Starting a startup?
May 30, 2010 9:09 PM   Subscribe

What do you wish you had known before starting your...startup?

I'll be turning 20 in a couple of weeks, and although I've been interested in entrepreneurship and startups for a long time, I've mostly been spinning my wheels. I invested myself pretty deeply in several ideas, but because I hadn't built a solid foundation of startup knowledge, they fizzled out. During this time, I've learned about the importance of market research pre-development, the difficulties of user acquisition, and found a pile of resources that have been hugely beneficial.

For all of the entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and anyone else with something to say: What do you wish you had known before starting out? What resources did you discover that made things easier for you? What books would you recommend? What would have accelerated your progress as a budding entrepreneur?

Some of the tools I've found:
-Many tech event calendars for my city
-A few communities like Hacker News, Warrior Forums (sometimes)
-Books (Founders at Work, Getting Real, et cetera)
-Tons of podcasts (Stanford's entrepreneurship podcast)
posted by gacxllr9 to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I don't even know where to start. If you really want to know, MeMail me and set up a phone call. I can share a LOT of firsthand lessons won the hard way.
posted by signalnine at 10:02 PM on May 30, 2010

The work of Eric Ries and Steve Blank on the topics of Lean Startups and Customer Development sounds right up your alley in that it will help you prove that whatever idea you have is accepted by the market (ergo you make $$).

For inspiration you can read Steve Blanks blog about the supermac war stories and join the lean startup list (a google group).
posted by desl at 10:16 PM on May 30, 2010

Things that really have helped.

0) Being in the San Francisco Bay Area. Why? Because there is a huge amount of support here for startups, including lots of people who have already done them and are open to talking about what works. This is different than, say, the Boston area, where there is not as much of an open startup culture.

Also, if you have a product that other startups might want to use, you'll find those startups in abundance here. Not so much in any other US city.

1) working in startups before doing my own, so I had the basic skills to design and prototype a product, manage finances and contractors, know what's needed to set up a corporation, and know how to deal with the stress of a startup.

2) knowing people who have done their own startups who I can ask for advice on topics ranging from the basic - thoughts on incorporation, access to boilerplate legal documents - to the more advanced (who's a good investor, where are the customers, what's the right technology to do X).

3) having financial resources for myself and my business. If you can't support yourself or your business until you have cash coming in, it doesn't matter how great your idea and skill are.

4) having smart friends with great talent.
posted by zippy at 10:34 PM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

You may want to check this out:

Personal MBA Reading List

I've been checking many of them out from the library instead of buying them.

However, don't get wrapped up in the bullshit social media / serial entrepreneur / lifecoach guru / consultant-venture-capitalist-angel-investor cult of circle jerkery. It seems like there's a dearth of moderately successful people who've created something of little importance, who want to motivate you and tell you how to be an entrepreneur (and sell themselves/their name/product), and refer you to all of their clones/cohorts/friends/social contacts.

Determine what your needs are, what your wants are, and then set your learning and preparation necessities accordingly and just do it. I think the 4 Hour Work Week is probably a great starting point. I haven't read the updated edition, but the original was very useful.

Other considerations:
- Take a business law course, or pick up a textbook.
- Begin saving cash.
- Get some credit cards, get your credit score up, and increase your max borrowing capability.
- If you're not in school, and you have a field of interest, try to get a job in the field to learn about it.
- Remember, if you have a hobby you'd like to turn into a business, make sure you can realistically make money doing it, otherwise it'll just be an expensive hobby (that you'll eventually come to hate).

Finally, it's important to note that your path will vary with your dream. Did you have any particular ideas?
posted by mhuckaba at 11:23 PM on May 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Here's the most important rule of starting a busines that I know: If you're not 100% comfortable with the fact that running a successful business doing X is maybe 20% doing X and 80% running a business, you're fucked. In other words, if you're not in love with running-a-business qua running-a-business, running a business is not for you. In other-other words: people who make great businesses do so because the business is the product. Is this you? You'll be fine. Is this not you? Find someone to work for who does love running a business. Successful entrepreneurs are successful because they love to make functional and profitable businesses, not because they love to make buckets, or squeegees, or whatever. I could probably find a fifth way of saying the same thing, but you probably get my point.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:19 AM on May 31, 2010

At a recent dinner conversation with three successful serial entrepreneurs the discussion came around to what they each thought was the most important element of success in starting businesses.

One said: find a way - if you want to make it happen you have to be persistent and creative and make it happen. This is especially true in terms of raising investment $$.

Facts and data are crucial - not wishful thinking. Do your research!

Nurture and maintain relationships with your staff, clients, and investors. Realize for most start-ups that if you can't get your family to invest your chances of getting anyone else to do so are slimmer.

Living someplace with accessible angel money helps a lot. Here in Michigan, even when our economy isn't in total meltdown mode, it's challenging to find small start-up $$. It's easier to raise several million than $500K.
posted by leslies at 5:48 AM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not the one who started the business, but I work in a startup. I'd recommend that you not overlook the value of networking with others in your industry, and even those not directly in your industry.

I used to write it off as a useless frivolity, but the founder of the startup I'm at is amazing at it, and we really wouldn't be where we are today if he weren't networking with so many people. Sometimes it's little technical things: what do you do when Lucene keeps running into swap and you've given the box as much RAM as it's physically capable of? (You contact an architect at a much larger firm who solved these issues long ago and who thinks you're lobbing him softballs when you present him your most challenging problems.) Sometimes it's huge things: what do you do when your conversion rate is a tiny estimate of what you forecast and you're hemorrhaging money? (You contact someone who's been in the industry for years and recently retired to the Caribbean after selling his site for an obscene amount of money, yet who is happy to come in and talk to you about honing your business model.) We're a tiny little company with insignificant market share right now, but we have it on good authority that we're about to be mentioned in a major publication because a friend of our founder knew the reporter and recommend that they contact us.

YMMV, of course, and I'm terrible at networking, personally. But it can get you much further than I'd have ever expected.
posted by fogster at 8:46 AM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Hope" is not a strategy. Strive to know what you want to do, why, how you are going to do it, and be able to support that objectively.
posted by kjs3 at 5:04 AM on June 1, 2010

Know concretely how you are going to acquire customers. Then as quickly and as painlessly as possible, actually acquire customers to discover how much it costs to acquire a customer and how much revenue you realize per customer.

The sooner you do this, the sooner your idea becomes a business. So often, entrepreneurs get stuck in brain crack feature creep, where the company or product isn't ready to launch because it's not just right. Launch early and often.

No business plan ever survives first contact with the customer and the entrepreneur must stick and move.

MeMail me if you have any more questions.
posted by Freen at 11:09 AM on June 1, 2010

MeMail me, and I'll put you in touch with a friend who's a successful entrepeneur, and started in his mid-20's.

Among other things, he sells template (IIRC) template legal contracts that you might need, and is a great guy who would love to help others out in cost-free, advice sorts of ways, as well.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:23 PM on June 6, 2010

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