26 Of The Most Valuable Life Lessons I Learned In A Startup.
So it happened. I passed the 25 year threshold on planet earth.
As I sat with my birthday cake in front of me, the realisation struck that I am now closer to 30 than 20. There is no heavy night out on the sauce anymore. There is no big dinner party now. All is quiet. Impending doom of creaking joints, grey hair and wrinkles approaches ever closer. Sighs… At least with old age, comes wisdom, right?
In all honesty, it has been a good year for me. My business has had some great successes. I have moved city. I moved into a nice flat. All in all, not a bad start to the mid-late twenties.
To help reflect on turning the big 26 (is that a thing?) and moving into my later twenties, I decided to sit down and write 26 lessons my startup has taught me.
Enjoy the small victories.
Not everything in life in a huge win, or a massive goal achieved. Sometimes, the little things you get right, the small successes you have, are the most important. Baby steps to big goals.
Nothing comes easy.
I never considered how much work it would take to even get a startup off the ground, let alone make any form of progress. Hard graft and 100% commitment is required to make anything work.
Not everyone will like you.
And you know what? Who cares. You cannot please everyone, and sometimes a steady truce is about all you can ask for. Business is cut throat. You cannot be friends with everyone. Don’t try to be.
Not everyone will like your work.
Similar to above. Taste is personal. Everyone is different. Keep your clients happy, and worry less about the general reaction to your work. If you have met the brief, and produced work of high quality / craftsmanship, you have done your part. Don’t expect everyone to think of it as highly.
Stop worrying about being perfect.
In reality, nothing is. Things get close, but there is always something you would change. Or something you would do differently if you had the chance. A lot of business is reactive, and dealing with issues as they arise. Get to the best outcome possible for each project. There will always be something that did not go quite to plan, and the sooner you come to terms with that, the more you will relax and enjoy your work.
Money isn’t everything.
Maybe this one is a little untrue… I have learned to live off very little money, and still feel comfortable and happy. Would it change if I started to earn a lot? Potentially. However, in a business sense, as long as your overheads are covered, and there is a little bit of money in your wallet to keep your stomach and girlfriend happy, you’ll be alright.
Organisation is key.
So key, that without it your business will crumble. Fuck, your life would probably crumble without it too. It takes time to learn, but it gets easier and more efficient every single day. Keep everything documented, write lots of lists, and work through things task by task.
You are nothing without drive and determination.
Two fundamentals of business. Without them, you will be stuck at the start line. These two attributes will drag you out of bed, no matter how bad it gets, get you into work, and push you onwards. They separate the men from the boys, and the women from the girls. They will determine your success or failure. You need them, and if you don’t, you have to develop them.
It’s hard to leave work ‘at work’
Simply because you are the one with all the work to do. When you control the work schedule, it is difficult to leave it at the door. Even more so if your base is your own home. What door do you leave it behind then? Try to stick to some form of working hours, and some kind of ‘out of work’ communication hours.
It is important to take time off.
Don’t work every weekend. Don’t work all summer, Christmas, and every other holiday that is on the calendar. Why? Because it leads to burn out. And burn out leads to time off anyways, although rather than spend that time on the beach, you will spend it in bed with sickness. Easy choice.
It’s ok to make mistakes.
Everybody does, although no one admits it. I have made enough and seen enough to know that it is a regular occurrence for everyone, and it is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about.
Actually, it is vital to make mistakes.
There is no better way to learn. When you fuck up, your brain reacts, and creates solutions. In this process, you learn. You learn what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how to solve it when it goes wrong. And that, is the reason your future work will contain less mistakes, and improve in quality. As long as you take away lessons from your mistakes, make as many as you need to.
A support network is essential to success.
Everyone’s will be different, but whatever people you choose to surround yourself with, make sure they support your business, support what you are trying to achieve, and understand the problems and issues you face along the way. Don’t keep all your problems contained, because they will fester like weeds until they are out of control. Use your network to get advice and help. Family, friends, colleagues, strangers, other businesses — the more the merrier.
Stay close to competition
So don’t hide from it. It is good to know whats going on around you. Don’t ever kid yourself on that you are without competition. In todays market, everyone does everything, and you will not be alone in providing your product or service. So be smart. See what others offer. How others work. Learn from what your competitors do, understand what they offer that you don’t, and adapt. Make yourself stand out from them. To adapt an old phrase, keep your friends close, and your competition closer.
Keep ties with good clients.
Good clients make good business. When you complete a project and the relationship hasn’t strained beyond repair, you have yourself a keeper. Repeat work is great for keeping a steady flow of projects, and income. If you are ever in a dry spell of work, there is no harm in reconnecting with these clients — you never know what might come of it.
And why shouldn’t you be? Starting any business is one amazing achievement. When you make it past day 1, week 1, month 1 and year 1 that is a big deal. So be proud as punch. You are doing amazing things and should beam with pride when you look at what you have done and when you share it with others. Word of warning though. Be proud, but always remain humble.
You will know more than you give yourself credit for.
When people ask you questions to which you think the answers are obvious, that is when it hits you. You have done some serious levelling up. You will absorb an incredible amount of knowledge during your startup journey. These questions were something you once struggled with. But now you hold the keys to the answers. You are now in position to teach what you know. And please, share! Knowledge sharing is powerful.
You will have achieved more than you give yourself credit for.
Started a business, check. Learned how to get a website, check. Learned the basics of social media, check. Learned to take better pictures, check. Learned to find work, check. Learned to deal with clients, check. Learned the basics of promotion and marketing, check. Learned how to manage money, check. Really, I can go on forever. Even if you are only in the early days of your startup, the achievements rack up fast. Give yourself a pat on the back once in a while. You deserve it.
It is really important to build other ‘side hustles’.
The big trend at the moment is multiple revenue streams, or passive income. Step forward the side hustles. Just because you started a business, or work, does not mean you should not follow other passions and potential outlets. They may even make you some extra pocket money.
Don’t sever ties with other outlets of work.
So don’t rid of them until you are sure you don’t need them. I still to this day do the odd bar shift, or a hospitality function/event. Why? The extra cash is always a bonus, and it is good to be in environments separate from your startup.
Listen to everyone.
Older, wiser, better. You might not require their opinion or input at the time, but store it up. It will come to your aid at a time of need. They have been there and done it all before. They know what they are talking about !
Know your limits.
It is ok to not be able to do everything. There will be some parts of the startup you just cannot get your head around. Don’t get hung up on this. Try your hand at whatever you are comfortable and motivated to do, and if you can’t get it down, get some assistance. It is impossible to be good at everything.
It is very important to become adaptable.
You need this because everyday you will find yourself in a different situation, or environment, that requires you to step out of your comfort zone and confront it head on. If you can make adaptability a trait of yours, you have every chance of success in this crazy startup life.
Another important trait is stickability.
When times get rough, and the water floods the boat, many will jump off. But those who can stick through the journey will reap the rewards (unless the boat sinks of course…) The ability to get up and go no matter what, and try and try till success, is so important.
Don’t turn down work / projects because it is “not what you do”.
Be open to everything. Take on new challenges. Grow as a person, and as a business. Worry less about the end game, and worry about progressing now. These projects and challenges will open your eyes to new possibilities, new skills and new experiences — all essential for growth.
Stress is part of the game.
So you have to learn to use it to your advantage. It has to become a weapon. Use stress as the motivator. Use stress as adrenaline. If you let it suffocate you, it will defeat you.
Because this is the best self you can be.
Just Starting Out In A Startup?
Get my free 8 point startup checklist. With them, you’ll be able to put down the best foundations to help make your startup successful. Sign up for it here!