Sometimes when you’re running a startup, it can feel like the world is stacked against you, with nowhere to turn and no one to talk to. Well, at the very least, you know others are experiencing the same thing.
That’s one of the reasons we love putting together the regular Startup Spotlight feature on GeekWire. It is a common ground where folks can share their story, but also some of the battle scars they’ve accumulated over the years.
In addition to asking early-stage entrepreneurs about their businesses, we end the interviews by asking them to share some advice for those entrepreneurs just starting out or thinking about making the plunge.
We’ve conducted more than 100 of these questionnaires in the past 21 months, and we always look forward to the advice, trying to incorporate some of the best nuggets into our own business. Call it a Startup MBA.
As we get ready to head into the new year, here’s a look back at some of the pearls of wisdom from the entrepreneurs we’ve featured in GeekWire. [And, just in case you missed it, we previously wrote about which tech titan that the entrepreneurs would most like to have in their corner. See: "Gates, Jobs, Bezos or Zuck: Which tech titan do entrepreneurs admire most?"]
“Doing a startup is hard, needs a lot of effort and the odds are already stacked against you. By not giving your full-time effort, you will handicap your efforts severely. In our personal experience, building our own product and company has been the most rewarding experience of our lives. Even though this has consumed every waking hour – we can’t imagine doing this part time.”— Boxella founders Vikas Khandelwal and Pankaj Sethi.
”Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. Talk to people you know about your idea … and solicit feedback. Know the Law of Attraction – it’s real.”— Tether Technologies co-founder Randy Neely.
“Drive revenue from the start. With revenue built in to your business from the beginning, you have a much better chance of avoiding the need for angel or VC funding and you can control your own destiny.”— Lacuna Systems co-founder Derek Andree.
“When you have an idea, do very thorough homework and research before jumping in.” —Codeproof co-founder Satish Shetty.
“Take the time to understand your customer and the problem that you are solving.”— GivingTrax Chief Marketing Officer CMO Courtney Titus.
“Niche out your product. There’s a tendency to start really broad in the ideation phase because as an entrepreneur you see so much opportunity, and you dream big. But in reality the more you try to do early on, the harder it is to finish your MVP, release your beta, and get that precious feedback you need to rapidly iterate and tweak your product. Also, the more you focus, the less chance there is of colliding with a competitor. Start dead simple, measure your feedback, and learn from it.”— Gratafy co-founders Brian Erke and Ryan Halper.
“Keep the faith, believe in your vision, and just persevere. You often hear stories of a business or technology that continually evolves until it breaks through and becomes mainstream.”— VoloMetrix co-founder Ryan Fuller.
“It’s easy to get enamored with “the big idea.” But the reality is that there’s a good chance the idea isn’t as great as it seems. Talk to customers! Get to know the problem you’re solving for them better than they do, and focus on delivering as simple a solution as possible.” — Zoomstra co-founder Aaron Kassover.
“If you’re not overworked, insecure, second guessing and making a ton of mistakes along the way, you’re not doing it right. Oh, and your first product demo will go badly. But keep going, it gets better.”— Plumage co-founder Shawn Herron.
“Build with a buddy. Having a co-founder you trust, respect and enjoy transforms the endless struggle of building a start-up from something overwhelming and frightening, to something entirely possible and incredibly fun.” — Writer.ly co-founder Kelsye Nelson.
“Starting a business is really hard. The odds are stacked against you big time, and it’s going to be a roller coaster. Some days you’ll feel like success is inevitable. Sometimes like the entire thing is a failure. It’s important to try and stay as even as you can. It helps if you find a co-founder who complements your personality so you can help keep each other centered.” — Nveloped co-founder and CEO Nikhil Palekar.
”Don’t give up. I’ve written before that the value of a startup is in the slog. Your idea might be wrong, but what you learn will lead you to your success. It might take years, so be ready for a long fight, but don’t give up.” — MobileDevHQ CEO Ian Sefferman.
“Above all, be resilient, because you’re going to get knocked down a lot. Watch Rocky VI for inspiration, particularly the scene in which Rock lectures his son streetside – it sums up the will of an entrepreneur.” — Tred CEO Grant Feek.
“Learn fast, and iterate fast. Most importantly keep at it, you’ll have high days and low days, just don’t give up.” — Sandglaz CEO Nada Aldahleh.
“Shorten your timeframes until you start seeing two weeks as an eternity. Have a clear set of metrics that you’re using to measure the success of your product either around user acquisition, engagement or monetization. Regularly push out new features and tweaks to existing features, and look at your metrics to see what works and what doesn’t.” — Sidelines co-founder Vinay Kuruvila.
“Ideas are a dime-a-dozen. They are worthless. Execution is everything. And getting people to pay for your execution is MORE everything. So stop talking. Stop thinking. Get code written. Code talks.” — BizLogr co-founder Charlie Kindel.
“First, care about other people. Then find a problem that is so irritating to you that you are willing to sacrifice to solve it for them.” — Monchilla co-founder Jack Couch.
“Be bold, be willing to make mistakes, and take each one as a learning experience. Be selective in who you hire, with whom you partner, and where you focus. Your time is your most valuable asset, so don’t waste it on things that don’t matter.” — Tenacity Sports co-founder Jon Tam.
“If I were starting again, I’d find an industry that was dominated by one piece of overpriced software that everybody hated. I’d talk to those people, find out their pain points, and try to deliver a better solution for half the price.” — KitchenPC founder Mike Christensen.
”Don’t spend a dime until you have a prototype that you take to a potential customer who states he would either buy or subscribe to a monthly charge to use it. Now get it out and begin collecting data that can help you adjust.” — eVenues founder and CEO David Jennings.
“I would recommend raising smart money at the right valuation from the right sources for your company, even if you don’t think you need it. The right investors with strong networks can accelerate your growth.” — SPARQ.me CEO and Founder Jesse Chor.
“Follow your passion (assuming it involves building products that solve real problems).” — Gazeable founder Ram Singh.
“Trust your gut—if you feel like it’s not right, it probably isn’t. Also, keep a group of close to the vest advisors and friends that you trust with your social security number to give you honest feedback. Know that what they tell you might hurt, but it will be dead on, and well intentioned.” — Adorii co-founder Matthew Matsudaira.
“The work — developing, marketing, designing — is the fun part, but don’t forget to plan and strategize. It sometimes seems like navel-gazing, but you won’t be able to sell or grow your enterprise if you don’t have a business plan, program goals and metrics to measure it all by. Think short-term AND long-term.” — Brad Wilke of Flash Volunteer.
“Less talk, more code. It is so easy to get caught up in the ideation phase that many never make out of it. Figuring out what to do, what your business plan is etc. is important, but time box that phase and start building your product at the earliest.” — Nuubuu founder Ameya Bhatawdekar.
“Keep it simple, believe in your vision, and don’t quit when it gets tough. Ignore your competitors while you’re in the thick of building your product – it will only distract you, and it may even depress you. They’re already established, with a customer base, a team, and a hundred times more resources than you. Stay focused on executing your vision.” — Well Crafted’s husband-and-wife team Jana and Keith Harper.
“Get out of the building and talk to your customers. If they’re not validating they have the pain you’re addressing, validating your proposed solution and debating how much they might pay for it then you don’t know if you have a market or not. Know this before you begin building out your idea.” — MakeGood founder Jeff Coon.
“Make sure you build something worth building. If you’re not passionate about solving your particular problem, nobody else you talk to will be either.” — Duxter CEO Adam Lieb.
“Believe in yourself and dare to be great. There is nothing you cannot do, there is only what you will not, did not or did not try to do. Even if slow, keep moving forward and it is always progress.” — CEO and Co-Founder Cameron Sparks.
“Execute, Execute, Execute! It is great to have awesome ideas, but what’s far more important is to carry out executions.” — Utrip founders Gilad Berenstein and Edan Shahar.
”Never hope harder than you work. It’s going to take a lot of sweat and unwavering resolve. You’ve got to earn every rung on the ladder of success. It’s a tough climb, so you better believe in your ideas beyond reason, beyond doubt, and beyond sanity at times.” — RockStar Motel CEO and founder Luca Sacchetti.
“Stop talking and do something, build something. Go to events where people build things (i.e. meetups, hackathons). Help others with things you’ve figured out on the way.” — Teamfind CEO and founder Skander Mzali.
“Great ideas aren’t uncommon, but most don’t see the light of day. To ensure your light bulb burns brightly for years, strategy and tactical execution is essential. Choose to be lucky by working hard.” — ChorePay founder and COO Jeremy Jacola.
“Do not wait for the right moment. As a matter of fact, if you wait for the right moment it may never come. This is one of those situations where you need to trust your gut and go for it.” — Qoiza co-founder Kelly Malone.
“Trust your gut and love your team. Startups require hard work, dedication, resilience, and good people. If you don’t love the people you are working with, you’ll never make it through the rough patches.” — Spiral Genetics CEO Adina Mangubat.
“Give more than you get. Remember you’re not just building a product – you’re building relationships. Take the time to help whenever and wherever you can. Give more than you get, and everything works out in the end.” — Gatherball co-founder and CEO Paul Watts.
“All input is good input, be humble but don’t give sanction to the nay-sayers.” — TalktUp co-founders Saif Hakim and Aaron Goodin.
“Focus on the customer. We have had no shortage of advice on how to grow the company by non-customers who don’t know shittake about the ad business. Fortunately the searing reality of the burn rate kept us focused on paying customers.” — Zooppa CEO Wil Merritt.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a lot of people out there more than willing to support you and help you through the journey because there are a lot of people out there that have gone through what you’re going through and know how hard it is.” — What’s in this Stuff co-founder Tymon Johns.
“Stay focused on your vision. Finish what you set out to accomplish. Pay attention to what your users want, and tune out people who want you to fail. Some can tell you that you probably won’t succeed your first time. Learn from your failures, move forward, and never quit. When you fall, get right back up again.” — Votely co-founder Doug Gradt.
“Don’t listen to naysayers and you’ll learn everything you need to know when starting on the journey. Enjoy what you are working on as that will make you grow in different ways. Always keep yourself open to new opportunities that are unexpected. You never know that contact could help you in the long run.” — Therapy Exam Prep founder Miye Fonseca.
“Have deep passion for what you are endeavoring to do. You’ll need it. Then go find the very smartest people with whom you would enjoy going on this journey.” — FUNnerator founder Katie Thompson.
“Go with your gut and just do it. You’ll make lots of mistakes but grow wiser from them.” — DealScoopr founder Nitesh Goyal.
“Validate your idea, product and market early in the process. Sure, people rattle of that sort of advice all the time, but if you can’t get people to pay for product early on you need to go back to the drawing board. And it’s better to do that sooner than later.” — Kashoo’s Jim Secord.
”Always remember to focus on solving a real business problem and build a great team to solve it with you. Avoid getting caught up in being the next big thing or designing a cool app that needs to find a problem.” — Saltbox co-founder and CEO John Delano.
“Just do it, get out of your silo and talk to as many people as possible. Unless you’re inventing a chip made of air, please share what you are working on with the right people who can help you.” — Personify founder Chuks Onwuneme.
“Get a loan from your family (with interest) before you take money from a stranger. It will keep you grounded and motivated to achieve milestones before the next family gathering.” — Happly creator Brian Monnin.
”You need to contract a case of amnesia every day. The entrepreneurial process is messy and in each case it is messy for a different reason. Each day you need to wake up and hit the ground running no matter how challenging or rewarding the previous day was.” — SkyFu founder and CEO Todd Spaits.
“Everything takes longer than you expect. Things under your control, like development schedules, are not likely to be hit, especially if you’re doing something new, which I hope is the case. Things outside your control, like working with external parties in business development or investor dealings means that you’re subject to their schedule. It’s something that you have little control over, so be aware of it and plan for it upfront.” — Jeff Dixon of BodSix.
“Don’t let your ego get in the way of your success. If you have a concept, try it out on a small scale first and get real-world feedback that you can use in the design phase. Don’t be afraid to talk to customers, experts, or advisors because it is better to be critiqued and improve the idea than to fail spectacularly.” — Opstera co-founder and CEO Paddy Srinivasan.
“Try to understand and perform every detail of the business — don’t delegate anything in the beginning.” — Schedulista founder Felix Livni.
“Drop the whole “stealth-mode” crap. Don’t guard your idea like it’s the biggest thing since sliced bread – odds are others have already thought of something similar. On the contrary – talk to everyone you know and trust about the idea and get their feedback; your idea will only get better the more your share it. Turning it into reality is going to be a long road of grunt work, unflappable belief, passion and luck – no one can steal that from your idea.” — FameMe founder Brett Marl.
“Keep your eye on the process daily, not just the goal and be open to change.” — MoxTree founder Victoria Oldridge.
“Understand precisely what your personal and product goals are. What do you and your users truly value? Focus on delivering something core to your users’ needs that enables you and your team to realize long- and short-term goals. Lifestyle design shouldn’t be separate from product design. They should be deeply intertwined to ensure your happiness and success.” — Noah Spitzer-Williams of Highlight Hunter.
“Stay lean, flexible and be ready to pounce when an opportunity presents itself. Trust your instincts; no one knows your business or vision as well as you.” — GreenCupboards founder Josh Neblett.
“Love the moment. As entrepreneurs we tend to focus on the next goal, the next round, the next exit – and we often forget that the journey is the destination. I encourage all entrepreneurs to reflect on this moment in time – we’re doing what we love and we’re following our dreams – it doesn’t get any better than that.” — Buck CEO Andy Kleitsch.
“It’s all about the people you surround yourself with. Every advisor, investor and employee makes an impact on a startup’s culture. You build the kind of company you want out of the people you bring into it.” — Korrio founder Steve Goldman.
“Follow the lean startup process and focus on customers. Figure out creative ways to test your assumptions without writing code, this will make you move much faster.” — Bizible founder Aaron Bird.
“Listen to everyone, but don’t try to please them all.” — BlooperBox co-founder Brad Hogan.
“Think big and hire the right players.” — Craig Kelly, co-founder of Vizualiiz.
“The same thing that we learned playing sports. Believe in yourself and treat every deal like it’s your last.” — Former Seattle Seahawks player and Viva Vision owner Joe Tafoya.
“Pain is the biggest motivating factor when it comes to adopting new technologies…. So find some pain, build a clever way to make it go away, and you can’t lose.” — TinyPass co-founder Will Coghlan.
”If it is even remotely feasible to do so, just go build it. You won’t know how good or bad your idea is until you watch others interact with your own creation.” — Like Secret co-founder Drew Blaisdell.