These days, when someone asks me: “How are you doing?” – instead of making comments about my well-being, I right away start describing how the startup is going and what were the results for the past months.
It’s been almost two years ago, when with sparkling eyes and borderline crazy enthusiasm we elevator-pitched our current investor. After we’ve agreed to launch a pilot version of our startup, he wisely warned us that in our first years of startup we were going to get the word “holidays” out of our active vocabulary, would live off Chinese takeout and would almost never see our friends and family…and that’s exactly how it went. But then again, when a better time for that would be than when you’re 20-something years old?
All in all, it’s been an amazing journey, full of excitement, self-development and self-discovery along with accepting failures as a part of learning process. Proportionally, we’ve had about 5 loses to each one win, and despite reading numerous blogs and books on entrepreneurship, have learned some of the lessons only by failing… and sometimes failing quite hard.
In the times when I doubted myself along with our business concept, hearing stories of other entrepreneurs have helped me a lot. Therefore, I hope some of lessons I’ve learned will be relatable to others as well.
Business plan – the holy grail of a startup?
Having graduated from a program in business economics, I had an embedded idea that having a solid, 30-page long business plan is what it takes to start a company. Not sure if our investor ever bothered reading our very formal and long business plan full of bullet points, SWATs and whatever else they taught us at business school. But if he didn’t – that’s for the best. Most of the things in there didn’t even come close to be true in real life. Keeping it to two A4s with calculations and a list of assumptions or a visual presentation would have done a better job. Startup idea is a product you want to sell – and bullet points don’t seem to be very appealing, apparently.
Speed vs Quality
Spending months developing a perfect product, striving for perfection, and then finding out that no one actually cares or wants it, could be a soul-crashing experience (and we’ve definitely crashed our souls a couple of times). We gradually learned that launching a half-decent and bearable version and fixing problems on the go is a way to avoid losing time and efforts. Whenever I start forgetting it, I open my perfectly academically written and formatted, yet useless University Thesis, and realize that quality by itself does not make any impact.
You might need to get your hands dirty
It took us a lot of effort to get our first clients: spamming on Facebook, getting blocked from it, switching to promoting on Tinder instead; almost getting arrested for spraying the name of our company on the pavement in the middle of night, putting posters on trash cans and almost physically dragging people to visit our company for the first time. I am not going to continue the list, but resourcefulness, creativity, and thinking outside of box (as well as having someone in the network who might help with legal issues) is what got us through the first year.
People will be talking
Once you dare to get your product out there, people will start talking. It’s actually a great thing, since listening to customers feedback is the only way to improve the product, test assumptions and pivot at the right time. Same way, hearing thoughts of more experienced entrepreneurs and stakeholders can contribute significantly to the company’s growth. However, hearing a random Martijn with no relevant background or understanding of your business concept, talking about you company at a house party might not be something you want to take very personally. It can hurt a bit at first, but with the time you learn filter and cut the bs.
Parents can get a divorce, and co-founders might leave
Being co-founders of a startup might feel a lot like having a baby together. You watch him taking its first steps, spend sleepless nights together and feel extremely proud of any small achievements while uploading tons of photos to social media and probably annoying all the friends. It is a bonding experience, and in the moment, it feels like nothing can ruin the bond. But… even couples get divorced, but life goes on. It is just natural that one of the co-founders might not feel at the right place anymore, and the best thing to do is talk about it with the whole team, make a rational decision, and move on, continuing giving the “baby” a healthy environment he deserves.
Masha Moisseyeva, co-founder of Time Space