One of my favorite things about covering the technology community is the ability to tell the stories of entrepreneurs — the little upstarts that are trying to change the world. On GeekWire, we make a regular habit of featuring these folks through our regular Startup Spotlight profiles.
It’s a fun column to put together, and I often draw inspiration from the responses. The final question I ask — What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out? – often elicits some great advice.
Today, I am republishing responses from 50 entrepreneurs who we’ve featured over the past nine months. You might ask: Why publish this on the Christmas weekend holiday?
Well, as we all know, the true entrepreneurial die-hards are still sneaking in a little bit of work between family gatherings and holiday parties. So, in the spirit the entrepreneurial season (which is all of the time) here’s a look back at some of the pearls of wisdom.
“Leave your assumptions at the door — assume nothing.”– Skylar Agnew, co-founder of Deals4Dreams.
“Well, I’m not sure if they would want an advice from a 16-year-old CEO with braces, but I’d say analyze your topic very thoroughly, and go for it if you believe it will work! Sometimes you’ll fail, but I guess that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about. It’s the thrill, and I personally believe you get what you put into it. And from what I’ve learned so far connections are so nice. Get help from anyone you can, because help never hurts.”– Jack Kim, co-founder of Benelab.
“Make it a priority to hire and retain the best talent. Also, read the Art of the Start and the Lean Start-Up.” –David Lischner, CEO of Valant Medical Solutions.
“When thinking about bringing a new product to a market always make sure that you’re solving a major friction point from your future customers’ perspective. Then iterate, iterate, iterate.” – Max Yankelevich, co-founder and CEO of CrowdControl.
“Stop focusing on how much money you’re going to make or your percentage of equity. All that does not matter. Make sure you are passionate about your idea and that it solves a real customer problem. Focus on the ride of building a successful startup and the rewards will come in due course.” – Ashutosh Tiwary, co-founder of Doyenz.
“Have your first customer ready to sign up before you start.” — Dean Lester, CEO of Vizua.
“Heart and courage are the two things you cannot do without. Entrepreneurship is risky. It’s never easy to give up your safety net, but I don’t think anyone would ever make it big playing safe. The rest you will figure out on your own.” – Sridhar Nallani, Co-founder and CTO of Faqden Labs.
“Ideas come from you, but once you’ve got the idea, test it with potential customers as soon as possible, even if it’s just a scribble on a napkin….People make a good idea great.” – David Greschler, co-founder of PaperShare.
“Enjoy the ride. Being an entrepreneur means choosing a path that is different with your friends’ and you’ll face different challenges everyday but that’s part of the fun!” — Deyun Wu, co-founder of BookieJar.
“Quantify everything you can about your market and your model and be brutally honest about the the opportunity. Validate your market and your model by seeking the feedback of qualified people who will be brutally honest, i.e., people who don’t know you and/or don’t like you. Seasoned entrepreneurs and investors are a great resource for this. If you do this, your idea will get better.” –Bob Crimmins, co-founder and CEO of MoonTango.
“Your business plan and strategy are never finished, or done evolving. You must constantly better your best. Keep refining that idea, acquire expert feedback, keep building upon it, turn it. tweak it, pivot. Eventually you’ll see you have something that will be great.” — Nick Scappini, co-founder of Baby Shower for Guys.
“Sixty percent of the assumptions you are making are completely wrong. The other 60 percent are half wrong. The key is quickly finding out which are which and fixing them. Also, be good at math.” — Steve Shivers, CEO of Doxo.
“Understand the leanest way to run your product and business. There is a wealth of great tools and services for software startups that cost little to nothing or that offer deferred plans. Don’t ‘buy’ into the hype that in order to gain traction, you need to spend. Find creative alternatives.” – Chris Borkenhagen, founder of GoDutch.
”Haters gonna hate. Do what you love, and never stop learning.” — Nick Soman, co-founder of LikeBright.
“Keep the faith! If you are truly passionate about your idea and you can demonstrate its value in the real world don’t give up! Believe that you can make it happen and reach out to anyone who can help. Your passion will shine through and opportunities will begin to appear.” — Dave Ferguson, CEO of Gibberin.
“Startups are like experiments. You need to identify key assumptions and build just enough to test them while maintaining your long term vision. Resist the temptation to build out an entire feature set, polished off with a lot of slick user interfaces and numerous “viral” integrations. Find the “core” of your value proposition and just build enough to prove it. Quickly!” — Nick Hughes, CEO of Seconds.
“Have a big vision but relentlessly narrow your focus to a single easy-to-understand value proposition.” –Shirish Nadkarni, CEO of Zoomingo.
“Focus on solving small parts of big problems quickly and get it out into the market and then listen and learn as you iterate.” — Micah Bowers, founder of Bluefire Productions.
“Have a good co-founder or founding team. Ensure everyone agrees on goals, milestones, and vision. When one is just starting out, it is critical to be tenacious, humble; and willing to change. This is important because great challenges are just around the corner. Nothing will ever go exactly as planned, but in the end it’s the results that matter.” –Kory Gill, co-founder of Newline Software.
“Look before you leap. Do your best to have a 360-degree view of the business and make sure that the business model is sound.” — Bruce Worrall, founder of MyArtMatch.
“Do it only if you are passionate about building useful products for customers and definitely not for the money, and only do it with a team of people you can really trust as you will go through tough periods when the team can break apart if there is not enough trust.” — Ram Singh, founder of Crowd Buzz.
“Keep it simple. Discuss your ideas with people you trust. Surround yourself with talented people. Don’t be afraid to ask.” — Sam Franklin, founder and CEO of Greenvelope.com.
“You’re in it for the long term. Everything will be harder, take longer and be more expensive than you’d expected, even if you’ve already factored this into your calculations.” — Ehren Brav, founder of GreenLine Legal.
“You learn so much more by just building, playing with your own technology and iterating like crazy.” — Brewster Stanislaw, co-founded of Approvee.
“Passion, passion, passion: make sure you have it, radiate it and draw upon it when you hit those hurdles.” – Chaitanya Sareen, co-founder of Chewsy.
“Don’t swing at every pitch. We did that early on and ended up completely over-extended in terms of commitments and potential business dealings. Know what you’re about and where you want to go and stay the course. If something is correctly aligned with your goals, it may require stretching but it won’t feel like breaking.” — Mark Jessup, co-founder of TinkerHouse Games.
“Get feedback as early as possible. Keep iterations short and focus on one change in each iteration. Repeat the cycle until it’s ship-ready.” — Loyd Zhao, co-founder of Infactio.us.
“Find someone who is good at something you want to be good at. Pay attention. Repeat as necessary.” — Eric Burns, co-founder and CTO of Panopto.
“Don’t be afraid to tell others about your idea. It’s a silly fear to think they’ll run off with your idea and execute it. You can get a lot of great feedback by sharing your idea with as many people as possible.” — Andres Moran, co-founder of Earndit.
“First, have a very clear understanding of the metrics that will validate your thesis, and figure out how to test it in the market as quickly as possible…. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring. Second, and I’m borrowing this from someone, everyone will give you advice, and 95 percent of it is wrong for your business. You need to figure out what the 5 percent is that’s right for you. That is hard enough as it is, but it’s even harder when that advice comes from people you know and trust, or people who have invested in your business. So, my first piece of advice may be totally wrong for your business – that’s up to you to decide.” –Ryan Morel, co-founder of PressOK Entertainment.
“I would recommend entrepreneurs to start by asking the question: ‘Why do we build our product or services?’ instead of “What are we building?” – Jean-Jacques Dubray, founder of Canappi.
“Listen to Yoda. “Try Not. Do or do not – there is no try.” –Michael Schutzler, CEO of Livemocha.
“Get off the sidelines and start sooner. Start building your product sooner and if you are building a product already… stop… start building an audience. Start on the side if you have to. It takes longer than you think it will to go from idea to a good execution. It takes even longer to build an audience for what you are doing.” — Josh Ledgard, co-founder of Kickoff Labs.
“If your background is in tech, don’t underestimate the non-tech components like marketing and sales. If your background is non-tech, don’t tell yourself that you’ll ‘just hire some contractor to code it up’ — most products require a real partnership of people with different talents. Both sides of the equation take knowledge and hard work.” –Desiree Phair, co-founder of Pinpoint Pickup.
“There’s an amazing multiplier effect that comes from having a co-founder… Too many entrepreneurs are reluctant to team up with someone else because they want to hold on to 100 percent of everything. This often translates to 100 percent of nothing. But if you form your company with a co-founder, you’ll reduce your risk to 50 percent of nothing. And this makes it much easier to starting trading away other chunks to grow the company. But the real value of a co-founder comes from having someone who can cheer you on, build you up, and fight in the trenches with you.”–Ken Stanfield, co-founder of iPredikt.
“Feedback is your friend! Startups should be a mix of great ideas, customer development and criticism. Just remember, whenever you reach out to someone for advice, always remember to pay it forward. The next time someone asks you for help, take the time out of your day to lend a hand as you’ll find these efforts will come back full circle.” — Red Russak, founder of Toolz.me.
“Always pay attention to the fire behind your original idea and make sure it only grows hotter. The only way you will succeed, really succeed, is when your passion drives you harder every day.”–Trevor Hall, founder of LootTap.
“Highs are very high, lows are very low. So be prepared for the lows, evolve and bring a good dose (10x of what you think you will need) of persistence and patience.” –Anup Kejriwal, founder and CEO of MangoSpring.
“Just start already. Start building something. Just do it. Build. Test. Build. It is a lot more fun than just thinking about it. And don’t ever get your ego mixed up in it.” — Maya Bisineer, founder and CEO of MeMeTales.
“Work on what you are passionate about. Solve a problem that is near and dear to your own heart.” – Matt Kowalczyk, co-founder of Corkz.
“Just do it. A lot of people talk about what they want to do. I see a lot of the same people going to events to launch a company or get advice. You can only go to so many events and at some point you just have to start.” — Leigh Hunt, CEO of AppsJack.
“Stop thinking it’s a good idea and get it started. You know people who can fill in the skills you’re lacking. Get them involved and start the ball rolling.” — Paul Hughes and Thomas Marshall, co-founders of Postcardly.
“It’ll take longer than you think. We’re coming up on 18 months and we’re only just reaching a point where we can start paying even small salaries. It’s been fantastic, (and) it’s been worth it.” — David O’Neill, founder of Viafo.
“You know yourself and your personality traits, and if having a co-founder doesn’t feel right to you, then don’t force it.” — Rajeev Goel, founder of Our School Pages.
“Plan to build your business incrementally, keep it simple, and focused at its start.” — Mark Russell, CEO of Zebigo.
“Hang out with people who are living the lifestyle that you want. I think we all live in a bubble made up of the people who we interact with on a daily basis. If your bubble is solely filled with people who are living corporate lives, you will naturally get suggestions and goals centered around moving up in the ranks and graduating to the corner office. But, if you hang out with entrepreneurs, you’ll start hearing a different set of goals: doing a lot with a little, creating a business that supports the lifestyle you want, and creating a product that you’re proud of.” – Naysawn Naderi, founder of Art Sumo.
“When it comes to prioritizing, do the hardest tasks first. This is something that is still hard for us to do to this day, but I think it is ideal in terms of efficiency. Some people think that they are super productive multi-taskers, and feel that they are being extremely efficient by trying to do a few little things at once, but really most of these people are just putting off the big tasks that they dread. Focus, Focus, Focus!” — Nick Grant, CEO of ZippyCart.
“Stop talking about all the things that can go wrong. Put a solid plan in place and just jump in and make changes if and when things don’t work. You can ‘what-if’ yourself out of anything.” — Lindsey Harper, founder and CEO of Swayable.
“Focus on developing prototypes…. It’s one thing to have an idea. (My brother and I have lots of other business ideas ourselves). However, it comes down to the entrepreneur’s ability to execute upon their vision. So the best thing an entrepreneur can do is figure out how to build a prototype to prove their idea.” — Lucas Brown, co-founder of HasOffers.
“Fail fast, pick-up the pieces, learn, and apply what you learned without a fuss. The world and markets, especially technology, move so quickly; too quickly for you to dwell on mistakes and pour into sunk costs.” — Nick Talwar, co-founder of Urbandipity.