When you start a company you are asking the world to change the way it does things. People don’t like change, so they work against you. Maybe unintentionally, like they’re too busy with their lives to check out your new app. And maybe intentionally, like French taxi drivers demonstrating in the streets against Uber.
My experience has been that startups are mostly adversity, punctuated by moments of triumph.
Expect adversity. This won’t go smoothly, and you’re going to have to overcome obstacles. If it were easy then someone would have done it already.
Here are some things that can help.
- Don’t try to re-invent every wheel. Use proven strategies and technology for everything except your company’s “special sauce.” That’s the only place you need—or can afford—to innovate, especially at first. For example, if I’m building the first version of the Uber app I’m going to use off-the-shelf mapping, payment, and messaging APIs. Once I have customers and a proven business model I can start buying mapping companies in order to power the self-driving cars I’m developing to compete with Google (see how much harder that second part is?).
- Build the best team you can. The truth is that you probably need help, and it’s hard to find great people you work well with. Even if you don’t have any employees you’ll likely build a network of vendors and partners. Your team helps you tackle obstacles. When you find someone great make sure that you treat them well. Laszlo Bock at Google states that people stay at jobs for two reasons: the quality of the people they work with and the feeling that the work they do is meaningful. Sounds simple, right?
- Talk often, and have difficult conversations early. Communication is the life-blood of your team. People who know what’s going on make better decisions, and can contribute more. The trick is to keep the information flowing without bogging everyone down in meetings. And things change. Life is messy. You’ll need to provide constructive feedback, change people’s roles, and sometimes fire vendors, employees, and partners. These conversations are hard, but it’s important to have them sooner rather than later. I always think of E on the HBO show “Entourage,” who would get on the phone right away to have the difficult talk.
- Keep your head down and focus. Hard work is usually the best way to get through a rough patch. Try not to get too distracted, and remember that this too shall pass. The important thing is to keep moving forward no matter what. The best entrepreneurs I know are always moving the ball down the field, and when I see them they have a long list of things they’ve accomplished since we last spoke. I just came from breakfast with a CEO who spent 90 minutes talking about everything he’s done in the past two weeks.
- Have fun! Set the expectation that this will be a lot of work and that it’s going to be difficult. Then learn how to enjoy the journey. Think about all of Airbnb’s legal struggles in San Francisco (where it’s headquartered) and other cities. That sounds exhausting, but Airbnb has also managed to build a business that helps people and is changing the world. That’s cool!
Something goes wrong pretty much every day at the companies I work with. And we figure out a way to get through it. And what usually happens is the things that seem the most challenging turn out to be the best opportunities for growth.
I’ll be speaking on the “Startup Adversity” panel at Sup-X on Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 2:45pm if you want to learn more.
Written by Mike Lingle, if you like this then follow my journey as I help startups start up.