I’m sitting in my office/bedroom as the clock strikes midnight. It’s now December 15, 2017, which marks the one year anniversary of Immosis LLC. I met my co-founder and CTO, Marwan, shortly before this day of last year, but it was on the 15th that we solidified our commitment with an operating agreement.
If you also factor in the Artificial Intelligence Society and Virtual Reality Society (educational organizations that I founded before Immosis), that makes for 1.5 years of learning how to be an entrepreneur.
I still have much to learn, but with help from my gracious mentors along the way, I’ve learned a LOT during these past 1.5 years. As a way to express my gratitude, I’d like to share my lessons learned here for anyone who’s reading.
Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned so far as a first-time entrepreneur:
1) Every business is different
Many times when someone asks a business question hoping to get a straightforward answer in response, the response will be “it depends”. There may be patterns or past data from similar businesses to extrapolate or draw conclusions from, but generalizations won’t cover every detail. Not only that, but advisors may also give you conflicting advice.
So at the end of the day, it’s on you to use your best judgment when making decisions. Advisors will inform and suggest, but you decide. This is one of the more ambiguous and scary parts of entrepreneurship, but I believe that the varying intricacies of every business make entrepreneurship one of the most exciting open problems to solve.
2) A Players hire A Players; B Players hire C Players
A company is only as good as the people behind it. Therefore, be patient and diligent when recruiting. Startups move quickly, but that doesn’t mean that you should rush the recruiting process. A hiring mistake can be very expensive to fix on multiple dimensions (e.g. a toxic employee can destroy the morale of your team).
A good practice is to hire performers who are better than you. When you have a startup, you’re not in the business of adding mediocre performers to your foundation. Hire A Players whom you can trust and empower them to push your organization to new heights.
3) The 4 C’s of Co-founders
This one’s from my close mentor Bryan and his colleague Chris. When approaching and vetting co-founders, treat it like a marriage because you’re going to spend a LOT of time doing very important things with those people. And if it doesn’t work out, separating is going to be a messy and expensive process.
The 4 C’s of Co-founders is a framework that Bryan and Chris proposed for evaluating potential co-founders:
- Character – This comes first because an individual who doesn’t share your core values (e.g. integrity) will not fit in the culture that you’re trying to build. It’s not scalable. They’re only going to drag it down along with your team and resources.
- Commitment – It could take your company years to breakeven. And who knows what obstacles and changes you’ll encounter as a team along the way. Are your co-founders prepared to give it their all until the end?
- Communication – A startup’s greatest advantage over larger competitors is speed. You cannot outrun your competitors and smoothly manage operations without proper communication from your team on a regular basis.
- Competency – This comes last because it’s the most obvious prerequisite to check for.
Don’t compromise with the 4 C’s. You and your co-founder(s) MUST be compatible if your startup is going to succeed.
4) Get mentors ASAP
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and learn from countless mentors with incredible track records. Among them are investors and successful entrepreneurs. There is no doubt in my mind that Immosis wouldn’t be where it’s at now without their help.
You will learn much more at a faster pace with the help of mentors. You don’t even have to be doing a startup to benefit. Figure out your goals, find people in your area with relevant experience, and send them a message with a coffee invite. Every person you talk to will have a different background, and will thus broaden your perspective further than you thought possible.
5) You’re going to pivot, possibly many times
According to the Powership Group, it takes an average of 58 new product ideas to get to 1 successful product, and 66% of startups change their original plans drastically.
So if you’re finding that your first (or second, or third…) plan isn’t working the way you intended, it’s probably not the end of the world. Figure out what went wrong, and use that feedback to guide you to your next plan of action. This leads us to…
6) Adopt the Lean Startup methodology
Pioneered by Eric Ries, the Lean Startup methodology insists that the key to survival is to iterate enough times before running out of resources. If you don’t iterate, you could be falling for the classic mistake of burning all your resources on developing a product that nobody wants to pay for.
The lesson to learn here is that very little learning happens during product development. So instead, prioritize release and market feedback. The market may respond by purchasing your product in large quantities or telling you that they wouldn’t throw down a credit card for it (chances are, it’s going to be the latter). That’s when you know it’s time to iterate.
Another way to look at this is, don’t worry about making your early product the prettiest on the market with “multi-target” features that span social media integration and decked-out customization. Focus on the 20% of the features that deliver 80% of your differentiated value proposition. Be disciplined about filtering the core features from the luxuries because if the core features don’t sell, it’s time to iterate.
7) Don’t let the bozos drag you down
This is a quote by Guy Kawasaki, one of my personal icons. Entrepreneurship is tough. You’re breaking away from the traditional path that society sets to accomplish something big on your own. And along the way, there will be people who try to discourage you.
Don’t let the negativity phase you. Continue focusing on the priorities at hand, which are building and selling your product. Otherwise, you’re going to give up, and I wouldn’t like to imagine what today’s world would look like if many of the successful founders had given in to the negativity.
Note: this is not to say that the naysayers are always wrong. In fact, they can be pretty logical at times (e.g. “Stick to a corporate job because that’s safer.”). Also don’t confuse negativity with constructive criticism. The point here is, you should be aware of what’s realistic, but also realize that pursuing a startup can involve some degree of insanity and maybe even delusion. At the end of the day, you should know your vision and business best. Use your judgment, and keep executing on your plan.
8) Force yourself to go to events
This one’s from my mentor Shaz. If you’re being lazy in bed and contemplating whether or not you should attend this networking event coming up, you better get up and go. Shaz found that the majority of times, something good will come out of coming to events.
After attending over 10-15 events in several months, I can confirm his observation. Rule of thumb: you never know who you’ll end up meeting. I’ve casually bumped into investors, executives, potential clients, and experienced professionals interested in joining Immosis by mingling at these events.
I followed up with most of them, and I’m still connected with a good number of those people today. They continue to teach me new things, and I’m currently looking at adding one of them to our team.
9) Be humble
A startup is not an ideal environment to go flaunting your ego everywhere. Leave that by the door as you walk in, because you probably know a lot less than you think you do.
Always be in a learning mindset. Learn from your mentors’ mistakes so you don’t repeat them yourself. Seek advice from people who’ve succeeded in your context.
On the same note, know what you don’t know. How are you going to ask for help if you don’t know what to ask about? For example, I’m a young, first-time CEO. There is a lot that I’m still learning, such as formal business development processes. Since I recognize this gap in my knowledge, I recently reached out to one of my connections (whom I met at an event) who is way more experienced in processes than I am. His feedback and suggestions so far have gotten me much farther than I would be had I ignored this knowledge gap.
Keep learning; stay humble.
10) The world owes you nothing
The last point for today is about your mindset. Success has no emotions attached. It’s binary- you either make it happen or not. So when a problem arises, resist the urge to go on an emotional complaint spree. Don’t curse the world; the world doesn’t care.
Instead, direct your effort towards solving the problem at hand. Figure out what went wrong, why it went wrong, how to fix it, and how to prevent that from happening again. Anything else is a waste of time and energy. Be disciplined enough to put your emotions aside, especially when there’s a team that is investing time and resources into your venture.
At the end of the day, the world owes you nothing. However, it has given you the opportunity to succeed, and it’s on you to make the most of that gift. Progress starts with you, so keep hustling.
It’s now 4:00 AM. I think that’s enough excitement to fit into one blog post (the original list of learnings exceeds 40 items). The rest is sure to come later on!
To my team and mentors, thank you again for pushing and guiding me all this time. The skills and lessons that I’ve learned from you all on this journey have been invaluable. I’m beyond excited for our second year at Immosis!