Recent Lessons Learned At My First Startup

2009 July 13
by Grace Boyle

I’m not an entrepreneur (yet), but both my parents are and I work with Ladies Who Launch, helping women incubate and grow their new business. I live in Boulder, Colorado where there are over 170 startups with a booming and supportive community around entrepreneurship. Oh I also work at a start up.

That’s my startup cred.

Officially, I will call Lijit my first *startup and now that I’ve been here 10 months I want to organize my thoughts into everything that I’ve learned. Believe me, it’s a lot and it won’t stop here.

Top Ten Things The Startup World Has Taught Me

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  1. Be prepared to wear many hats (and like it).
  2. Life moves fast, 100 mph is standard. Go for the ride.
  3. Working hard is your M.O. Nights, weekends, events, conferences.
  4. There are high highs and low lows
  5. Your mistakes shape and mold you. They’re necessary for growth. Let failure and the unexpected be part of the process.
  6. Company culture that is creative, **fun and funky are synonymous for a startup personality. **Must have foos ball, Wii, Rockband, Ping Pong table, company outings, etc. I will also mention that there’s a strong sense of connectivity and trust at Lijit and I’ve heard and seen the same with other startups. Our CEO and COO are approachable and interact with us daily. I know friends that have never even met the CEO of their large company, let alone sit down personally in their office to discuss a new idea or project you want to work on.
  7. Your mind must be elastic and bendable in finding a solution. Don’t accept “It’s not possible.” The best entrepreneurs and leaders will find a way.
  8. Talking and listening to your customers is imperative. There is so much to learn from them. Their feedback is viable and treating them with respect is of the utmost importance. Our customer support and service is often the most touted by our users. It’s because we value their needs. They keep us going.
  9. Exercise faith. You must believe in what you’re doing. The passion and faith drive success.
  10. Each employee is there for a reason. Micah, our VP of Business Development never forgets to remind me that “each employee bring imminent value to Lijit. The moment you stop bringing value, you’re gone.” You can’t afford an antagonist in your startup. Catalysts are the fuel for startups.

Do you have startup experience? What other lessons do you find useful-either that of your friends or own experience? Please share.

Photo Credit: CEONYC

*I worked at my Father’s startup business for years in high school, experiencing much of this but don’t think I’m counting it officially.

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  • genystartup

    Love this post Grace, it captures alot of what i'll say the start-up experience is about generally. Personally I have experienced being in the small room we called office for 74 straight hours! had to take several pay cuts so we could come up with funds for marketing and advertising. Worst of all, I hate confrontation and arguments but there's always a lot of “frustration release” with new start-ups, and everyone gets dragged into it somehow. Oh well, who said it was easy living the start-up life?? brilliant post.

  • two2_tango

    Grace–I'd say that your observations are close to universal truths. At least, they mirror my experience in startups exactly. Working at a start-up isn't for clock-punchers, but if you like excitement, having a sense of purpose and being NEEDED by your employer, they are a great place to work.

    The long hours and the roller coaster ride is totally worth it.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @GenYStartup The blood, sweat and tears are all part of it for sure. I wouldn't say much of being part of a startup is “easy” but I think knowing that going in is smart. I love hearing other people's experiences, because sharing is gratifying and interesting. Thanks for your story and the kind words about the post!

  • carlosmiceli

    I have no experience working in a start-up, but I'll say this is a hell of a post. what you say about the big companies is also very true. also, this makes me want to start working in the entrepreneurial world right away.

    Amazing Grace, you never cease to surprise me.

    Are they hiring at Lijit? 😉

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Two2_Tango Being “needed” by your employer is a great point to bring up. I also think it takes a certain kind of person to be able to ride the startup wave, don't you? Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Carlos It does sound enticing, right? I think getting your feet wet in the corporate and entrepreneurial world is important, especially at a young age. It helps to shape and mold what you're interested in and what you can handle. And actually, Lijit has some positions 😉 Really: http://www.lijit.com/jobs

  • http://ryanstephensmarketing.com/blog/ ryanstephens

    I can certainly attest to most of these particularly high highs and low lows. At least once a week I want my skull off, say F*ck off and quit, but then there's also these moments when it all comes together (for a bit) and you get an overwhelming since of self (and company) satisfaction that keeps you driving forward.

    I wish our company had more of #6.

    Another I'll add. Start-ups don't usually scale that well in my experience. For this reason, the CEO HAS to let go of the reins sometimes. If you hire rockstars they can handle things, and the CEO has to let them because if they're constantly micromanaging, reviewing every outbound document, etc. it really slows the process down and that doesn't make sense within the fabric of a start-up. You need to be agile and able to adjust quickly. That should be an advantage.

    Life's been moving since 6 am for me this morning! :)

    R

  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuartfoster

    I'd suggest not sleeping as well. That is kind of what I realized about halfway into working on my developing consultancy. Also, it's more fun to have a product to market…then no product ;).

  • http://www.thefatlossauthority.com/fat_loss_tips Michael Cecchin

    learn the delicate art of flexible action.

    Take the words speed of implementation very seriously and act fast but thoughtfully, and be ready for some of your actions to fail miserably. Because that's where the real strides are made, not in the easy wins but in the U-turn zig-zag pattern when an obstacle arrives.

    great post Grace. you are goooooooood.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Ryan This is a very good point about CEO's letting go of the reins. There is no way a CEO can do everything and there really are a lot of moving parts. That's why the value base for each employee is so important. Really, each person is agile and bringing something to the table and as long as he/she understands that and oversees, then I think it's great. I brought up the fun in #6 because you work so hard, it's nice to reward and give back especially to the employees. Little goes a long way. Thanks for sharing, Ryan :) Go go go go startups

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Stuart Ah the sleep deprivation. Many startups have cots in the office or bring their sleeping gear for crazy nights. Our development team in particular has beer for late night, while there's a product release in the middle of the night. Living in Boulder, we're all close and there isn't a big city commute so I'm able to make it home to my bed…but very very true points!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Mr Cecchin What a good way to put it, “learn the delicate art of flexible action.” I have found that our mistakes teach us more than the easy wins. In the moment, that's so frustrating but the aftermath is important in accessing and understanding. Thanks for the gooooood kudos :)

  • http://thesocialnet.blogspot.com two2_tango

    Oh yeah, you need to have an adventurous soul to work for a start-up. It's a crazy, chaotic place and work DOMINATES your life, but there's a real sense of purpose too.

    I guess it depends on whether you work for a paycheck or you work for the love of what you're doing. If one works primarily for a paycheck, they wouldn't last very long at a start-up. Start-ups *require* passion and a really, really strong desire to excel.

  • http://www.opheliaswebb.com Elisa Doucette

    I worked for the first 5 years of my industry career at a start-up and I loved every moment of it. I'd happily work 60-70 hours, spin from project to project, spend time strategizing and planning with the owner and my colleagues, grab a beer after work with my sales partner, I just loved it. The best part of start-up life is that it totally sucks but you are so invested in the company and it's future that you don't even notice the parts that suck. They are just things to do to get to the final goal.

    Gosh, whenever I read stuff like this a small little piece of me regrets giving up the start-up life to take a job in corporate America. I so wasn't built to play the corporate game!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Elisa There definitely is a definitive final goal when working at a startup. Usually, with most jobs there are but sometimes you get caught in the 'drone' activity that can be relatively mundane. It just depends. There is a certain air of excitement in our office, all the time. Even if it's scared excitement, it's still fun! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.lifeschocolates.com sameve

    I wouldn't say my company is technically a start-up anymore, but I can definitely relate to a lot of the points you make. Regardless of where we work or what we do, I think that these ten things will guide us to be the best we can be. Great post, Grace!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Sam In general, those points would definitely fit most businesses! I'm glad you could relate and can look at the list as sort of a guide :)

  • http://www.lifeschocolates.com sameve

    I wouldn't say my company is technically a start-up anymore, but I can definitely relate to a lot of the points you make. Regardless of where we work or what we do, I think that these ten things will guide us to be the best we can be. Great post, Grace!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Sam In general, those points would definitely fit most businesses! I'm glad you could relate and can look at the list as sort of a guide :)

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