5 Things I Learned After Joining a Startup

Many people I meet at events will exclaim that they “want to create a startup but they just don’t know what about yet!” That wasn’t necessarily the same motivations for me as I never realized I was running a startup until midway through. So unsurprisingly, I found myself with a handful of complications that people don’t tend to talk about.

Today the word “startup” or “entrepreneur” garners an air of respect, immense ambition, and the image that you’re making it big. Not many will tell you that 90% of startups fail, as I’m sure majority of entrepreneurs don’t want to admit up to the millions of ways their company could die either. I’m likely one of these people as I’m still powering along with Homads.

This doesn’t mean I can’t tell you what you’re likely going to expect. My cofounder and I are non-technical, young (relatively), minority women who tend to stand out in the tech scene in Austin. Fortunately, Austin welcomed us with open arms and we’ve found ways to adapt to difficult situations.

Below are 5 obstacles we’ve faced and how we learned to overcome them:

1. Having a cofounder is like a marriage; through good times and bad times till death (of our company) do us part

She’s my partner in crime aka best networking partner ever!

I did my due diligence in choosing my cofounder (Lan Chu) as I knew it would be a long haul but what I didn’t expect was to be arguing over hurt feelings based off of poor communication. I felt like I was having the exact same conversation with her as I did with my ex years prior. Just like any relationship, you need to take the time to build and nourish it. Lan and I had worked together for a few years on TV sets so I already knew she had the strong work ethic that I was looking for. We are polar opposites in many aspects which is likely why we make such a great team, but with these differences, you have to learn to create an honest flow of communication in order to be productive and maintain respect for one another.

2. No one is going to tell you to take care of yourself except yourself

Moving close to the boardwalk was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my own mental health.

Our company was off to a great start as the new year rolled around and we found ourselves booked weeks in advance. A far cry from our initial first year of building our product with a lot of waiting around. We heard stories about people working 60–80 hour weeks and stressed over the fact that we weren’t productive enough. Now looking back, I realize that sometimes it’ll take time (especially if you’re not the one building the product) before you can push your company forward.

In the new year, I found myself with insomnia and extremely long days without a thought of a proper meal or exercise. It was different from the past times I’ve been stressed as I normally found myself mentally exhausted but this time I was excited! I was so amped to build our business and meet such amazing people that it kept me up at night and I lived and breathed Homads. As you can guess, it wasn’t sustainable and eventually I had to change my ways. Know that no one is going to force you to eat real food, sleep real hours, or take a moment to go for a run. It seems simple but it’s easy to forget when your company starts to take off. Your company can only be sustainable if you are.

3. Choose who you surround yourself with wisely

Our team after our NewCo panel. Surround yourself with amazing people.

You often hear people say, “you are the average of your 5 closest friends.” This couldn’t be more true of your startup. When you first start off you’re hungry for advice and guidance and will talk to anyone. As you start to grow, you must realize that with more exposure also comes more people who want to sell you something. This can be a good thing in that you may need a lot of the services they are offering but other times, it may be a much longer commitment. Realize that you can’t uninvite your founder, board, or investors. Take your time to think about the impact each individual will have on your startup and make sure you want to stick with them in the years going forward. We’ve been approached by wonderful people who want to help us purely because they received help on their way up, as well as, strictly business minded people who saw the potential and scalability of our startup and wanted in. In the end, you have to listen to your gut about finding the right mix of both types that will ultimately benefit your startup and team.

4. Constantly learn and set goals

Even though my cofounder and I are non-technical, it does not limit us to not knowing how our product works. Learning concepts and best practices of development without knowing a line of code is much better than not knowing what is going on at all. If you are able to take a few classes to learn how to code then you’ll be that much further along and can see things from the perspective of your developer. You likely won’t be coding for your own startup but having the skill set to understand can go a far ways.

5. Understand your risks and be ok with it

Shooting in Bogota, Colombia.

We bootstrapped our startup for a full year, running off money from crowdfunding. While we waited on our product to be built, Lan and I worked odd jobs and took up video gigs on the side to fund our startup. It wasn’t until we grew closer to launching our site that we were able to focus purely on our business — which also meant giving up our main form of income and putting all efforts into a company that initially has no revenue. Since we weren’t paying ourselves or were reinvesting into business, we realized we had to look at other alternatives. It’s a scary thing to start charging on a credit card or apply for a loan and creating a negative cash flow. It’s never a goal to build debt but sometimes it’s a necessary step. It’s not uncommon to have debt but it’s not something we all like to talk about. It helped hearing from our peers that they used all the resources they had to build the successful business that it is today. It allowed us to know that it was a calculated debt and that they believed that there will be a larger return on investment (even if it’s not monetary). Our time would be better spent building our startup rather than constantly stressing about finances.

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