No matter how much reading you do on the process and experience of starting your own company, nothing really prepares you for it. It is as much a personal, emotional journey as anything else. Working on Pickmoto for the past 6 months, there are a few things I’ve encountered that surprised me. There weren’t items I’d read much about in the many blog posts I’ve consumed about the startup world, so I thought I’d share them with you today.
1. You will spend an enormous amount of time talking
In the beginning, I would say we spent 40-50% of our time talking. This may surprise you, but consider the following: even if your basic product idea is straight-forward, there are lots of details to be hashed out. Think about sign-up sequences, tutorial screens, settings pages, support avenues, privacy policies, purchasing screens, etc. Each one of those items I just listed has its own philosophies and best practices to think about. Each one of those items is a multi-hour conversation, and probably involves research into what your competitors are doing.
Now, lets forget about the product for a minute. Outside of whatever garage or co-working space you’re in, you have to get used to selling the product. Yes, that involves more talking. Every networking event, every support email, and every twitter interaction is another opportunity to sell what you’re doing. You can’t just start blabbering: you want your conversation to be concise, contextual, and interesting. This sort of conversation takes practice, and I highly recommend that you practice mock interactions with your co-founders and friends.
My advice: build conversation time into your product schedule. Realize that a large portion of your day will involve conversation, and that your conversations will likely alter whatever product plan you think you have.
2. Lack of structure takes getting used to
After a while in working at big and small companies, you get used to the structure of it all. In big companies, it’s very compartmentalized: the marketing department works on marketing, and engineering works on engineering. In smaller companies, those areas bleed more together, and as an engineer may have the chance to influence or discuss the marketing of a company. That is one of the appeals of smaller companies, in my opinion. In both big and small companies, the CEO and/or co-founders hopefully have defined the vision and strategy of the company and the products. In times of crisis, they are people you can depend on to provide an answer, or give the final word.
When you’re on your own, you’re really on your own. Some mental adjustments are needed in times of argument and crisis, as there is no higher person to appeal to. You are forced to work on your ability to negotiate, and to learn how to argue effectively without getting too emotional. You also have to look a little deeper, and realize when you’re just being a dick. Everyone has their bad days, but when it’s just you and your cofounders, a bad attitude can result in some very bad decisions being made.
My advice: if you’re feeling out of sorts, own up to it. Go for a walk, exercise, take a nap, or go see a movie if you have to get away for a bit.
3. Your story is everything
You may have read about how important this is for your startup, but really: it’s everything. Customers don’t care about your technology: they care about why your product makes their life a little better. Unless they work for Dr. Dobb’s, bloggers don’t care about how clean your code is: they care about stories that will appeal to their readers. Investors don’t care about which frameworks you’re using: they care about your vision of the future, and how you’re going to build a business.
Telling stories is how people remember who you are, and what you’re working on. Startups typically paint themselves in the David v. Goliath story - and you know why? It’s a damn good story.
My advice: focus on what your message and story are to all the different types of people you will encounter. This is not something that can be done in one sitting; it typically evolves with practice in the real-world.
We still have a long way to go in the road to creating Pickmoto into our vision of the future, but in the meantime we’ve collected some good stories to tell, and are trying to learn as much as possible about building awesome products. If you have any advice for us, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Ryan Gerard