Starting a company is incredibly difficult, especially if it's your first time doing so. There are a million and one things to think about: quickly bloating product road maps, new competitors and credit cards that keep maxing out.
There is so much to keep track of, and the only way to know what it will be like is to jump in, head first.
Now that my co-author, Nis, and I are both onto our second companies, we have decided to put together this list of things we wish someone told us to focus on the first time around:
1. Capturing The Moments (by Nis)
Let's just get this out there: The start-up journey, particularly for first-timers, is, in many ways, like getting addicted to crack cocaine. It's mostly downs (unless you're one of the lucky few) and a few very big ups.
Unlike crack cocaine, however, it's a good thing when you get addicted to the ups!
Entrepreneurial success is very much a mental game; you lose when you give up.
But it's also a numbers game, and for every yes, you'll get 50 nos. All this means is that every no is one answer closer to a yes.
Taking the time to celebrate a yes or two along the way (sales gongs, anyone?) will make the journey a lot more enjoyable and will keep you motivated.
2. Forming Habits (Nis)
When most of us think of habits, there is usually a lingering negative connotation, but that doesn't have to be the case.
Habit formation can be one of the most useful techniques for getting more sh*t done.
Steve Jobs is a perfect example of this. Believe it or not, he didn't wear the same black turtleneck and jeans every single day as a fashion statement.
Rather, as one writer put it, “People have a daily cognitive stamina that represents their ability to do any intellectual work … [picking out] a black turtleneck from the top of a pile of black turtlenecks has a cognitive load of zero.”
In essence, what we perceived as a fashion faux pas was an intentional habit formed to save creative energy for things that matter. The same strategy is employed by President Barack Obama, who only wears two different suits.
Think about all the repetitive things you do and how much cognitive energy gets wasted on them. James Clear has a fantastic white paper explaining how you can turn these repetitive motions (and even bad habits) into time and energy-saving habits.
I suggest you get into the habit of making good habits.
3. Making Time For Yourself (by Zion)
Startups tend to glorify long hours as a rite of passage, and I got caught up in the hype. For a period of time, work consumed every part of my life. Worst of all, misguided guilt prevented me from disconnecting in order to make time for myself.
Early on, you are the startup, and your body is your greatest asset. After dedicating 90 to 100 hours a week to my work, I completely burned out and fell into depression.
Today, I still struggle to find balance, especially since I am working on growing my company, 99 Robots. By cultivating positive habits such as meditation and exercise, I am more productive and can ensure sustainable growth. This benefits not just me, but also my startup and my teammates.
If you see space in your life for personal time, you shouldn't feel obligated to fill that void with work. It took a long time for me to see that putting myself before work was the best thing to do. It was refreshing.
4. Putting First Things First (Zion)
I didn't realize just how ineffective I was with my time until I learned the relationship between urgency and importance. In a startup, there are many tasks that don't seem important at first glance, but can't wait until they become urgent.
At my first company, we were running low on cash and everyone had bills to pay. Our desperation led to a promotion that worked out a little too well.
We made more sales in one week than we usually did in four months. In the end, we were backed up for two months, and people were not happy. The phone was ringing nonstop with complaints, from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep.
Zuckerberg's mantra for Facebook, “Move fast and break things,” doesn't actually work for every company. We jumped right in and broke everything.
Our lack of planning left us perpetually stuck in crisis mode and constantly consumed by urgency.
5. Aiming Higher (Nis)
Mind you, we didn't even have a website yet, let alone a blog.
I knew there was no way I could meet the objective, so I half-heartedly checked out Twitter cards and a few other lead capture techniques. I ended the week having questionably generated one lead.
To my surprise, my CEO told me my objective for the following week would be 20 leads.
Twenty leads!? I just showed him I couldn't even get five. And that's when he wrote this on the wall:
That week I did my research and, by utilizing a bunch of nifty tactics, churned out 10 leads. Only half my weekly goal, but double the previous week's goal.
Anyone can set an easily achievable goal and achieve it.
But by setting goals that at first seem unreasonable, you get out of your comfort zone and force yourself to solve challenges you would have otherwise avoided.
You'll find yourself constantly falling short, but continuously optimizing a process that you didn't think could get more efficient or effective. Five months later, we're generating more than 150 leads per week.
6. Seeing Things Through (Zion)
When you first start something, you are absolutely obsessed, ecstatic and even infatuated with the potential of your new venture.
But when you aren't getting the expected traction after a few months -- or even a few days -- it is easy to feel discouraged. You may want to give up and move on to the next thing.
Others have a different problem: Once they see some growth, they want to take on the next thing right away.
Entrepreneurs are obsessed with opportunity, and they tend to see the potential in things long before others do.
It can be very easy to displace that excitement, and see your current project as no longer “shiny” or fun.
Instead, always remember why you started your journey in the first place, and stick with it.
7. Getting On The Same Page (Zion)
This is going to be a problem you run into over and over again.
The larger your team, the more likely communication will be a growing concern of yours, unless you have the proper processes in place.
That's why it's important to manage expectations, and understand what everyone is doing to move the needle for your organization each day.
When you're first starting off, think about where you want to be six months from now.
Boil that down into a few components: What goals do you have to hit each month to meet your success criteria? What about weekly? What do you have to do each day, no matter what, before you leave the office?
Understanding your team's definition of success allows you to benchmark your progress and celebrate your wins.
Our team checks in every day to hold each other accountable. Before 9 am each morning, we post our daily deliverables, our plan for the day and how long we think each task is going to take us.
At the end of each day, we report in and let the team know everything we actually got done, and the roadblocks that prevented us from finishing.
This may reveal overlaps in efforts, identify critical problems sooner and help teammates set realistic expectations for what they can actually accomplish in a day.
8. Learning (Nis)
Learning seems like an obvious goal, but many first-time entrepreneurs would be frightened by how little they've learned, if they really think about it.
I live by what I call, “the six month rule of stupidity.” It is really a simple rule and it works like this:
If I look back at a six-month-younger version of me, and don't think that version of me was stupid, I need to be doing something else with my life.
Essentially, if you're a first-time entrepreneur (or really, anyone at all), and you aren't substantially more informed about life now than you were six months ago, you're doing everything wrong. It means you're either in the wrong business or not focused on the right things (ah, the point of this article, indeed).
Learning is the best investment you can make in yourself. It isn't synonymous with "winning," but the two are highly correlated.
The more learning you do, the more winning follows.
9. Creating Opportunities (Nis)
One of the biggest regrets I have from my first startup is not getting out of the building more often. I don't mean that I didn't meet a ton of people, or speak to customers on a daily basis. I did, but it was haphazard and generally not my core focus.
In hindsight, meeting people created the most opportunities for my company, and that was the best investment we could have made.
Building a product is fun, and of course requires a ton of attention, but you'd be surprised with how sh*tty a product you can get away with if you know the right people in the right way at the right time.
You can always iterate on the product later, but you can't tap into the network you didn't create.
10. Finding Mentors (Zion)
No matter what you're doing in life, there will always be someone who knows just a little bit more than you do. It doesn't even matter what stage you're at.
Sometimes, you just don't know what you don't know, and mentors can help guide you through some challenging situations. At times they can even help you circumvent some of the struggle.
Mentors offer amazing insights learned through their own mistakes, both big and small. Take full advantage of this.
This gives you a huge head start, allowing you to reach greater distances faster than even your mentor did. Their learning can become your foundation.
Nis Frome is a full-stack marketer with a passion for UI/UX and storytelling. He writes content and builds products for Alpha UX, a software company that generates real-time user insight for Fortune 500 product teams. His articles have been published in Forbes, Content Marketing Institute, and UX Mag.