Everything I know about startups I learned from writing

Kris Gage
Kris Gage
Sep 21, 2017 · 7 min read

Or maybe vice versa. Because everything is everything; work is work; people are people

Image for post
Image for post

I’ve worked in startups since 2011 (including one that I built and grew.) I’ve also been writing since, like, 1992 (including this Medium account I started five months ago.)

And I’ve learned that what’s true for one is more or less true for the other. Which makes sense, really, because both of them are about people and people are, for the most part and fundamentally, consistent from one market to the next.

1. Idea vs. Execution

Bro, it’s not about the idea. You know how many people might’ve had “the idea” for “a wizard-kid who goes to wizard-school” or “a vampire who falls in puppy-love with a broody girl?” I actually don’t know the answer to either of these, but the point is: success is mostly what comes after the idea, and a good idea executed really well is worth more than a great idea executed poorly.

2. No particular skill holds the secret to success

Sure, learn how to code. It certainly can’t hurt — and yeah, in most industries, it’ll help. Just like learning how to read and write before it was commonplace helped those fledglings back in the day.

But learning how to code won’t magically make you Silicon Valley any more than knowing how to write magically makes you Stephen King.

Don’t hold “expertise” over your own head as an excuse. Either learn what you think you need, or use what you already know.

3. Scratch your own itch first

The best writers write authentically, from the heart.

I really dig how writer Jessica Semaan put it. On starting her Medium account:

“I just wanted to write somewhere... I wrote for me. And I wrote about things that scared me, intrigued me. I did not censor myself. It was scary to reveal about being single and struggling with it, and burnout, heartbreak, loneliness and more. I wrote authentically. But it turned out I was writing about emotions we all feel, yet we rarely talk about. So people wanted to read about my experience because they related. I wrote like a human. I wrote with vulnerability.”

I can’t tell you how many readers message me to say how grateful they are to find something that isn’t “fluff.” People are incredibly exhausted and fatigued of exposing their real needs only to have them met with paper-thin, half-hearted solutions offered at arm’s length.

The solution is just richer when it’s real. It’s true for writing, and it’s true for everything else.

4. Decide who else it’s for

My audience is, probably no real coincidence, pretty much the same exact person I worked with as clients when I had my company. I didn’t set out to find this group — I just put something out there, and really looked at the people who found me — looked them in the eye; in the heart. I saw a lot of similarities across their needs and who they were as human beings. I learned a lot about their values, wants, needs, motivations, and fears, and tried to address those.

5. Less is more

If you’re scrambling to impress the girl with bells and whistles during your first fucking conversation, that relationship isn’t going to go very far.

6. Keep it iterative

Iteration = improvement

At the end of the semester, the group that had been asked to make as many as possible had inadvertently mastered the art of making beautiful pots, and also had a whole slew of near-perfect pots on top of that, while the group that had actually been asked to do so had nothing at all to show for their time.

My writing this year has improved over last year, and last year was a lot better than two years before that. The improvement isn’t linear — I publish a post a day and not all of them are good; some of them outright piss people off. I make mistakes. But overall, over the long run, churning through work has a huge impact on its quality.

Honestly, sometimes I compare this to a healthy sex life. Who’s better off: the person who orgasms regularly, or the person who’s stressing over a single hookup and/or holding themselves back?

Work in progress becomes baggage

“Either publish it or delete it. Don’t keep ‘writing-baggage.’ It becomes emotional baggage.”

I’ll also quote Jessica Semaan, because I still have her piece on growing 10.5K followers and 0.5 million views in 8 months open:

“I wrote with imperfection. Sometimes I re-edited after, but I did not wait for the perfect New Yorker style piece to publish.”

The longer you sit on something, the more likely it is you’ll stay there forever. We all know at least one person who’s “working on their business” but hasn’t made any significant traction in years. That person is doomed — and they need to ship it or scrap it. Like, yesterday.

When you sit on work, you also don’t get any feedback on it.

When I had my business, I gave myself 3 months to go from “research” to “revenue,” even though I knew absolutely nothing about the industry I’d entered or its production. My initial products were pretty wily, but the market didn’t care. They wanted them. And getting that sooner rather than later meant I had two invaluable things: actionable feedback. And cash.

Don’t spend your life toiling over a single pot nobody wants. That sole, precious pot is garbage. Suppressed work quickly becomes stale.

You have nothing until you know what you have. (In fact, you have less than nothing — you have a vacuum of infinite unknowns.) You don’t know what you have until you ship.

Ship it. You only get good if you ship it. You only know if you ship it.

7. The biggest needs are rarely truly satisfied, and the market always has room for a good solution

Don’t focus as much on whether or not you’re entering a “crowded” room — writing is one of the most noisy spaces out there. Focus more on the remaining unresolved needs.

Opening yet another hamburger joint is worrisome. And yet Ray Kroc somehow made it work.

8. Do the work

White-boarding is not the work. Designing your business cards is not the work. Making Powerpoints is not the work. For the love of all that is good, your mothafucking business plan is definitely not the work. ̶D̶a̶y̶d̶r̶e̶a̶m̶i̶n̶g ̶“Planning” is never the work.

Writing and publishing and hearing from readers is the fucking work. Building and shipping and selling and getting feedback is the fucking work.

Do that. And then keep on doing it. Execute, execute, then listen to feedback. No matter the industry you’re in.

Image for post
Image for post

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s leading publication for entrepreneurs and startups.

Join +12,417 people who get the top stories here.

Image for post
Image for post

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +669K people. Follow to join our community.

Sign up for Top Stories

By The Startup

A newsletter that delivers The Startup's most popular stories to your inbox once a month. Learn more

Create a free Medium account to get Top Stories in your inbox.

Kris Gage

Written by

Kris Gage

Writer — www.krisgage.com reach me at krisgagemedium@gmail.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +669K people. Follow to join our community.

Kris Gage

Written by

Kris Gage

Writer — www.krisgage.com reach me at krisgagemedium@gmail.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +669K people. Follow to join our community.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store