my startup alongside a group of amazingly talented, insightful founders that comprised mostly of twenty-somethings.

You’re never too young or too old to start chasing whatever ideas, passions, or dreams you might have. Don’t feel like you need a university degree, or six figures in your bank account, before you can make something happen.

Make Hard Decisions Quickly

2015 was a year of founder disputes, difficult enterprise customers, and having to juggle university studies with running a startup, amongst other things. In successfully navigating these problems, I’ve learned that there’s more danger in unnecessarily dealing with obstacles to your success, than the obstacles themselves.

Make hard decisions on obstacles to your success, and make them quickly. Although these kinds of decisions are never easy to make, and often require a great deal of consideration beforehand, it’s always better to make them sooner rather than later.

It’s Okay To Not Know Things

To be honest, I didn’t know much (i.e., anything) about the business world when I launched my startup. But that’s okay, because no-one expects you to have all the answers. It’s okay to have gaps in your knowledge, so long as you’re honest about them.

If you have no experience in building global companies, don’t tell people your ‘bulletproof’ strategy for world domination. When a stranger asks you for directions in a new city or country, don’t pretend you’ve lived there your entire life and lead them the wrong way. It’s always better to be honest, and in most circumstances, you won’t be judged for not knowing.

However, just because you’re honest in not knowing something, doesn’t mean you’re excused from ever knowing. Fill the gaps in your knowledge when they begin to emerge. Read books, listen to podcasts, watch videos, talk to people, and get down and dirty. Do whatever it takes to be a better, more enlightened person.

Nothing Is Final Until the Ink Dries

Paying customers aren’t customers until the money hits your account. Legal matters aren’t closed until all parties sign on the dotted line. Please, do not celebrate a victory until you are 100% certain that you’ve achieved it. Otherwise, you run the risk of looking unprofessional when everything falls through at the eleventh hour.

The same is also applicable for matters outside of business. For instance, don’t tell friends and family that you landed that amazing job you wanted until after you’ve signed your name on the contract.

Networking Is For Everyone

There’s a excellent book by Porter Gale that I recommend reading on the value and power of your professional network. Although you might dislike the mundaneness of small talk with new people, or the feelings of guilt when reaching out to your network for a favour, networking is a fact of life and a necessity.

Before this year, I did not have a LinkedIn profile (why would a high school student need one?). Now, I have a strong network of mentors, advisors, and friends — each relationship individually developed, nurtured, and reciprocated. Grow the right network, and you’ll find that people will naturally want to engage with and help you, and vice versa.

Schedule Time For Yourself

Instead of answering emails and writing code every morning on the train, I schedule that time for my daily reading. Also, I make an effort to block out at least 30 minutes a night on my calendar for catching up on my favourite TV shows.

No matter what occupation or field you’re in, it’s easy to go days on end without thinking of your own wellbeing. But, if you pre-determine when you’re going to step back and take a break, there’s a greater chance you’ll actually follow through with it.

Whatever works in reducing stress and drawing you away from the busyness of everyday life, put it on your calendar so you don’t forget.

Honourable Mentions

  • You can never do good business with bad people. Even though it’s difficult to judge a person’s character, there are always warning signals that present themselves early on.
  • Approach arguments/conflicts with calmness, logic, and rationality. It’s easier to begin an argument calmly, and escalate if necessary, than go in the reverse direction.
  • Build up a collection of experiences, not things. Things are nice, but they always have an end-of-life; stories and memories don’t.
  • Good things are coming, you just need to be patient.

I hope everyone has a wonderful 2016! I’m sure there’s plenty for us all to learn in the year ahead 😊.

This is my first ever blog post, so if I did something wrong, let me know about it. I’m always open to constructive criticism.

If you’re looking for more ramblings from a young entrepreneur, there’s always my Twitter. I try to keep the self-promotion to a minimum, but if you’re interested in learning more about what we do at Fluid Education, feel free to visit our site or get in touch.