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What I wish I’d known before starting my first startup

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Starting a business is quite glamorous these days. It seems easy from the outside, certainly easier than what is the actual reality. If you read the news this is particularly true. 

When I started TimeGrab it was at first just a side project. It was supposed to be a simple app to solve a problem that I myself had. It turned into a full fledged venture as my road map and the ambitions expanded. For a variety of reasons I shut down the project after about a year. 

I learned a ton, met some amazing people and am still married so my afterlife is good. 

Had I known what I know today I’d do a lot of things different. Below are my top things I wish I’d known going into it. 

1. Time to product market fit takes longer than you think. Time to revenue even longer. Plan for at least 2 years with no to little income. Too short a runway and you’ll be forced to make wrong decisions. My top to budding entrepreneurs: start your business while you have other income, example: while in your job or if your spouse has money coming in. 

2. Talk to more customers, earlier. This is the number one element you need to prioritize over anything else! Stay close to customers and you’ll be better off. Had I engaged more customers I’d likely found the problem area a lot faster, drastically increasing my chances of success. 

Fullfil demand vs create it. Too many companies get started without solving a real problem.  Initially mine was one of these. Do yourself a favor and find a market that is currently paying for solving the problem you are going after vs trying to invent new demand. I am not Steve Jobs. Chances are you’re not either. 

The team is everything. It bears repeating. I wa personally worried, and advised, to share very little equity with what could have been great cofounders. Sure they did it risk what I did but in hignsight they would have helped us move faster. If you find true talent, you share a vision and they add skills to you that you don’t have but desperately need then do whatever youth can to bring them onboard. Of course you will want to be professional by having vesting in place, etc., but don’t fret too much about 1% vs 10%. 100% of zero is still zero.

Time is money. I spent way too long with cheap developers who needed me. 24/7b to get anything done. To the. Credit of my wife: I should have hired better talent that could have gotten it done sooner. Time is money, even if you are only paying living expenses / bootstrapping.  

Ship sooner, move faster, ship often. Don’t wait for the product to be perfect, it will never be. Launch with an MVP and iterate from there.

Stick to your vision. Don’t take everything that so called “wise” VC’s tell you to be the truth. Instead listen to what real customers are telling you. Until you’ve got the market engaged: Listen to your gut and stick to your vision. 

Be careful with experience. I made the mistake of cycling through a “CTO” with 25+ years of software development experience. What was the issue? The guy, while nice and strategically sound, did not know how to code fast enough. He was not a doer but a Manager. Initially you will need 3 roles: a hustler, a coder and a designer.

Good luck with your startup. I hope you won’t make the same mistakes that I did.