6 Lessons I’ve Learned In My First 6 Months As A Startup Founder/CTO

aka 10 million things I still don’t know

Last October my wife and I both quit our day jobs (PhD in my wife’s case!) and took the plunge into full-time startup life. It has been 8 months now, which I think has given me just enough time to reflect on the first six months and share some of the lessons I’ve learned.

Like the subtitle says, I’m fairly certain that every month that goes by I really find out more about the things I don’t know than the things I know…but for the sake of this post I’ve put together six things I’ve learned.

  1. You start living in the future - I used to work for a company, and as an employee I was used to letting other people worry about the future while I worried about the now. Weekends meant time off not thinking about work. Now I can’t help but live in the future, every single day I think about the future, how particular trends might impact our world two months out, two years out, etc. I read more than I ever have because I want to make sure every single day that we’re building for the future, not the past.
  2. There is no nine to five - I never really believed in the idea of 9-5, it felt too programmed, too robotic…but I do remember what it felt like to see the clock hit 5:00PM and think, “if I stay for another two hours I’ll be working until 7:00PM which is working late, which shows I’m working hard!” I can also remember the technical support people streaming down the hallway at 4:59PM. Now we don’t look at the clock any more and rarely does a night go by that we’re not still working away at 10:00PM. The difference is, it no longer feels like work, it feels like life.
  3. No two startups are the same - now that we are startup founders we meet a lot of other startup founders. While there are lots of similarities between startups, there are always lots of differences. What has worked for one person might be a complete disaster for another. The biggest differences that I’ve seen so far are the founding teams. Some founders we meet clearly love working together, others look stressed and panicked when they are all in one room at the same time. It is more clear than ever that the founding team really does set the culture of the company from the very beginning and this is one of the main reasons why no two startups are the same.
  4. Finding a good lawyer is hard - I’ll leave it at that.
  5. Good advisors go a long way - if you ever thought that you knew it all, I think you’ll find that running a startup shows you how little you actually know. It’s an incredibly humbling experience. Good advisors can make a huge difference but you need to find people that you both a) like talking with and b) have the experience to back-up the advice they are giving.
  6. You can’t help but sweat the small stuff - as a kid my Dad used to tell me “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and I’ve tried to live by that rule for a long time. When you’re running a startup that rule goes out of the window, you can’t help but sweat the small stuff because it really does eat away at you.

The last thing I’ll say (and like lesson #3 this could be different for you) is that working together as a husband-wife team has been an amazing experience. As startup founders you do really have your startup on your mind 24-hours a day.

I know many people that run startups, in fact the majority, that come home to a significant other who is not running a startup and usually doesn’t want to talk about the startup all morning and night. There are lots of great ways to balance this and Brad Feld wrote an excellent book about it.

That being said, I love that we get to talk about it all the time and love every conversation we have about our company. It brings us even closer together every single day and since we’re in this life together for the long haul, we know that no argument we ever have will tear us or our company apart.

In our startup and our lives together we’re not looking for a short sprint, we’re running a marathon, and something tells me we’re still on our first mile.