I've been working with my startups for the last 3 years, founding 2 during the time being. I started my journey when I was 21, roughly 2 years after finishing my degree. Ever since I was college, I always wanted to create something big and change the world. I keep on dreaming that one day, I will make the world a better place. Startups back then were a craze and it made me jump into the hype that I never thought of the consequences. Just so you know, everything in my journey was started from scratch. No connections, no money, no business background, no privilege, and no office. Just me, my partners, our devices, and our access to the internet. Not to mention Starbucks.
Nowadays, people want to start a startup without having a clear notion of "WHY". The internet has given so many success stories that people become insecure to quit their jobs to start their own and due to the rise of telecommunications, people become more vocal about freedom of work which shows being an employee a sin. Admittedly, I was one of them. I didn't know what to start, what revenue model to form, and who to hire. I just know that I wanted to create something big. I told myself I don't want to become an employee for the rest of my life. I became a verdict of "Quit your 9-5 to start your own". The internet is poisoning plenty of minds to do so yet little do they know they are victimizing people of no experience to jump on to a risky path. Why do you think 90% of startups fail? Possibly doing it for the wrong reasons if you ask me.
I've had my fair share of success and failures. I've earned and I've lost. The internet only portrays the success of founders but never do they report on the struggles they've been through. Running a startup is no joke and it's always an exchange of actions. You make friends, you lose some. You get clients, you lose some. You earn time, you lose time. People need to know that every comfort is exchanged with sorrow. People who want to start a startup soon must realize that they will be experiencing more pain than comfort. The advice you see on the internet seems too perfect that it never applies to most of us.
So I'm here to tell you my advice that are all are based on my experience with no sugar-coated positivity. No such overhyped terms like "disruption". Just straight to the point. I want you to be successful so listen carefully.
1. Unsustainable Vision
We all love to embrace our idea too much that we don't let it go. That's fine and it's the reason why we wanted to start right? Somewhere along the way, your vision might not work then you realize it ain't feasible. The problem is, due to your stubbornness, you stay on the same strategy 'till the point that you've run out of money yet, your resiliency is putting you to the test by fixing something that's not fixable anymore. Remember, a startup is a balance of profit and vision. If you only work for the vision, that's a passion project. If you work only for profit, that's just plain business. If you really have to, pivot your vision to a different strategy then make sure there's a need by the market.
If you have a vision without a market, it's useless.
2. Picking the Bad Co-founders
The success of a startup is the people behind it. If one of your co-founders don't fit the chemistry, that would be a problem.
I've worked with people with different backgrounds and trust me, it's hard to deal with people who have a different perception than you. I'm not saying the difference of opinion is bad, but the difference in ethics is. Say you are well committed and ready to give your all but your other founders don't give the mutual effort as you. It's hard and you can't help but feel bad since you'll eventually compare efforts with one another. Honestly, I've done the same early on my startup journey and only to have realized this soon. It's even harder when your partner has a stubborn personality and no amount of persuasion can change his mind.
Every person has their own personality so you need to learn when to adjust. Of course, the case is not always about you adjusting but to everyone as well. If you know that a person cannot work out with you in the long run, then look for another partner. It's better to spend a long time looking for the right partner than to deal with someone that could be detrimental to your startup. Once you have a partner, it's going to be hard to kick him/her out. I get that nobody's perfect and there's no perfect formula to read someone's characteristics. Gut feels are always your best friend and when your gut says no, it's saying something that you must consider. With respect to that...
People look for partners because they only needed to fill in the gap, not knowing the ethics behind the person. If one partner is focused purely on profit while you on the vision, it's going to be hard. Both you and your partners must have mutual goals for the business. Just because the person is a world-class marketeer doesn't mean he's aligned with your vision. He may acquire 1000 users a day but growth won't matter if conflicts always arise.
When you look for a partner, make sure they are well committed and no ethical issues will ensue. People change over time so don't expect their attitude to be the same as the first time you've met them. Be ready for change and conflicts that may come along the way.
3. There is no perfect formula on how things work
Don't listen to advice on the internet that tell you "Do this and you will be successful" and "Only do this and you will earn $1M a year". That's just clickbait. This article could be a clickbait too depending on how you look at it.
You see, every person is different and we all have our own ways to make things work. An example would be you are a night-owl person while others are day peeps. When say you cultivate a culture to meetup daily in the office, you'll need to find the right balance for all parties. Don't just force everyone to follow due to your personal interest. Another is when your partner lives 30KM away from you then your partner decides to pick their place, it wouldn't be fair for you. Instead, better if you could select an area that's both halfway from your place.
We've heard advice from influencers such as Bill Gates and Gary Vaynerchuck and you can't help but listen to them. Just because they're great doesn't mean they're perfect. Don't mind their advice if it conflicts on your own. Make sure you are decisive with your decisions and you believe that your chemistry works for you.
Similarly, this works on other things like decision-making, profit-sharing, and a whole lot more. Figure out how things work for you.
4. You don't need to quit your full-time job
Plenty of people quit their job only to jump in the battlefield unarmed. You see, the startup hype is not a race of what age you've started nor how much media attention you've got. It's about making sure you're ready to take off your training wheels the moment you said "HELL YES".
While you're still employed, earn your resources as much as you can while earning. Pay for subscriptions, experiment premium technologies, buy courses, gather equipment, and learn. The moment you leave your employment, don't expect to acquire resources that easy even if you plan to raise investment. Work on it part-time by all means and test the waters when it's clear to strike. Assess the risk and make sure you've gathered enough resources before making that leap.
Remember, being an employee is NOT a sin. Don't succumb to pressure told by successful people to drop out and start now. It just doesn't work for everyone.
I've seen friends who commit part-time yet are more successful than I am. Looking through their personalities, they all have a great amount of commitment and a well-grounded reason to work with their startups. You can be successful even if you don't leave your full-time job.
5. Getting sad and losing friends is fine. It's part of the process
Running a startup will put your decisions into the test. You can't avoid conflicting ideas with one another and for others, they don't take things professionally. I lost a close friend during the process because he took things personally. Since ideation, we've been together but since he has a different perspective, he took it his ways and decided to burn bridges. A bitter pill I had to swallow but I believe it was the right decision to move forward.
You can't please everyone. It's not your job to satisfy people in the team but that doesn't mean you're immune to criticism. Do note that there's a difference between constructive criticism versus personal attacks. Figure out whether it's your flaw or theirs. Have an open mind, assess objectively, and make a decision accordingly.
6. Have a well-grounded purpose on why you started and stay true to your beliefs
You've started because you wanted to create a cause. Stay true to your words and don't let the other's judgment pressure you to do something different. Always look back at WHY did you start. Try to finish what you've started and believed that things will go in place (realistically).
I'm sure you know the feeling when you see huge hypes (say blockchain) then you suddenly want to try it out. Stop right there. That's just a distraction to believe your vision. Don't let these short term gratifications affect your long term goals.
Another is working for a profit-only purpose will demoralize you overtime when numbers don't add up. Stay true to your beliefs, don't be a greedy pig, and keep the vision first before profits.
7. Never take things for granted. Imagine everything's at stake
This is one thing I've learned the hard way. When we're employees, we tend to just spend like nothing then wait for payday to refill our wallets. The thing is, there is no payday when you become an entrepreneur. You risk everything with the hopes of tripling your returns in the next few years. Your optimism won't save you either. Expect for the worse and always have a mindset that things you've gambled in the table would never return. This is so you don't feel disappointed. Not only this will help you become resourceful but also to assess risk carefully.
That's the beauty of being a ground-up entrepreneur. The mindset of no recurring income will force you to create ways to survive.
8. Your commitment will decide your runway
It's not money that determines the survival but your presence. The core of every business is the founders behind it because even if you run out of funding, the business will still push through other means while keeping up with no cost. Commitment, on the other hand, is the act of loyalty to push with all your efforts through thick and thin. No commitments essentially mean you're done. It's like when running out of gas and your only option is to push the car. If you have no gas yet you have the determination to exert effort, the car will move forward.
When running a startup, be committed with all your heart. If you seem to give up along the way, ask yourself, why are you doing this in the first place?
9. Be frugal as much as possible
As with reference to my previous examples, frugality is your best friend. I've started my startups with little to no capital and only became a little dependent on cash when we received the money. Even when we had funds, we always took note of cost-effective options and considered all aspects before spending. This principle is not just for startups but life in general. It changes the way you see things like when canvassing malls for alternatives. You'll soon realize that you should've done this a long time ago and in a long while, you'll then figure you've saved tons of cash.
10. Win or lose, just enjoy the process
Remember that it's the journey that matters, not results. For me, it's not about winning, it's about the learning experience. Just try out new things, meet new people, get exposed to unheard stuff, and get to experience to be your own boss. Mistakes will come but every mistake is a lesson to learn. Even if you failed 10 ventures, every journey counts and each time you try again makes you stronger. Forget about people's judgment. Just enjoy the show!