100 things that I learned while building my startup

for ‘want to be’ and ‘already’ entrepreneurs

Over a year ago, on a sleepless night, I sat down and recounted all that has happened since I started and shut down my startup. All that happened over 2 years played out in a blink of an eye.

Then goblins in my head worked its magic and started jotting down all that i had learned while building my startup. This post is a result of that.The best way to get over something is to turn it into literature. I might be correct on few things. I might be wrong on many things. I might even be crazy. Still, every line that is listed here is from the school of experience. So, Here goes the list:

  1. Idea is fine. Execution is very important
  2. “Gosh!I had that idea and I always wanted to do it” — Know what, having an idea and doing nothing about it is a sin. If you have an idea, start prototyping. And do not enter the startup bandwagon, just yet.
  3. Best way to know if an idea will work, is to start working on it. You can’t always walk on the shores. Sometimes you have to take the dive.
  4. Solve a problem that is real.
  5. “My idea will revolutionize the world. I will change the world”. Mate, we are not living in an utopian state and stop saying that. Ease up and start doing something
  6. “I am trying to build platform just like Facebook, twitter et. al.”. No. That is not how platforms are built.
  7. Idea. Prototype.Product.Product-Market fit.Business. This is the ideal flow of stages in a startup
  8. Idea. Build. Launch. Learn. Iterate. This is an ideal way of doing things in a startup
  9. Prototyping will reveal a lot than you can fathom.
  10. Try to test your product by building a simple prototype. That is the best way to understand if it would work. Building a whole product and launching a startup is the worst case way of doing things.
  11. Perform a startup drill and answer these questions: What is the problem that you are trying to solve? What is your solution? Who are your competitors? What are the problems faced by customers while using the product of your competitors? How are you different from your competitors? Is there a need for your solution? What is your customer base/customer segment? (or) Who really wants it solved? (or) Who do you think will use your product/service? By attempting to answer these questions, you will understand your offering better.
  12. Stop saying business plan and cash flow projection. Unless you build something and launch it, you should not talk about it
  13. Assembling the founding team is the greatest trait of an entrepreneur. This is the first among many litmus tests that an entrepreneur will face. Assembling the team that can execute idea is half way through the finish line.Also finding talent and retaining are equally important.
  14. Pick and choose your co-founder. It is akin to finding your soul mate.
  15. How do you find a co-founder? Well, how do you find your soul mate? Look for a person in your personal and professional circle. There will always be one.
  16. Do not have too many co-founders. 2-3 is an ideal number.
  17. Culture of a startup is an extension of personality of the founders and initial employees.
  18. Resume. Years of experience. Aggregate in undergraduate studies. Expected Salary. These should not be talking points in hiring for a typical startup. Age or experience has nothing to do with getting things done.
  19. Don’t micromanage any one. Trust and pushing the creative side of person will do wonders.
  20. Bean bags, Beer pong, ACs, swanky furniture, Gym. Darn. It is self-defeating and Stop living in a bubble.
  21. Have a financial plan for the initial months (at least it ought be 12 months) for your personal life and your startup.
  22. The ideal time to incorporate your startup is when you start making sustainable revenue or when you can make a financial commitment — for at least 12 months — towards cost incurred
  23. Enough of prototyping. Now, Start building your MVP
  24. Always have a plan and drive the team to stipulate to schedule.
  25. Most of the times, you will miss the deadline. It is alright. Learn and Move on. But don’t repeat it.
  26. Don’t kill the product by building too many features. Pick and choose those critical features that makes sense in building into product
  27. You will try to attempt do a lot and you will fail in many. It is perfectly fine. Fail fast and learn from it. Find the ones that are working for you and get good at it. Find why many failed and try to do it in the right way.
  28. While developing, write down all the questions that you want to be answered in this release version. Write down all the hypothesis that has gone into building this product. Now,using questions and hypothesis, define metrics that are to be measured.
  29. Build custom analytics into your product. Your Google analytics, Mixpanel, Kissmetrics etc will help you. Sometimes, custom analytics will help you in answering your questions and hypothesis.
  30. User Experience(UX) is different from User Interface(UI). Please, make sure that you get it.
  31. If you have launched your product that is perfect, then perhaps you have launched it too late. Usually, your first offering is not what your customers would want from you. May be your second or third offering will go on to become a success. The very reason you have launched is to find out what your customers think and want.
  32. If you are from the school “Customers do not know what they want until we give them one”, then you better get it right.
  33. Whatever it is, just launch the goddamn product. Faster you launch, Faster you can learn. You and your developer team will not be best person to answer this question “Will this work?”. Launch it and ask your users. You will get an unbiased answer.
  34. Don’t ask your friends and family to use your product and give feedback. Instead, ask a stranger or ask someone with whom you are not on first name basis.
  35. Build it and they will come. No Sir, They will not. You have to communicate and get your users.
  36. SEO and Social media engagement are fine. But find ways to reach and talk to your users.
  37. When your startup gets featured in blogs/media/forums, you will get that initial spike. That is that. It is short lived and don’t bank on that.
  38. Don’t get featured in media, unless you have a product that is decent and does its intended job.
  39. Your customers are your best sales people. Make them smile and they will spread it.
  40. Learn how to sell your product. Because you will be doing lot of it — selling your idea to your seed team, selling it to your initial employees, selling it to your customers, selling it to your potential VCs/Angels.
  41. How to sell your product? Just tell them a story of why you are doing/how you are doing about what you are doing
  42. Don’t try to sell your product to your customer. Try to sell it by telling them a story. A story that explains how your product solves their problems.
  43. Get out of the office and meet real customers. Don’t sit inside your cubicle.
  44. Don’t overdo “getting out of the office”. You should factor in effort, time and money.
  45. Identify customers. Define Value proposition for them. Validate it. Find ways to get repeat customers. Create sustenance. You can evolve your business model from this.
  46. Observe how users use your product. You will find many use cases that you didn’t think through in the first place.
  47. Launching new products and new features without getting users and testing among them is a sign of failure. Developing new features might be cool. But not at the cost of getting users on board. You will get that high of a developer but there will no business, at the end of day.
  48. Be focused. Very obsessively focused.
  49. You might have to don many hats simultaneously. You have to be a hustler. There is no serial way of execution.
  50. Build your product in house. Don’t outsource it. Do it only if you have run out of all options. Every product has its soul. It will be present only if founders and seed team built it with the much needed love.
  51. Be frugal.
  52. Try to achieve that product-market fit. If not,pivot. If you don’t want to pivot, then shut shop.
  53. If you screw it up, accept the blame and be accountable. People will love you better than a person who tries to pass on the buck. And you should be first person to report your mistake. Not your competitor or press.
  54. Be a two face. You should go “gung ho” about your product. At the same you should be critical too.
  55. Initially, make a decision based on your instincts. Slowly as you progress in your startup, try to decide based on data and facts. Of course, use your instincts too.
  56. Getting funded is not the only criteria for a successful startup. It’s apples and oranges.
  57. Money is not a solution for all your problems.
  58. “Investment is stopping me from doing so many things in my startup. I am not able to get traction just because, there is no money”. Sigh. It is not always true. Ask yourself, if this is an argument that you are making just to cover your shortcomings and inabilities.
  59. What is the ideal time to raise money? — Do all this and then think about it — a) Build product b) Validate it by launching it c) Find product-market fit d) Get some customers. Till then, please don’t say that you would have moved mountains if you’d the money.
  60. Don’t raise too much money too soon.
  61. If you want money to scale up, then go for an investment. If you can continue to run bootstrapped/revenue-funded and still scale up, it is perfectly fine.
  62. Don’t scale up very soon.
  63. Founders. Friends and Family.Angels.Angels syndicate and Early stage VCs. These are the steps for investment for a typical early stage startup.
  64. Initial attraction from VC firms are not real. Don’t get over excited, if you receive an email from an associate from a VC firm. As part of their job, they are scouting for startups and want to know you better. That’s it. You are not getting that investment. Not yet.
  65. Think of exits for a VC/Angel before getting them in. Only possible way out for them is to a)Buy out b)Acquisition c)IPO
  66. Once you get money from a VC, it is no longer your company. Of course, you are the founder who owns a part in that company. That’s about it.
  67. VCs and Angels are not devils. Don’t treat like one.
  68. VCs/Angels need Startups more than Startups need VCs/Angels.
  69. There is nothing bad if you decide to sell your startup for cash. It is part of the process.
  70. Incorporate your startup and get your agreement between founders settled. Otherwise, it will come back to haunt you. Trust me.
  71. If your co-founder is on a war path, then settle it amicably where every one is civil. Many startups bite the dust mostly because of co-founder issues.
  72. Stop the constant urge for networking by attending events and do stuff that will get you customers.
  73. Selectively attend events/workshops that will help you in your startup journey.
  74. Do not ask for opinion from too many people/mentors. One way is to ask everyone and do stuff that you really want to. Or ask a select few and do stuff that you really want to. In both the cases, do what you want to. Ultimately, it is your baby.
  75. Try to ask advice from only those who have already done it. This is no place for enthusiasts. Asking advice and seeking mentorship from someone who has already been in the ring will help a lot.
  76. If you ask for advice, you better don’t get defensive. That is an amateur way of doing things.
  77. Integrity, Professionalism, Perfection and Punctuality. Ensure that you follow all these with whoever is involved with your startup.
  78. Try to say to No to many things and say Yes to a very few. You can apply this for features, people, requests etc.
  79. Before meeting anyone, make sure that you know everything possible about them.
  80. In every transaction(a transaction is something where is some exchange of things between two or more people), ask these two questions. What is in it for you? What is in it for me? If you can’t answer any of these questions, then there is something wrong with that transaction. Don’t go ahead with it. Try to create an expectational equilibrium in every transaction that is involved.
  81. The world of startup is chaotic. Don’t bitch about it.
  82. Insecurity. Fear. Loneliness. It is ok. Everyone has them.
  83. “I am having serious problems with my girlfriend/boyfriend/family because of my startup. What do Ido?”. I am sorry and You have my deepest sympathy :)
  84. “I am getting a feeling that Ino longer have friends”. It happens. Try to make it work. Friends and Family are the cornerstones of your success and serenity.
  85. Every month or two, take few days of break and run away from all the chaos. You will get a new perspective for all problems that you are facing.
  86. Luck. Never think that luck will get your customers and money.
  87. And don’t presume a lot. Always, Have a beginners mind.
  88. Perspective and timing are everything.
  89. Always find a way to make something wrong. Never run from a fight. Either you do or you don’t. There is no try. Hello Yoda!
  90. Confront a situation and make a decision. Running away from a situation will not help you.
  91. Don’t try to ape what your competitor does. And Don’t fixate on what they are doing. Just do your job and everything will be fine.
  92. You don’t get rich or famous overnight. It takes a bloody number of years to get that overnight success.
  93. Bentley. Business Class. Big bucks. I wish I could say the same about expectations from my startup. You will do all of it, but it will take a long time and demand an insane amount of hard work.
  94. “India is not an ideal place for entrepreneurship. Indian families do not encourage startups”. Stop saying that and lose that attitude.
  95. If you fail, do not blame others or the system. It is perfectly normal to fail.
  96. Winners do not quit. Not true. Winners always quit. They quit all the time. But they quit at the right time. This is from Seth Godin’s book — The Dip. Read it.
  97. “Birds fly. Fishes swim. Startups fail
  98. “Never forget who you are, for surely the world won’t. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” Remember, accepting that you failed in your startup is the best anti dote for all that will transpire.
  99. Entrepreneurship is not a one time thing. It will consume your thoughts and often, push to do all over again.
  100. The richest and fullest lives attempt to achieve an inner balance between three realms: work, love and play. And that to pursue one realm to the disregard of the other, is to open oneself to ultimate sadness in older age. Whereas to pursue all three with equal dedication, is to make possible a life filled not only with achievement, but with serenity”


P.S. : I am a Superhero nerd. INFJ. Entrepreneur. Ex Founder and CEO of @thecrawlfish. Ex @Infosys. Ex @TSC. Currently at @freshdesk. You can reach me at @vijayragavanv. I write here often.

On a similar note, I gave a talk on this — http://vijayaragavan.com/post/79927754691/how-to-build-global-and-successful-startups-out-of-india