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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

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.

BRustein1. 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!"

Darrah Brustein, Finance Whiz Kids | Equitable Payments

Price2. 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

Arnold3. 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."

Tyler Arnold, SimplySocial Inc.

Karuza4. 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."

Andy Karuza, brandbuddee

Capo5. 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."

Derek Capo, Next Step China

Cohen6. 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!"

Trace Cohen,

Schrage7. 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."

Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

Reitzin8. 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."

Jared Reitzin, MobileStorm Inc.

Kjelgaard9. 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."

Thomas Kjeldgaard, SplashPost

Castro10. 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!"

Ronnie Castro, Porch

Bahn11. 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

Costigan12. 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."

Michael Costigan, Youth Leadership Specialist

Sharam13. 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."

Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, AirPR

Koester14. 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."

Eric Koester, DCI

Wu15. 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."

Brandon Wu, AdCrafted

Jay Wu16. 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."

Jay Wu, A Forever Recovery

Jackovin17. 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."

John Jackovin, Bawte

Photo of start-up founder courtesy of Shutterstock.