(Flickr photo via Chris Samuel)

It’s been a year since jumping into the startup world as an oblivious 22-year-old. I read every blog post I could for first time founders, but these 11 lessons, no matter how much I heard them, never made sense until now:

1.) Ideas are nothing: It took over four months for this to click. Ditch the NDA’s, stop being obsessed with your idea. Instead, start a company based around an “opportunity.” Making it much more general will allow you to be flexible as you move forward.

2.) Take praise with a grain of salt: It’s like when a 14-year-old girl is performing the Star-Spangled Banner. She finishes, everyone claps, tells her how great she was and next thing you know she is trying out for American Idol even though she is HORRIBLE. Simon Cowell makes her cry, and everything ends poorly.

Especially as a young entrepreneur, take praise with a grain of salt. When I first started, I was so excited and bright-eyed about my idea that 90 percent of the people I pitched were “too nice” to criticize it. This creates a fake snowball effect. You are already excited about what you are working on and this adds fuel to the fire. It was difficult to get honest feedback until I walked into a VC with a slide deck and no traction. Which leads to…


3.) Don’t talk back to criticism: I remember listening to founders get so frustrated at constructive criticism. Why!??! They are giving their honest opinion and helping you. So for a while I told myself: “I will never be like that. I will always appreciate criticism.” That was until someone shot down my perfect idea, the one that was bullet proof, the one that my mommy told me was good. I immediately fired back: “but what about this, this and this” with a little bit of anger. Afterwards I realized that it’s very hard to have someone criticize something you work on, think about, and sweat over on a daily basis.

Just sit there and listen, ask questions politely, and even thank them for the help. You make the decisions, so put the feedback to good use and learn from it.

4.) Finding a technical co-founder is hard: It took me 4 tries and 6 months. My best advice is that every successful startup needs a hustler. If you can’t hustle to track down a technical person to start your company, then it’s a good sign to quit now. I went through the phase that many probably do, of trying to learn how to code. That lasted about 7 hours and was more motivation to find a co-founder.

5.) Hire a lawyer: My father is a divorce lawyer so I thought “Awesome, I’ll do all this myself and ask him when I have a question.” That lasted until he said “Justin, when I incorporated I hired a lawyer.” Budget for a lawyer.

6.) Stay organized: There is too much going on and things change so quickly. Use Google Docs.

7.) Moonlighting works: Well, it worked for me at least. I think it’s dumb to wildly leave your secure job with just an idea for a startup. I made sure to have a team, a little bit of traction, a plan and some money. My job wasn’t much more than 40 hours a week and I didn’t have kids or a wife so it left me with enough free time. Moonlighting may be harder in different situations.

8.) Create pressure and stress, but don’t be crazy: The more you structure your life so failing isn’t an option the better, but choose a worst case scenario. If you are naturally a hard worker without anything pushing you, more power to you, but the thought of flipping burgers at McDonald’s is a powerful motivator for me.


9.) Nothing happens if you just sit there: I remember hearing Dave Schappell from TeachStreet say: “You can drool on your keyboard at most jobs, and it doesn’t matter.” It’s true, but at startups, you don’t get points for showing up and nothing gets done if you’re on vacation or watching TV.

10.) It sucks: This is the first Dave McClure video I ever saw, and it scared the shit out of me. I thought he was wrong. I saw “The Social Network.” It looked like a lot of fun, easy and all around good times. The point of Dave’s video is to scare you off, but I think if you watch it and it motivates you, then you will be a great founder.

11.) It’s worth it: Too many Seattleites look at startups as risky. They feel the correct path is to stay on their corporate path with Big Seattle Co. They are wrong. Sure you won’t make the money if you fail, but one year in startup life is five years at a corporation. It will make you a better person, leader, networker, marketer, hustler and employee. So, do it!

Justin Seeley is the co-founder of Seattle startup omnom. He previously worked at Swype.

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  • Anonymous

    Hey Justin!  Can’t believe it’s been six months since that St. Patty’s day pitch, but awesome write-up. Love the distinction between ideas and opportunities– the latter implies you’ve got customers in mind, and heck, have maybe even talked to some for whom you’re solving a real problem.  Also brings to mind one of my favorite Eric Koester quotes “I’ve got a million ideas and I’ll sell you any of ’em for 5 bucks.” For a recovering attorney to imply that it comes down to execution is pretty powerful stuff.
    Having fun with the omnom beta, btw.  Funny I can’t seem to get internet delivered to my house, yet, according to Omnom, 32 restaurants are happy to bring me food!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Rebecca! Yes, time is flying by and it’s crazy how much faster you learn and improve when doing a startup. 

  • http://twitter.com/RedRussak ‘Red’ Russak

    Great guest post! Loving the ‘lessons learned’. I’d love to have you out as a “Startup Spotlight” for the Lean Startup Seattle meetup in October. Interested? I feel the audience could really benefit from hearing advice from someone who was in most of their shoes 1 year ago ;)

  • http://www.bluestoneacct.com BlueAcct

    Please add:  Know your numbers. 

  • http://blog.calbucci.com/ Marcelo Calbucci

    This is a fantastic post Justin. You nailed many of the early issues of starting a company. The key is for you to imagine 2 years ahead and think what the lessons learned will be then, so you can avoid them now. A little precog goes a long way.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Marcelo. Definitely… I’m sure there will be another set of lessons 2 years from now.

  • http://www.enjoybedandbreakfast.com Kerry

    I will vouch for hiring a lawyer. Don’t assume that the people you deal with are always as nice as you! Always get every single legal document read by a lawyer. Lawyers may be expensive but if you need help (and this will happen when you least expect it) they will be worth every penny.

    As for the moonlighting – you can normally push it to the point where you realise that it would be better for your health and your business to quit. I had huge mental debates as to when I should quit but then took a 3  day holiday and just knew. I couldn’t cope with what I had on my plate, and I quit the next day. I was scared as I took away my monthly income, but at that point it was the right decision to make.

  • Justin tanacredi

    It is crazy how everything I just read in your article has gone through my head at one point or another. I’m still on the lookout for a technical co-founder though. Just have to keep searching. Thanks so much for the advice and tips!

  • http://www.adminnation.com Brandon

    Great Post!  Love hearing about startups.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1218501459 Anthony Grove

    Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  • genem

    Terffic list.  Thanks.  Especially appreciated McClure’s video.  Spot on.

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