A post inspired by a Product Hunt Q&A — Advice for Startup Founders
Recently the excellent team at Product Hunt facilitated a Q&A with a variety of questions for a bunch of successful entrepreneurs like Lori Greiner, Dave McClure & Jason Calacanis. It’s a great read and I absolutely recommend you check it out.
There were some insanely good points in this post, many of which made me stop and think about what my own answers to these questions would be, especially as it’s a year since we kicked off the research process associated with Populate, an idea I’d been sitting on for a while and a new player in the workforce planning and intelligence space.
So, I thought I’d answer the same questions, hopefully providing some insight into life as a new startup founder
How do you value quality of life now? How much time do you have for yourself? How do you manage your time in 24hrs? — Joe Hobot
Interestingly I feel like I’ve made more time for myself now than what I did in my last role as VP Talent at Vend. I really gave that role everything, I cared so much about every element of it and I always felt like there was a huge amount at stake. That feeling hasn’t changed with Populate, it’s a different kind of pressure but I feel like I understand more about how I need to be in this for the long haul and killing myself in the first year isn’t going to help anyone, certainly not myself.
My partner Lance, is also my co-founder and many people have questions about how that works, especially because our office is in our home. I don’t know how it works, but it does. When it comes to taking time out from work our approach is simple. We take each day as it comes. Whatever is going on it’s okay, we don’t beat ourselves up for talking about work late at night or on the weekend. If that’s what’s required and if we’re happy and enjoying it, it’s okay.
I love my work and no day is ever the same as the day before, I have a routine that I generally stick to but downtime can come at any time. I might get to 3pm some days and just need to stop. I can usually tell I’m over it because I click on all the things on my computer and find myself staring out the window or making my way towards the pantry for snacks. Alternatively I might not open my laptop all weekend then on Sunday afternoon get a sudden urge to complete some tasks that will make my life easier during the week. I just do what works, when it works. And remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Is it more important for entrepreneurs today to dream big dreams or attainable ones? — Daniel Mirolli
I think there has to be an element of dreaming big and being excited about solving problems for people that no-one else has managed to crack. I’m generally quite practical though so on one hand I’m all “What if we could doinsert crazy thing here” but at the same time there’s also that voice in my head that says “Keep it simple, don’t lose sight of the basics”. I think we’ve really adopted a good combination of these two mindsets with Populate.
We have big plans for Populate being an automated and intelligent platform, helping companies scale smarter, but at the same time we’re solving simple, day to day problems for the people that need to use the product. It’s not all pretty graphs and “what if’s”, it has to make a positive impact on our users every day. I want them to love it, the little things and the big things.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out? — Jacqueline von Tesmar
I believe that you need to be quite intimate with the problem you’re solving and that enthusiasm for your solution will flow out of that understanding. I think about this in my own situation. I lived and breathed the problems that Populate solve when I was at Vend, so now when I’m talking to someone who is doing a role similar to what mine was, we bond and we laugh about how we would handle those problems and I’m able to quickly gain their trust.
The second piece of advice I would give is make sure you’ve got people around you who can help you, whether they’re officially in your business or not. I feel lucky that I have Lance as a co-founder and the team we have is small but mighty. I don’t feel lonely like many CEO’s can feel. I don’t feel like it’s all on me, all of the time. Outside of the Populate team I have been surrounded by a variety of people who have been incredibly generous with their time and advice. I’ve got a list, I won’t be forgetting them. While I don’t recommend you use the term “pick your brains” if you’re specific about your ask of people and you’re genuine in your approach you’ll often get the help you need, just don’t make it all about you. Where you can, try to give back and make valuable connections for the other person. Right now I feel like those years of being a part of a community are really paying off.
What advice would you give to founders that most investors or founders would think initially disagree with you on or think is crazy? — Sydney Liu
No matter how successful the person is giving you advice, sometimes they’re really wrong and you have to trust your gut. We’ve had really smart, successful people give us really bad advice and in some instances it’s meant we’ve wasted precious time. Not sure founders or investors would think I was crazy for saying this though.
What is a mistake that you see founders repeatedly make, even though they know it’s wrong? In other words, what is the stove that founders just HAVE to touch to know it’ll burn them? — Pablo Fuentes
There’s a couple but the one I see the most is when people have an idea and they get so emotionally attached to it that they can’t bear to hear from anyone that it’s actually shit or they’ve got it wrong. So, they don’t talk to anyone about it, they just do it. They spend a fortune and a whole lot of time building a thing that almost 90% of the time is wrong. If you’re a founder you HAVE to talk, a lot, to people that can give you different perspectives. Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea, it’s all about executing and you need to back yourself to do that better than anyone else.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs? — Rustin Rassoli
Not everyone will agree with me here, some will say that when you’re young you should just go and do it, try, fail, try again etc. I think you should do that but not before you get some exposure to a startup. There are so many lessons you can learn, and they can be using someone else’s money. The key is finding an inspiring manager within the organization who is willing to mentor you and expose you to different opportunities.
If you’re coming straight out of school and wanting to start a business you could do it, just don’t get yourself in a financial situation that will hurt you long term because the likelihood of you failing is high. Sorry, it’s just the way it is.
What are three things every new founder should focus on above all else? — Emily Hodgins
Revenue. Revenue creates options for you and you want options, especially in the early days.
Customers. They should be paying, they should be getting value and they should be happy.
Team. Look after your people. If you’re early they’re taking a big punt on you and your vision so acknowledge that. You want the right people by your side so don’t let things fester. People are expensive and can, if you get it wrong, cost you a lot of money and as a startup you really can’t afford that.
What is one thing you tell every startup no matter what the product or industry? — Olly Whittle
Keep it real and get comfortable with not having all the answers. Know your limits, ask for help and know when to call it quits. Okay, that’s kind of multiple pieces of advice. I’m such a rule breaker.
And that’s it! Much love to Product Hunt for putting together an inspiring post that prompted me to really think about this stuff. Writing it all down is really important for your own development. It’s really easy to fly through doing all the things without taking a seat back and looking at where you’ve come from and what you’d do differently next time.