Startup Lessons Learned in a Year

Lessons learned from a year in entrepreneurship - A brief description of things I wish I had found out earlier and as well as reminders for myself for the future.

Ideas are not important

If you have a brilliant idea which you haven’t validated and created a prototype for, its worthless. If its a good idea, there are many people who have thought about it before. Most successful companies are not the first one trying out an idea - Google is not the first search engine, Heroku is not the first web applications host. Execution plays a great part. The idea actually becomes worth something when you have iterated over it several times, validated it and your business model is making revenue.

Your Startup is your team

As the idea doesn’t really matter, what matters is the team. Select the people in your team very carefully. Ideally you would want to start a company with someone you have known for a while and can fully trust. The team should be extremely capable, you do not want to work with mediocre people, at least in the beginning.

Validate before building

Validate that the problem you are trying to solve is actually a problem. Validate that the solution is actually monetizable. There are many companies working on products that are either not really significant enough problems for people to pay money. Ash Maurya explains how to do customer development very well in Running Lean.

Iterate

This concept has been repeated my many: solve the problem in the simplest way you can, get feedback, make small continuous improvements. Eric Ries explains why you should do this by taking the example of IMVU in The Lean Startup by .

Don’t neglect your health

Your health is more important than anything else. While hard work is very important, make sure you get enough sleep and exercise. Working extremely long hours and not getting any exercise is not sustainable in the long run.

Inbound marketing

Write a blog on topics that interest your users. Not only would this show your potential customers that you actually care about what you are doing (and you better do), it would also make you more visible in search engines. Read Inbound Marketing to learn more.

A/B testing and Cohort Analysis

Run data driven experiments and see what works and what does not. This is not just changing the color of the signup button when your product is ready and needs more traffic, AB test from the very beginning. Even when you are validating your idea, try out different ways to say what you business does(or might do in future). See how adding features changes your metrics.

Growth

Don’t spend money on marketing when the product is not ready. When you reach product-market fit, aim for a constant growth rate. You need to aim for a good conversion and retention rate before spending on acquisition.
Paul Graham has a great article on growth.

Types of Markets

Understanding what kind of market your startup is targeting is very important as it effects everything. It helps you better understand your customers, competition, how long it might take you to reach profitability.
Steve Blank explains Market Types in the second half of chapter 3 on his How to Build a Startup course on Udacity.

Trust your team

Make your whole team feel like they are a part of it. Ask them for their input, be transparent, make sure every one is as enthusiastic about the startup as you are. Get engineers to talk to customers. Curate ideas from everyone in the team instead of one person generating them.

Books over blogs

There are a lot of interesting blog posts about startups but it’s a waste of time to read too many of those. You can learn a lot more by reading a book on the topic. Books provide a more in depth analysis, on average are (usually) written by more experienced and accomplished people.

Focus on problem, not the solution

Its easy to get attached to the product you are working so hard on. But what you should really get attached to is the problem and continuously think of how to solve the problem better rather the how to make the product better.

I would love to hear your comments on this list. I am in no way an experienced entrepreneur and these are lessons I have learned from mingling with other startups, having been a founding member of Venio, going through the Extreme Startups program, listening to accomplished mentors and reading through reading. I hope people starting a high growth company can learn something from here.

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