In the past couple of years, I have failed so many times trying to build a startup before I landed on the business idea that worked, CarsXE. I have a lot more to learn, of course, but here are some lessons I want to share with you that I wish someone just told me when I first started:
- The building is the easy part, the marketing and user acquisition is the hard part. If you build it chances are they won't come.
- So many things will go wrong along the way, so keep in mind that launching a product is a long-term commitment and not some boom-or-bust type of situation.
- Be profitable from the get-go or at least have a clear path to profitability. The chances of getting millions of dollars to throw around acquiring customers with no profitable model are statistically super-slim.
- Don't quit your job without a plan, that's just dumb, "for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today." - Malcolm X
- Do one thing really well, instead of a hundred little things in a mediocre way. In theory, if you're a one-stop-shop people won't go elsewhere but in reality, that's not the case. Think of the "productivity tools" that have everything, almost all of them are never as successful as the specific tools for specific functions. You'll find most teams use a combination of tools such as Slack, Google Docs and Trello or their equivalent for example.
- People seldom get as excited as you for a new feature coming out, and every feature needs to be maintained, thereby taking more of your time so consider very carefully what you put out there.
- Iterate quickly, you will most likely fail and there is no problem in that but learn to move on. Start many small projects!
- Don't build it all before you launch it. It takes time for people to adopt new features, by slowly introducing features, your users won't feel as overwhelmed with the product.
- Most "social network" ideas are bad ideas. People expect them to be free, people don't want another social network, and monetization requires scale which is incredibly difficult to get and expensive. It took Twitter more than a decade to become profitable and Snapchat is still losing money. I'm not saying don't go for it, but serving a niche community will do you way better.
- For some reason, apps and startups centered around events have a hard time growing. Every events-startup founder I've ever talked to complains about how crappy Facebook Events are, but guess what people continue to use them and competing against Facebook isn't a great strategy.
- Listen to your customers, but not all of their ideas are good ideas either. Serving your customers should be your number one priority, and customers will often inform you of their needs which is super important when you're evaluating your roadmap and growth strategy. It's ok to tell a customer that not our focus or that their idea is something you plan to introduce later on.
- Learn to prioritize. Write down every idea that comes your way but develop a strategy to prioritize those ideas so you understand what led to that decision rather than basing your decisions on whims.
- Take counsel. When you vote and make decisions as a group you are far more likely to have better outcomes and support one another than when you have a selfish approach to decision making.
- You don't have to quit. Not all businesses are going to be billion-dollar businesses and that's fine. If you can manage to have a fulltime job and run a side-hustle that's cool. You're not less of an entrepreneur for doing that.
These are just a few of the things I learned from running several businesses. I continue to use some of these principals when I think about new businesses. What would you add, remove or update in this list?