tl;dr: startup life is a roller-coaster ride with highs, lows & many lessons learnt along the way.
After quitting work in September 2012 this has been my first chance to write about my (limited) startup experience as a struggling entrepreneur and co-founder of Contactable. It has basically been a roller-coaster ride so far, filled with highs and lows that are unpredictable at best. But along the way many lessons have been learnt, and many more to be learnt.
- Making it to (top 20) interview stage of Startmate – arguably Australia’s leading incubator – only having worked on it for a couple of months while others have worked on it possibly longer.
- A sense of accomplishment as I feel like I’m working on something that might make a small dent in the universe (even if it’s a small dent).
- A sense of freedom as I get to choose what I want to work on. This comes from having a say in strategic direction and knowing that the input I provide counts.
- Staying hungry – it is the adrenaline you get due to a combination of fear of failure & a limited personal runway that seems to become shorter everyday. This feeling of hunger makes you realise that you know that you need to make your idea successful, if not you’ll just be a pauper.
- Stress (about making money & coming up with a ‘sound’ business model)
- Stress (emotional stress I cause on others e.g. girlfriend, co-founder)
- Stress (fear of failure)
- Stress (working on a problem that matters – is the problem I am working on a ‘blood on the floor’ problem? Should I pivot? Should I consider working on a completely different problem entirely?)
- You have to think long and hard about what you are doing and why you are doing it. This matters especially to me as I have a limited personal runway.
- Apply the ‘Lean Startup’ approach whenever possible (primarily testing assumptions at a fast pace) and sometimes taking a ‘leap of faith’ approach.
- Learning curve is high so brace yourself as you will be driving at 200+km/h. This includes (but not limited to) learning things like growth hacking (applying analytics), marketing, hustling and pitching.
- Being a ‘jack of all trades’ helps in entrepreneurship. So far, this has included coding, doing cold-calls, hustling, dabbling in design as well as a plethora of other activities that will be too long to list down. Luckily, I have an awesome co-founder (Shaon) who has stuck it out with me. The only reason why you have to be this way is you just don’t have enough funds to hire people. I would love to hand-off administrative tasks if possible :-)
- Hustling is a very important part of entrepreneurship – on equal par (if not more than) with coding + design. To believe the philosophy: ‘build it and they shall come’ relies on luck and I have seen this not work out in my previous work. I am not great at hustling and have realised this is one of the areas I need to become more proficient at. I am a bit of an introvert and I feel that entrepreneurship will hopefully get me ‘out of my shell’
- Pivoting is sometimes inevitable as it’s a manifestation of learning. Not sure where Contactable is headed, but with the recent release of Evernote Hello 2.0 (it has almost all the features we were planning e.g. audio business card exchange + syncing with calendar) it has caused a bit of a low but luckily we have rethought our UVP and are testing some of our assumptions as I’m writing this.
- Long hours is inevitable as a startup entrepreneur as you are smaller than your other competitors. And what makes you great is that you are nimble in nature due to your size and also means you are faster at executing.
- Momentum is important. Every time I hear something that is encouraging, it gives me an extra boost of energy to continue on with my endeavours.
- Execution is everything. People are full of ideas, but finding the ‘right’ team to build it and actually building it is the hard part. Hopefully, you will hear more about this in a latter blog post as I believe this is a massive pain point for entrepreneurs :-)
- The entrepreneurial community is a very helpful community and one that many people I have seen leverage. More so with the Silicon Beach Australia which has been a very helpful mailing list to date.
These are just some of my thoughts and hopefully I will get time to blog more about this and expand on some of these points more.