Lessons from a failed startup
Trust your gut, understand your heart, and open your mind
In failing to build a company, I have learned many things. Core to all of them is that a company is not a product. Ideas change, products change, people change. We “pivot”, rapidly, relentlessly, sometimes ruthlessly.
Managed well, change is a catalyst. Managed badly, it can be catastrophic.
In this series, I try to explain the various ways in which I failed to understand this, and how I would endeavour to do better next time. You may notice that the style of these posts is more instructive than usual. Remember that these are mostly addressed to my future self, and as such, I am telling myself what to do; you, my dear article assimilator, can do whatever you want.
Yes, yes, I know. Data is the new God. We can’t make any decision without spreadsheets.
But when you start a company, typically, you have no data. You don’t have customers, you don’t have a product, and you don’t know where to start.
When you don’t have something to ground you, it can be very easy to be swayed by someone a little more charismatic than you. This whole process is so exciting, after all!
And yet, you do have something to keep you level: your gut. Pay attention to the small sensations going on in your body when your co-founders propose a direction, or when you’re trying to figure out how to approach your first customer. At this point, your instinct is all you have. Use it well.
Sometimes, something won’t sit right. Listen to your inner monologue. Take your time. It’s early, and you’re in no rush; it’s OK to do absolutely nothing for a moment until you figure out what it is that’s bothering you.
Other times, it will just be nerves; a fear of the unknown, or anxiety about exposing yourself. That’s fine too. Acknowledge it, understand it, perhaps even say so out loud.
And then do it anyway. After all, this is the start. It’s time to explore new ideas.
More in the series
- Focus on the problem, not the solution
- If the company goals change, the company should probably change too
- "Do research" is not a corporate strategy
- Your corporate values transcend your product vision
- Trust your gut, understand your heart, and open your mind
- Go to therapy with your co-founders
- Explore the terrain first
- Unless someone cares, don't waste your time
- Code is a liability; ship without coding, if possible
- Do less, and do it better
- Agile methods are tools to try more ideas in less time
- Until you have traction, money is a trap
- If you don’t know how to do it, that’s your biggest problem
- Roles can be fluid, but they must be defined
- Camaraderie is helpful, but no substitute for working together
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