Startup Lessons Learned: Mental Health, Starting Small, Eclectic Traits, and Selective Focus

Rome Started With a Single Slab of Concrete

I had an interesting conversation with Mat yesterday, and I’m happy with how it ended. I won’t dive into the details too much, but what matters is that we’re both on the same page now. Here’s some things we spoke about.

Four startup lessons:

1. Rome started with a single slab of concrete. It also wasn’t built in a day. Don’t set out to build the next Facebook. Don’t try to change the world on the first iteration Startups aren’t like regular businesses. They grow, change, and evolve constantly. Don’t try to build the next Facebook or Uber. Instead, be absolutely dedicated to solving the problem you chose to solve with your startup. Instead of figuring out how to get from point A to point Z, figure out the most pressing things you need to do to get to point B. Do your best at that, and your startup just might survive until you reach point Z. It takes time. There’s a lot of pressure by starting at day 1 with the mindset of “I’m going to change the world”. That mindset says “I can eat this elephant in one bite”. This is obviously impossible. Start with providing value to people and doing that extremely well, then work on building something valuable to many people in the world.

2. Be multi-faceted. Learn to be flexible while still being a bit hardheaded and focused. Learn to be patient, but have no tolerance for being uselessly slow. Learn to do things that don’t scale, but have a plan to scale. Learn to be laser-focused but aware of everything that’s going on around you. Being a great founder is a lot like having a split personality.

3. Focus on the right things.

I believe that most startups fail because they focus on the wrong things. For example, don’t focus on changing the way _____ do _____. Instead, focus on filling a gap in the world. Focus on providing value to a small group of people before trying to take over the world.

Facebook did this by creating a social graph for college students. Focus on finding out how to make that small group of people absolutely love your product. In the early stages, it’s more important for a small number of people to love your product, then a large number of people who like it.

Don’t focus on marketing until you’ve done this. The people who really love your product will do the most important form of marketing there is- word of mouth. Have you ever eaten food that was so amazing that you wanted other people to taste it too? Incite that same feeling in your customers.

People loved Facebook so much, that university students were practically demanding that Facebook come to their school. After Facebook did that, then they opened to the public. Monopolize a small group of people’s attention and loyalty by focusing on providing value, not building a big company. Most importantly, enjoy the process. Have a little fun and move fast.

4. Mental health matters. In the startup world, people tend to downplay the importance of being okay inside. The mentality is typically “Work 100 hours a week and do whatever it takes to build a successful company. Suck it up”. This is a dangerous mindset to have.

Although it’s important to work hard and work smart, it’s even more important to be healthy. Mental health takes precedence above everything else. If you need to spend a few hours a week with family in order to handle the stress of a 100 hour work week, then don’t skip spending time with family.

Building a big startup isn’t worth sacrificing your mental health.

I’ll say it again for the people in the back.

Building a big startup isn’t worth sacrificing your mental health.

There’s a difference between working extremely hard and committing a slow suicide. Everyone has different limits. Be realistic with your own.

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