Reflections From My First Year As A Founder
Over the past few years I’ve worked for several startups and a VC firm, served in the Israeli army, sold people’s stuff for them on eBay, built client’s websites, organized all kinds of events and plenty more. Without a doubt I’ve learned more this past year than all those years combined.
Before starting Mapme I had never been a “manager”, raised money or scaled a product. Early on, as we made progress I became increasingly more scared. We hired our first employees. What would my relationship with them be like? We raised a convertible note. What comes next? We need to show consistent growth. How do we do that?
Fortunately I surrounded myself with cofounders, advisors, employees and friends with 10x more experience than I have. Without them I’m sure we would have imploded a long time ago. They’ve helped me become more confident in myself and in Mapme.
Since starting the company I’ve tried to jot down lessons, mistakes and thoughts from my experience. That’s the only way to improve. After making our dashboard, deck and investor update public, I decided to also share my personal reflections. So here it goes.
And yes, items on this list may be very obvious for some. But as a first time founder, it’s taken me time to learn these things. Hopefully this list can provide value to other “noob” founders like myself.
- Founders should serve their team and not the other way around. It’s their responsibility to make sure everyone is happy and motivated.
- Being strict about work hours is a motivation killer. With Slack, Drive, etc. you can work anywhere, anytime. Communication skills are 🔑.
- Micromanagement kills motivation. Do everything you can to prevent it. Having a clear roadmap helps.
- Do everything you can for your employees. Cut your salary, drive 200 miles, show you care. Even the smallest things make a difference. Show you care and they will reciprocate.
- Listen. Your team may have incredible ideas to share, don’t let them go to waste. A huge amount of the good things happening at Mapme today have come entirely from the team raising ideas.
- Encourage learning, new technologies, informative meetups, reading. Your team’s knowledge should grow with the company.
- Its all about the execution. Write this on your wall and never forget.
- The CEO’s job is to push the company forward at all times. That primarily involves building a talented, mission oriented team and making sure there is money in the bank. But at every phase of the company’s life the role may change, it could involve more product work, bizdev, marketing.
- Make decisions. Right or wrong, it’s better than not making one at all.
- It’s a marathon not a marathon sprint. Having an outside life, friends, hobbies, time to travel is so important. If you’re not happy, it affects your team and your startup. At the same time “you start as fast as you can and slowly increase pace.”
- Be self critical as much as possible even though it may feel like shit. Be honest. If it isn’t working and you can’t see how to make it work, move on.
- Become good at marketing. People usually won’t find your product on their own.
- Be in the office as much as possible. Founders should be the first one in and last one out, schedule permitting.
- Get an advisor. Get another advisor.
- Wait as long as possible to raise seed money. But take into consideration it can be a six month process.
- 99% of accelerators are a waste of time. If you’re going to apply, go for the 1%.
- Build relationships with investors, learn from them, get feedback, before you ask for money.
- Send monthly investor updates to your investors and your team. Add potential investors you’ve met to the list too.
- Talk to your users 24/7. Intercom, Facebook Groups, Chatlio, there are enough tools out there.
- Founders should do support as much as possible.
- Have every new employee learn your product and do support their first few days in the office.
- Hiring is a constant struggle.
- You’d be surprised where good people come from. Our first developer joined through a Hacker News comment. (Hacker News isn’t popular in the Israeli tech community.)
- Be creative, stand out. After we posted our photos on a yacht we started to receive 2X more CV’s than before. Posting our dashboards, deck, investor updates has tripled the amount of people reaching out asking for jobs at Mapme.
- “When you think about firing someone, it’s already late and you should do it: your brain only allows you to think of such a difficult option if things are really bad.”
- Mediocre outsourced talent does more damage than good.
- Interns are awesome. Find promising ones and turn it into a win win situation.
- Use Slack. Everyone does already. But if you don’t, use it.
- Keep the team as informed as possible. Don’t be afraid to share KPI’s, deals, and other news.
- Share every milestone in Slack. (Side note: that might be a cool app for Slack)
- There are way too many conferences, meetups, startup competitions. Think twice before going. Are you going to learn something? Meet someone important for you? If you’re a speaker and the audience is relevant to your product, it’s a clear win.
- If you need down time to party, go to events like SXSW, Web Summit, but don’t pretend it’s “work”.
- Focus on a few close, work related friends. Be there for them, they’ll be there for you. Make sure it’s people you respect and look up to. The people you have two minute conversations with at events, every few months, aren’t real friends.
- Product launches are just a spike in the graph, they don’t solve growth problems. Build a product that people love and will share.
- Define your KPIs, check them all the time. If your company’s direction changes, update the KPIs.
- Development should be KPI oriented. Be careful of technical debt.
- Make sure people actually want what you’re building before you build it.
- Idea is 1% of the company. Execution is 99%.
- Building a startup literally feels like a roller coaster.
- Have fun as much as possible.
- Always surround yourself with people who are better than you.
- Read less of these posts, build instead. 😂
Mapme is a young, 7 person, pre-revenue, pre-Series A startup, with a long journey ahead. There’s so much more to learn and add to this list. Hope to publish it again in a year from now.
Would be happy to hear your thoughts below or privately. Feel free to recommend this post 👌.
Want to chat? firstname.lastname@example.org / @benln