7 Lessons Learned From My First Startup

Sometimes you don't know what exactly you are getting yourself into but you jump in with both feet anyway. In the spring of 2008, I had just joined the business development group at my company and I was wrapping up my MBA. For the previous 8 years I had worked in the accounting and finance org but I had reached a place where there was nowhere further for me to go but out. I knew that the finance path was not where I wanted to spend the rest of my career, so I was fortunate enough to have a path out within the same company.   

After getting my feet wet for a few months, I was asked to lead a startup project within the company. This was a new product, to a new buyer, in a new market for our company. An insane task to most people who knew anything, but luckily I didn't know how much I didn't know, so I signed up. My task was to lead a team that would build a product, a path to market and a business as quickly as possible. We had a team of 16 people, most of which were R&D, and we launched in 9 months. We created a product, a new brand, website, community, social media presence, online store, support, messaging and multiple marketing pieces - the whole nine yards.

We got quite a bit of attention out of the gate, but ultimately we did not have enough runway to get the plane off the ground. The company focused it's strategy and we were not part of that. Along the way we did not have much success in terms of sales, but as measured by my development it was the best 18 months of my career by far. The best thing that ever could have happened to me was that we failed. I don't think I could have said that back in December, but the wounds have healed now and I am a better person for it. At the time I put so much of my heart and soul into making that thing work it was a major punch in the gut when I had to come to the realization that we were not going to make it. Success covers up most of the stink of the parts that are failing.  Startups are harder than anyone could ever imagine unless you have been there.

At the end of that experience, I went back and tried to figure out what lessons I needed to learn. I came up with 7 core things that are critical lessons. I have had this list hanging on my wall ever since, and I have found it to be a universal list that applies to most every project I work on. I wanted to share that list with you and write a series over the next couple of weeks that talks about each lesson in detail. I will do another startup and I hope not to learn these lessons again. I will learn in new and more spectacular ways! For now - Here are the Seven Lessons Learned From My First Startup. 

  1. Get the right people on the bus, in the right seats and get the wrong people off the bus
  2.  Clarity of the business problem you are solving
  3.  Keep it simple
  4. User experience is essential
  5. Early wins are essential
  6. Hand hold first users
  7. Do your homework and get candid feedback

I will be expanding on each of these over the next couple of weeks.  In the mean time - what am I missing from your experience?