8 life lessons startup entrepreneurs found out the hard way
Starting a new business can be incredibly daunting. The life of a startup is a tumultuous one, full of financial instability and risk. But it’s not all bad – startups are also a great place to learn new skills and gain life lessons.
There are some things, however, that every entrepreneur wishes they’d known from the beginning, saving time, money and anguish in the process.
I spoke with both successful and budding entrepreneurs to find the hard life lessons they’ve learned on the way to taking their business to the top.
1. Coffee and the recruitment process
“The number-one thing really is the importance of coffee!”, explains Human Innovation CEO Lee Powney. He may be joking, but he notes that there are four coffee places within a couple of minutes’ walk from the office, so clearly caffeine isn’t to be overlooked.
Powney’s more serious advice is about people and the importance of surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals. It’s not an easy process, but it’s one that Human Innovation eventually benefited from.
“We have now have cracked the code of exactly the type of people we want in the business,” says Powney. “If I’d have known that when I first started, I would probably be two years ahead [of where we are] now.
“It’s the culture. Attitude and aptitude, but how to find those people – that’s a painful trial-by-fire process. If I’d have known that, I’d be much further ahead.”
2. Never underestimate the power of networking
They say it’s not what you know, but who you know that gets you somewhere in life. While that adage isn’t exactly encouraging for no-name startups, key networking really is important for an early-stage startup or SME. Profusical’s Jordan Taylor discovered this early on, and it’s thanks to this that he’s been able to form his still-growing startup into what it is today.
“Making connections, asking for advice and just asking the experienced people within my industry questions has been so helpful to the journey I’ve made so far. Harnessing and nurturing these connections has been vital to Profusical’s success.
“By genuinely caring about my professional network and communicating efficiently, I’ve developed some great relationships.”
3. Focus on your team, rather than your product
Quiqup’s Bassel El Koussa echoes Powney’s sentiments, but adds that you should focus on building a strong team in the early days, rather than focusing all of your energy into a product.
“It comes down to team, relationships and communication, and how important it is to hire the right people and motivate them in the right way,” he says. If everyone that’s part of your team is really giving the company their all, the product will be far better than if some members of the team are putting forward half-hearted attempts.
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“As with many founders, we were very focused just on the product to begin with, but quickly realised how important the team is too – it really is a key factor in our success.”
4. Don’t put off the big questions
Starting a business also means facing a lot of questions, both about the market generally and from pesky hounds like myself. Takumi’s Mats Stigzelius believes that instead of handling the easy questions first, you should tackle the big problems head on, and then focus on the rest bit by bit.
“There are so many things you don’t know when you start a new company in a new sector,” he says. “You have to figure out which of those questions pose an existential threat or are key drivers of your eventual success, and try to answer them as early as possible in your startup journey.”
5. Stop worrying and start testing!
The importance of getting a product to market is unparalleled in the startup world. While you could sit on your product and keep polishing until it’s perfect for consumer release, you’re definitely better off getting it out of the door and then iterating.
This is what serial entrepreneur John Rampton believes. “Too many times I’ve thought of an idea and then contemplated various scenarios and how it could play out,” writes Rampton on Entrepreneur. “That’s needed to some extent, but the best approach is to just start building and testing an idea.”
6. Don’t expect success to happen overnight
When you’re sat on the most exciting idea to date, there’s a tendency to expect that everyone else will feel the same way about it straight away. That, obviously, doesn’t happen, but it’s a hard feeling to shake when you’re starting on the road to your great idea. As Veeqo founder Matt Warren found out, you need to rein your goals in if you want to see success in the early days.
“I wish I was aware that my vision for Veeqo would take time,” explains Warren, “and it would be unrealistic to think that I could achieve what I wanted to achieve in the first year. I wished I had built only a part of the vision, but had done so to a very high standard.”
“[When I started Veeqo] it was average at best. This meant it was very difficult to acquire customers very early on. It meant that Veeqo didn’t initially stand out to customers, or differentiate itself from the competition.”
7. Do it because you love it
One piece of excellent advice that every entrepreneur needs to know before they jump into their next project comes from Giggypop’s Alice Shyy: do something because you love it.
“If you’re going for something out of love, don’t worry about fundraising, or monetising,” explains Shyy. “Set a limit and a target for yourself, and then do what feels good. It’s much easier, and you’ll do better!” It’s true, too. If you can really believe in the product you’re developing or backing, it’s far easier to get others passionate about your project – a positive attitude is infectious after all.
Of course, if you don’t quite make it – and it’s worth remembering a lot of startup projects don’t ever make it out of the door – Shyy believes you can be safe in the knowledge you did your best. “If you don’t hit your target in your set time-limit, you can move on knowing you made no compromises.”>
8. Work with others in your community to strengthen your ideas
The idea of “going at it alone” is foolhardy when it comes to starting your own business. We’ve heard many times about how important it is to work with a team of like-minded individuals, but Hired’s UK GM Sophie Adelman believes being part of a community is just as important.
“There’s a real attitude of ‘paying it forward’ in the UK tech scene,” explains Adelman. “People are always willing to offer their time and advice to help you think and work through a problem.” Besides offering up advice, these people inspire you to do more with your business and, in working with them, you can benefit from a support network in the future too.
“I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to meet and work with so many incredible, like-minded individuals, who are all driven by a mission and the desire to change lives,” adds Adelman.