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Nuno Tomás for Runtime Revolution

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4 Lessons from Startup Life

Back in 2012, I decided that I needed a change in my life… Even today I remember how I felt in the morning before going to work, so sad that I would almost start crying in desperation. Then, like a glass of water in the middle of the desert came an opportunity to be a part of a little startup that was taking its first steps. It was like a breath of fresh air, and the desperation I had felt before turned into a beaming smile when going to work. Over the course of three years I experienced a wide variety of experiences, both good and bad, with lots of downs and a few small victories. After leaving the startup, I started to see the similarities between building a business from scratch and my day-to-day relationships and challenges.

First things first, I’ve learned to COMMUNICATE!

Every startup starts essentially the same way; you found a problem, a glitch, something that results in a loss of money or time for some or a bunch of people. The first thing you want to know is how many people. One ? Ten ? One million? How can you do that? Look for those individuals and talk with them. Share your idea, understand if the issue is really there. If so, you have something to start from; an implementation that will (hopefully) solve it. You do it, and then what? You’ve got to talk with the people using it. Talking with customers will be a never-ending story that will follow you during the entire journey with that company. Communication with your clients is one of the keys to creating a successful business.

Years of startup life taught me that I must not be afraid of hearing both the good and the bad, it’s part of the process of evolving as a person. If you don’t communicate, you have to guess, and even if you’re Nostradamus, you are bound to fail most of the times. I can’t say for certain how things used to be, but these days I feel that a lot of people in the offline world save their thoughts for themselves, even if it’s something that’s eating them from the inside. That can’t be good for anyone. Today when I have something to say I take action and make sure that I’m able to express what I feel. Whether the feedback I have is right or wrong, what’s important is to let it out of my system and then move on to the next thing. I’ve started to place a lot of importance in listening and making myself be heard.

I’ve learned that I have to set goals, big or small and measure their progress!

In a startup, if you don’t set goals you don’t know how you are. Am I doing the right thing? Am I improving? Not setting goals makes it tough to know where I am and if I’m close to where I want to be in X days/months/years from now. To prevent this, you must set goals in a startup. Start with major ones, like “Get to one million customers in a year”, and then minor ones that will guide you towards the major ones. You can’t get to one million without passing through one thousand, then thousand, a hundred thousand, and so on. Goals are always changing, every day you know more, and the course you take one day might not be the best another. Nevertheless, if you don’t control how you’re doing and what you’re achieving, you won’t understand if you’re going forward.

So now I’m always setting goals in my life, be they big or small; long or short-term; for my personal or professional life. They can be subjective, like being happier; they can be objective, like writing twelve blog posts in one year. No matter what they are, I set them so I can set a path to accomplish them. Take for example those twelve posts in one year, it’s simple math that I’ve got to do one each month. So that’s the path for that goal. I will be thrilled if in the end I can cross this off my list, and, even if I don’t finish, I will be better off than when I started.

I’ve learned not to overcomplicated things

Working in a startup and being in an environment where startups were all around, I heard many stories and lived through some myself. And it’s always the same storyline, we spot a problem, a glitch and think there’s money to be made here! Next step? Start solving the problem. Then we start thinking, if we do it like this other problems will be solved; and maybe if we add this other feature…we now have two ways to address the problem — And what about the people who have this problem, but in blue, and red? And let’s not forget green!! Now we’re on the right track! Thus, the simple problem that could be solved in a month’s worth of work for one person morphs into five months work for ten people. We all know where this leads to. What I’ve seen over and over again is that people do the same shit even if they’ve gone through it once before. I speak for myself, we must have gone through this cycle four or five times until we learned.

It took some time, but now I make it a rule for every situation. When I have a problem, I start cooking up a solution. When I come up with one, before I start doing anything I ask — is this the simplest or best option? Can I make it better or easier and still be an effective solution? This process ends when I reach the best choice that will take me the least amount of time to apply. Maybe it will not solve the problem for 100% of the cases, but most of the time I’m good with solving it for 60% of the cases as a first step. After I’m done with that, I start thinking of a solution for the rest, always repeatedly applying the same principles. Now I get results faster, have less stress, and always feel like I’m moving forward.

I learned that people like to talk instead of making decisions

There’s a lot to do in a startup. Decide the next feature, how to placate an angry customer, the marketing plan, the list never ends. Ok, let’s get in a room for 5 minutes and decide what to do. Well, it’s never 5 minutes. I’ve had several of those 5 minutes stretching to 4 hours. That’s a lot of time, but that’s not even my biggest issue. After 4 long hours of conversation, the meeting would suddenly end with nothing being decided. WTF just happened? What? Just a bucket full of nothing. I’m a bit ashamed of the several times that I was led into a situation like this.

People like to talk. I like to talk. But these days, if we need to make a decision I cut the small-talk, and everything I say is to guide the meeting towards reaching a decision. Something that serves as an answer as to why we had this meeting. If people are getting off-topic, I stop them. If it’s not important or relevant, there’s no room for it in the meeting. Also, no one leaves until we make a decision and know what the next steps will be. There has to be closure. Everyone involved has to leave knowing what the next move will and what they are expected to do.

Today, one thing that makes me triumphant is knowing that the time that I spent working on a startup, even if I did not become rich, gave me some nice experiences and life lessons. I’ve become a better professional and a better person.

If you have any comments or feedback on this subject I’d love to hear from you!

Nowadays I work at Runtime Revolution. One of our focus is to help startups getting their ideas out of the door, and help them not make some of the mistakes that we’ve seen all over these years.

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