Okay, so I didn’t really shout loudly about this on the internet, but earlier this year I got a place on Entrepreneur First — the London tech-startup-building programme that’s upending convention by funding individuals before they’ve formed teams. It started at the beginning of this month.
Now that I’m 2 weeks in I’ve realised that one of the undersold benefits of doing Entrepreneur First (EF herein) is that it accelerates a bunch of important life lessons that I desperately wanted to learn. Some examples:
- When you’re stuck and don’t know what you’re doing, trying stuff out is way better than thinking about it more. EF creates pressure for you to formally try stuff out as a data gathering mechanism when you have to make a high stakes decision with no information. If you haven’t found a cofounder, and you haven’t tried to cofound with someone because you’re not sure if you can spend the next 5 years working with them every day, then EF intervenes and asks why, then points out that you’re on a road to failure if you don’t take action now. It forces you to learn that starting running in some direction — any direction — then adjusting course as you learn, is often a really good way forward when dealing with massive uncertainty in important choices, which is a generally important life skill.
- Cold-reaching-out to people is actually something you can do. The norm is to hustle in EF, and good hustle is publicly celebrated. When 5 independent teams report that they got into super interesting conversations because they crashed someone’s date, or begged to get into a conference for free, or physically knocked on someone’s office door 5 miles away to ask for a meeting, doing what is possible as opposed to what is considered socially acceptable becomes much more normal. As a side effect, it reinforces the fact that normal social boundaries are just human psychological constructs and that you needn’t take them seriously, which is deeply liberating.
- You just have to go for stuff and stop worrying about yourself. Yes OF COURSE you’re rubbish at everything. Yes OF COURSE everyone else is smarter and more skilled than you. But at EF you have impending critical deadlines looming right in front of you, and looking around, it becomes clear that nobody on the cohort really knows what they are doing either (even that DeepMind early employee over there). In these circumstances, all sense of why-am-I-here-and-what-even-am-I dissolves. You just have to get moving.
- EF reinforces the truth that even the scariest, most impressive-looking people that seem to have it all sorted actually are just humans struggling through just like the rest of us. Smart people with amazing qualifications, accolades and careers can be ferociously intimidating. Seeing all of these people struggling alongside you dissolves this. Your inadequacy is the same as everyone else’s. We are all naked underneath.
- Hard conversations are valuable conversations. Some people have said that having hard conversations is one of the most important determinants of whether you’ll live your life to the fullest: being able to quickly break up with someone when you aren’t right for each other instead of letting the relationship slowly deteriorate to self-destruction, being able to stand up for yourself when your employer isn’t treating you well instead of suffering silently, being able to tell your parents you’re going to go against their wishes to follow an unusual path you know is best for you instead of living safely but boringly. EF forces you to confront difficult truths about your cofounding relationship and break up quickly if that’s the best thing to do. It’s amazing practice for the other things you’ll have to do as a founder, and as a human.
Looking back on this list, I had actually already realised all these things as true some time in the last 10 years. But the critical thing is that for many of them I hadn’t had the chance to seriously practice using those ideas. Some had gone stale in my mind, and although deep down I wanted to live by them, I’d never committed them to habit, and that was seriously frustrating for me. Practicing them is incredibly refreshing because now they are really going in. The way I am living is being brought a lot closer to the way I think that I thought I ought to live. I’ve still got some way to go, but I can feel the change — and despite the stress and constant floor-shifting-under-your-feet that defines the experience of EF, that is uplifting.
Angus Bayley was on the 9th London cohort of Entrepreneur First (EF.) EF runs full-time programmes that fund the most talented scientists, engineers, developers and industry experts to find a co-founder, then helps those teams grow their businesses and raise funding. We’ve built >100 companies worth >$1B so far.
We currently run programmes in Berlin, Singapore and London, you can apply here or sign up below to get advice from the EF team on your startup journey.