17 Start-Up Founders Tell Us: What I Wish I Knew
If you ever decide to forego a "real" job in favor of starting your own company, you're bound to make at least a few rookie mistakes. If you're lucky, most are the kind that are easy to fix and learn from. But most entrepreneurs, in hindsight, agree that there are some things you're better off being prepared for. Hindsight is definitely 20/20—especially when you're the boss.
To find out more, we asked a group of successful entrepreneurs to share the #1 thing they wish they knew before starting their companies. Consider these lessons you don’t have to learn the hard way.
1. Starting a Business is Stressful
I don't think enough people are honest about the challenges that come along with starting a business and how we often tie our identity to its success and struggles. I wish I'd known to surround myself with like-minded people out of the gate and found relaxation tools early on. I would have been a lot less stressed!"
2. Cross Your T's and Dot Your I's
When building a company over the long term, it's important to get all of the legal structures that go into the governance of the company right and have all of the i's dotted and t's crossed on all of your legal documents."
—Dan Price, Gravity Payments
3. Getting Through it Nearly Kills You
No matter what you do, you'll make it through. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The thing they don't tell you is that it nearly kills you."
4. Pay Attention to the Small Things
As we continue to develop our product based on customer feedback, I found that small things make a big impact on your bottom line. For instance, something as simple as a message that reassures people you won't sell or give away their information when they sign up helps increase the sign-up rate quite a bit."
5. Keep Customers Buying
Our first business model was a one-shot deal, and I noticed that given the cost of advertising, one-time customers weren't enough to justify the expense. Now we have the opportunity to produce multiple transactions over the entire lifetime of the customer built into our model."
6. Getting Help is Hard
When you first start your company, everyone is excited and ready to help. Then when it comes time to rely on them or get an introduction, things start to take longer, and you don't hear back from certain people. It's easy to give vocal support, but when tires meet the road, you will easily find who can and can't help in business. Hopefully this won't stop you!"
7. Working Smarter Will Help You Survive
I wish I knew that working smarter, not harder, is essential to surviving as an entrepreneur. You can get by working hard in the corporate world, but you won’t last long in small business ownership without working smart."
8. Hire to Your Weaknesses
Get real honest with yourself. Ask people what they feel you are bad at, and then hire people who are good at those things."
9. Focus on One Core Product
Most start-ups have a great vision and a great idea: 'It's going to be awesome, and we have a huge amount of ideas and features that are going to be in this start-up.' Focus only on the core product or business, get that built, and get out there! It's good to have a big picture of where to go, but then chop each feature or service off one by one until you're down to the minimum core product."
10. Be Prepared to Sacrifice
If you're serious about building a great, enduring company, you have to be willing to sacrifice some things. A vacation in the first year is likely going to be one of those things, so take one before you start!"
11. Being a Founder Is Lonely
Being a founder is depressing and lonely most of the time. But then, there are also moments where everything comes together, and there is no greater feeling of satisfaction in the world. Be prepared to experience a roller coaster of emotions, and make sure you have a support structure and exercise routine to carry you through the dark times."
—Eric Bahn, Hustle Con Media
12. Focus on a Niche
When most people start a business, they think big. There's nothing wrong with that from a goals perspective, but not being hyper-focused on serving a small audience when you're a start-up can actually inhibit growth. Many people try to sell too many services or solutions to too many people, rather than a few offerings to a very specific niche. By being a niche superstar, you can grow even quicker."
13. Hiring Great People is Difficult
It is so difficult to find great people, let alone hire them. The difference between hoping to build a great culture from people you haven’t met and having a personal network of the best people is the key for start-up success. Spend your time before starting your company getting to know as many great people as you can in key roles."
14. Be Ready to Adapt
The company you are running is inevitably about 10,000% different than the original idea or concept you began with. It's because the best entrepreneurs and business owners are Darwinian in that they adapt to the changing market conditions, or they die. Expect change and embrace the process; every company changes, but it's mostly how you adapt to that change that determines success."
15. Build Great Relationships
No business can survive without talented employees, eager buyers, reliable suppliers, and supportive stakeholders and communities. While building your product and looking at all the data you can collect in the digital age, don't forget to build close relationships and expand your network. It's all about people at the end of the day."
16. Keep a Journal
When I think back on starting up my company, the number one thing I wish I’d known is the usefulness of keeping a journal. Keeping a journal allows me to organize my thoughts, keep track of important ideas, and brainstorm new plans. If I’d known how useful it was originally, then I might not have made as many mistakes when I first started my business."
17. Embrace Mistakes
If you are like me and follow many relevant business people, you often see tweets like ‘5 things to avoid when starting your business' or similar posts. You may even read them. But here's the thing: None of that matters. Every journey is different. No two things work exactly the same. You will make mistakes. Embrace the fact that you made the mistake, learn from it, move on, and never repeat it."
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.More from this Author