Before venturing out into the wild world of entrepreneurship, I knew very little of what to expect. So now, eight months after founding my early-stage tech start-up, WorldBrain, I’ve had the chance to learn quite a lot. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be in the Boston area, which has a vibrant and collaborative community of entrepreneurs who’ve helped me, taught me a phenomenal amount, and given great insight into the start-up world along the way.
Knowing now what I didn’t then, I realize that there are several key lessons I wish I’d learned before starting out, so let me share with you what I’ve discovered. Here are the big five things you should know (and do) before founding your first start-up:
1. Get Used to Talking About Your Idea
So you have a great idea and you’re ready to start a company. At this point, the single most important thing you can do is to tell others about that idea and get some feedback on it. You may be tempted to hold your cards close to your chest to make sure no one will take your idea—but that’s the biggest mistake you can make.
When I started out, I was incredibly secretive about my company. And all that got me was more time standing alone nervously at networking events.
Don’t do this. Shout your plan from the rooftops, go to networking events and practice your pitch, and tell anyone and everyone you can find about your idea. If you’re afraid someone might steal it and start a multimillion-dollar company themselves, think again. You’re going to be asked again and again why you’re the best person (or team) to build your product, and you better have a great reason. Be brave, get out there, and tell the world what you’re thinking—even if you aren’t yet sure about all the details.
2. Ask as Many Dumb Questions You Can (to as Many Smart People You Can Find)
Speaking of those details, when you first start a company, there’s going to be a lot you don't know. But the good news is, you don't have to figure everything out on your own. Find as many entrepreneurs and experts in your field as possible and ask them questions about the challenges you’re currently facing.
Sure, it can be intimidating to admit you don’t know something integral to starting a business, like how to write a marketing plan or whether you should be an LLC or S-Corp. But it’s not about having all the answers—it’s about learning everything you can and discovering questions that you would have never thought to ask in the first place.
The most rewarding business relationships I have are with my mentors, and I didn’t even find them until I starting asking people for advice. There are plenty of fantastic people who have paved the road of entrepreneurship before you—go find them and seek their help.
3. Get Your Name Out There
You know your market, understand some things about your customers, and see the world in a unique way. If you didn’t have one or all of these things going for you, you probably wouldn’t be considering entrepreneurship in the first place.
So, even before you have a product, use what you know and share your viewpoint and expertise with your industry and the world. Try writing, blogging, and Tweeting about what you’re working on. A great way to start is by writing about what you’ve learned or about an interesting trend you’ve found in your industry or your market. This is about more than just pitching your idea: It’s a great way to connect with people in the start-up community and create excitement surrounding your company.
4. Go Skydiving, Bungee Jumping, or Base-Jumping
Or engage in another activity that gives you a similar adrenaline rush (bonus points if your life depends on trusting a stranger). Founding a start-up is going to be scary, unknown, and exhilarating—and it requires stepping seriously outside of your comfort zone. So take a stab at it in your non-work life. Find things you’ve always wanted to do, and start the practice of checking some badass things off that list. Get comfortable with fear, cozy up with change, and try something that previously sounded impossible.
5. Find a Way to Relax and Unplug
It’s incredibly stressful and time-consuming to start a company. Most people don’t really realize just how long the hours will be and just how much your company will become an extension of yourself. And in order to stay sane, you’ll need to balance that out. Learn about what helps you let loose and relax—running and enjoying long meals with close friends do the trick for me. Believe me, building quiet time and mindfulness into your day will put you and your company better off in the long run.
Most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously! You’re going to make mistakes, but remember (as hard as it may be) that not everything in the world rides on your shoulders (or your company). Entrepreneurship is a wild ride, but it should be a fun one, too.
Check out more from Start-Up Week at The Daily Muse!
Photo courtesy of Mike.
Laura Wallendal is Partner and Co-Founder of WorldBrain, part consultancy for emerging study abroad programs and part tech start-up. Prior to founding WorldBrain, Laura worked at one of the world's largest educational travel companies where she discovered her passion for the enrichment of education through travel and the meaningful integration of technology in the classroom. When not at work, Laura competes in mud runs, learns new languages and is based in Boston, MA.More from this Author