Techstars Austin, August 2013

5 of My Biggest Struggles as a First-Time Founder

I’ve met many people who have always dreamt about becoming entrepreneurs — it either ‘ran’ in the family or they just naturally had the urge to change the world or be their own boss.

For me it was the total opposite — becoming an entrepreneur and starting a company was not at all on my radar. Only one thing was for sure, I wanted to be working on something I loved, which turned out to be software testing.

The notion happened quite naturally while building my career as tester. I came across some issues within the industry and couldn’t find satisfactory solutions to them. The rest is history in the making since in response I started my own company.

Going into the world of entrepreneurship I didn’t set myself any expectations. I didn’t have many insights into the life of an entrepreneur, and it turned out to be very different from what I expected it to be.

From the outside, it didn’t seem that hard to have a great idea and run with it. I honestly thought that a good idea was the key to success. I underestimated the importance of ‘everything else’.

I know now that having an idea is not enough, at best it’s a viable seed that will sprout and bear fruits at some point — but for that to happen, there are so many variables, tribulations and work involved.

These are some of my toughest challenges so far.

1. Constantly doubting yourself

When I look at other founders, they always seem to have everything figured out whereas I can’t help but feel like I’m not doing enough. As a first-time founder, I don’t have past experiences to draw from and I’m afraid that my peers are moving faster than me since they’re able to skip some of the mistakes I inevitably make. I’m a very passionate and emotional person so the pressure is always on.

When something doesn’t go the way you expected it to go, you start thinking about all the things you could have done differently. There are so many things to figure out, so many decisions that can’t be undone… it feels like a constant uphill battle.

The other day I met a successful entrepreneur who seemed to have unlocked the key to succeed in Silicon Valley — one of his top principles was ‘Do Your Best’.

I can’t agree more. Even though I may have my doubts and feel uncertain at times, the reality is I’m doing everything in my power every day to make the Testlio team succeed.

I’d rather try and do my best, than not try at all and let regret rule my life.

2. Hiring the right people

Everything starts with the team — it’s crucial to have team members who support you and each other through thick and thin. At the beginning, it’s relatively easy. You start out with friends, or friends of friends. You’re a small tightknit unit.

But then the company’s needs to grow and you have to hire more people. Making the wrong decision is not only stressful but also risky for the development of the company. I know this first hand, having made some hiring decisions that didn’t work out. But how can you know if you are hiring the right people, when you have never hired so many before? At the end of the day, you can only hope that you’ve made the right decisions and roll with it.

Your people define the culture of your company and culture is something that is easy to see and everyone will look into, but always remember that everything starts with you and it’s important to be somebody that brings out the best in people.

“A culture is strong when people work with each other for each other. A culture is weak when people work against each other for themselves.” — Simon Sinek.

3. Trying to make everybody happy

Testlio is not a one-woman show. Many people are involved and are invested in it. In essence being responsible for their wellbeing, I want all of them to succeed. Making them happy is the right thing to do. But the truth is, it’s not humanly possible to appease everyone. Sometimes it’s not all peaches and cream. You may have to say ‘no’ or be the bearer of bad news. Some people might just not like your style. This is life. So I know I have to let go of this mindset — I can’t make everyone happy. It’s incredibly hard and I still face this challenge every day, but there’s just no other way. I can only try to be the best version of myself and hope that my values resonate with the people around me.

4. Not knowing what type of leader you are

Being responsible for a team of people, you have to be able to lead them successfully otherwise everything can easily crumble to pieces. Above all, you want your team, investors and community to feel confident about your leadership skills. So not only do you have to figure out what type of example you want to set but also what type of leader your team needs you to be. Are you going to be strict and commanding or people-oriented and friendly, and everything else in between… it’s a real challenge.

On one hand, you have to be consistent and not constantly switch your leadership style, but on the other hand, you have to remain flexible enough to adapt to the unique needs of your team as well as your surrounding environment. There’s no roadmap on what to do in every situation, so all that is left is to trust your guts and take action.

I think it’s incredibly important to keep hiring people smarter than you and keep listening to others around you. Of course, you shouldn’t take every single word of theirs as gold and always act on it, but you should definitely keep learning from their successes and failures and just, keep going.

5. Trusting your gut

Believe me, in between figuring out everything within your company, from finding a clear product market fit to setting clear vision and direction for the company, you will find yourself in situations where you feel like you are torn apart. People in your team will have different opinions on pricing models or service offerings and there will be tons of time and resources spent on puzzling out what to do next. And you will follow the path of debate, because during the early days, when it comes to making decisions, you will not have enough confidence in yourself to say no. So you keep doubting in yourself, which leads us back to #1.

But, at the end of the day, just be true to yourself. There’s no other company like yours in the market and the fact that you’ve gotten to a point in the lifetime of the company is enough. You started it. You know it in and out. But never forget to learn from others as well.

I doubt that these struggles can ever be totally overcome, but over time you just grow a thicker skin and keep going no matter what. Because as cliché as it sounds, you can achieve whatever you want in life. Everything is doable. But I can tell you it doesn’t get any easier. It only gets harder.

There’s no absolute guidebook on how to build your company. People build companies and since every person is different, we all struggle at times for many different reasons.

All I can do is remind myself that I’m doing the best I can possibly do with the resources and skill set I currently have. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, more resilient and confident.