There are plenty of blog posts written by experienced entreprenuers sharing their advice after founding several businesses, but I wanted to write one from the perspective of a person in the midst of building his first. Here’s what I’ve learned so far as I get ready to launch CentUp, a company I’ve spent the last 3 months working on.
1.) Modesty isn’t helpful in the early days. If you don’t speak confidently about yourself and your company, your audience won’t be as compelled to try out what you have to offer. You can be introverted (I am), but when you already have people’s attention, take full advantage of it.
2.) You’ve got to understand design and technology. Having a design and technology bent is neccessary to build a company today, even if you’re not a designer or developer. In other words, if you enjoy spending your “free time” reading about such things, you’re in good shape. A well informed CEO is a more-likely-to-be-around-in-ten-years CEO.
3.) You have a lot more “customers” than you think. You should understand how to talk to each of them differently. There are many people who don’t directly lead to sales revenue, but might have a direct impact on those that do.
4.) Marketing and personality have so much to do with beating competitors. You should remember this even as you’re knee-deep in developing your technology. I’m biased as a former marketer, but widgets are a dime-a-dozen; it’s how you sell yours that builds a long-term business.
5.) Know when and how to spend your time. I desperately want to learn how to code, but begrudgingly know that my time wouldn’t be best spent that way right now. (Someday…)
6.) You will be surprised by the people who are willing to help you…or not help you. Learn from those surprises and use those lessons to guide your future requests for assistance. Your personal network will always be there. Before you tap them, see how far you can get by simply reaching out to smart strangers.
7.) Be mindful of what you say on social media sites. I used to have a job that (to some degree) restrained me from saying anything I wanted. Then I quit, and for a while, said whatever the f**k I wanted. But, then I remembered I am still representing a brand. It’s ok to be snarky and complain, but do so intelligently and in a defendable way. In other words, have a thought process behind your opinions. That way when you get called out (and you will), you can mitigate the issue.
8.) It’s incredibly valuable to have some years of experience in corporate America. Nothing against the young folks graduating from college (or dropping out) to start companies, but not spending some time working with or for bigger, more established companies can create huge obstacles in the future. Primarily, it means you’re going to have to learn far more lessons while building your own company. You’re also likely going to have to overcome the perception that you’re ignorant when selling B2B and B2C products.
9.) Quitting my full-time job had to happen. I fought this reality for a long time, but once I dedicated the majority of my time to building a business, I knew it was true. And besides the time-factor, you’re simply not credible as a founder until you’re your primary boss.
10.) Blog posts that offer advice (like this one) aren’t supposed to be instructions – they’re reminders. It’s likely that you can refute every point I’ve made above, and for that matter, every point shared in similar types of posts. Everyone has a different path, but yours will be smoother if you analyze it along the way. Let this type of “advice” primarily act as a reminder to reflect on your past decisions, and to think more critically about the ones you’re going to make in the future.