I left my cushy corporate role because I wasn’t making the impact I should have considering the energy I was pouring into it. It took me a year of traveling to detox from the negative mindset and emotional exhaustion that comes from years of banging your head against a wall.
While I healed emotionally, I developed my concept, did some prototypes and trials and launched our MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in November 2017. Along the way, I learned a lot of lessons, here are 5 to get you thinking about how to survive in startupland.
Prepare for a marathon
Building a business takes years, usually at least 5 based on the stories I have heard. I’m only 2 years in, and I know I’ve still got a lot of building to do. I make sure I get enough sleep and exercise so I can make the best possible decisions along the way.
If you find you’re having to stay up late, skip meals or get bad food on a regular basis, then reconsider how you’re structuring your time.
If you don’t take care of yourself you won’t make it to the finish line. This feels unintuitive and you will need to push through for critical points in your business, but it cannot be the “norm”. This means making hard decisions about what won’t get done, better to make enough hard calls to give yourself the time you need to be healthy.
This is a marathon, not a sprint; plan accordingly.
Get comfortable with being told you are “too early”
When you have a vision for what you want to create, it seems so real in your head. So it can be shocking when someone tells you that you’re “too early”, because they can’t see it yet. Especially when applying to accelerators. It’s almost like being a child again; like being told you’ll get to drive “when you grow up”. Yet in your mind you are ready to go now.
That ambition is why you’re chasing the dream, but it can also make it hard when reality slaps you down. I comforted myself with small wins instead of chasing the startup accolades. Another client trip delivered, another sales call where someone got excited, another release of some great features. I’ve done a lot of pitch decks and most of them were rejected.
Then one day, I stood in front of a room of angel investors and delivered the best pitch they’d seen in a long time. I was finally at the right place at the right time with the right message.
Experiment cheaply, but at some point you have to invest, finding that right moment is the art of building a business.
I was lucky to have a friend who developed our initial prototype to test out the idea. I was lucky to have friends who were willing to be guinea pigs on that version. But at some point I knew I needed a real designer and I needed to invest in a developer that was committed to the project.
It was a scary tipping point, but I would not be where I am if I had not taken the lessons from the early cheap prototypes and gotten the right talent to implement a solid MVP. Some businesses can get away with a really bare MVP, but my clients were looking for something professional. Something that makes them look good online. So I invested where it counted and I’ve never regretted it.
Cultivate the network that will support you
I started this adventure by reaching out to an old acquaintance and asking for some advice on starting a business in Australia. I asked for 2 hours. I got 6 months of mentorship and we wrote a book together (available on Amazon). He then became an investor and then a warm introduction into an angel network.
I also spent 2 years networking my way around Melbourne. I needed to talk to a lot of potential clients and make the business connections necessary for good suppliers and staff. I found my co-founder at a #SheHacks event run by Girl Geek Academy. I found my marketing manager at a private pitch night at Melbourne Business School.
I found another mentor at a Wine and Whiteboards social event at my co-working space. My co-working space was a critical choice and just as I was starting, so was One Roof, a co-working space dedicated to female led businesses.
We’ve grown together and I have met life-long friends and professional connections there. Even digital businesses run on people, so I spend most of my time cultivating the human connections that can lift my business up.
Believe in yourself by proving yourself
Confidence is key to your success, but when you start out it feels like a chicken/egg situation. You don’t know so many things, so how can you have confidence when you feel like a fish out of water most days? You have to find small ways to build your confidence with every new challenge.
Take applying for grants as an example, start with something small, don’t go for a big one right away. I applied for a small one and even though I didn’t get it, they were nice enough to provide feedback, and I learned a lot going through the process.
Next time I’ll have all that work done and I can build on that. That means I’ll be more confident the second time around. Be careful not to pump up a fake persona of confidence before you’ve put the building blocks in place that will give you long lasting and authentic confidence (see point 1).
Being part of a startup is not for everyone, and being a founder of a startup is for even fewer. I’ve been on this journey for 2 years now and I’m still excited to get up in the morning and solve the mountain of problems I face. If you thrive on the challenges, then I encourage you to start chipping away at your dream. One connection, one win, one step at a time. If you think I can help you on your journey, feel free to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook or Linked