If this is your first time reading, I recommend you start with my 6-month challenge, week #1 choosing an idea and market validation, week #2 talking to others, building an MVP and focusing on value vs. growth and monetization, week #3 narrowing focus further, learning about gluten free, social shopping and eating experiments and week #4 building out my MVP, talking to advisors, learning how to pitch VC’s and pitching Greylock.
tl;dr It is now just over a month since I’ve started. I’ve now taken a step back to try to understand what motivated me in doing this in the first place, what I have accomplished so far and my top five lessons learned.
In my original six-month challenge post, I promised to write a monthly review in addition to weekly progress reports.
Here is my first review.
I. Looking back and understanding why I made the jump
II. What I’ve accomplished in the past month
III. Top five lessons learned
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
– Mark Twain
I. LOOKING BACK AND UNDERSTANDING WHY I MADE THE JUMP
It’s kind of crazy to think just over a month ago I was at Evernote. Evernote has great people and a wonderful culture, not to mention amazing products (including a very product and design focused philosophy, which attracted me in the first place), and I learned a lot — but a part of me was restless and itching to try my hand at startups. Part of working there just lost its luster, due to a variety of factors. Regardless of whether or not I should have stayed longer or moved on to another company to learn more, etc. or this is my immature naiveté manifesting in a startup is another matter — starting my own company was a risk I was willing to take.
A couple days ago, I read Andy Dunn’s “The Risk Not Taken” and Ellen Huerta’s “Why I Left Google” and their sentiments greatly resonated with me. I highly recommend you read both stories. They’re long, but they’re beautifully well-written and poignant. It may strike you as something you can’t quite relate to, but you can’t ignore the courage it takes to be true to yourself in spite of what society thinks and everyone else’s expectations of you and your potential. I certainly know and experienced those feelings.
One of the most helpful things I’ve found when I experience those lows of complete self-questioning of why I am doing this, why I am taking such an unnecessary risk — constantly looking for external validation — I revisit Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech.
The most inspirational quotes I’ve enjoyed from his speech:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
And now, as I publicly document my progress, I still have my doubts. I still worry about living up to other people’s expectations of me, of my supposed potential. It may just be a crisis of self-confidence, but at the end of the day, I’ve asked myself the hard questions and this is truly what I enjoy doing. When I’m 80, am I going to regret doing this? No! Actually, I would completely regret it if I’m 80 and I did not take that risk. Scratch 80, when I’m 30, if I hadn’t attempted to do a startup — even if it miserably fails — I actually would be severely disappointed in myself.
I am genuinely happy where I am now. Regardless of how this “challenge” will turn out, it’s been extremely helpful for me in learning more about myself.
I shouldn’t have to justify myself or apologize for anything I’ve done, to anyone. It sometimes feels like that, but at the end of the day, you are the one living your life, not everyone else who “knows what’s best” for you. People will always have opinions, but you are the only one living with and dealing with the consequences of your actions. I say this from a previous post of how my parents always wanted me to be a doctor, and if I had walked down that path, I would’ve been absolutely miserable internally — even if I had all of the external validation and boxes checked of a cushy salary, job prestige, support from my parents and so forth.
Hold yourself accountable and be true to yourself. You can listen to what others say and think all day, but at the end of the day, you need to really decide for yourself what’s best for you and what makes you truly happy.
It’s an extremely liberating feeling.
II. WHAT I’VE ACCOMPLISHED IN THE PAST MONTH
Taking a step back, I want to also review what I’ve accomplished in my first month:
- Chose an idea with a noted market need
- Talked to 50+ users — whether by forums/email, phone or in person (as of this week!)
- Created an informal advisory board of current and past entrepreneurs and tech startup employees
- Developed a MVP even as a non-technical person
- Narrowed my initial broad focus to concentrating on owning the gluten free space
- Learned more about gluten free through books, research, medical lectures and conversations with healthcare professionals (gaining domain expertise)
- Done pitch practice with Greylock Partners and gone to office hours with Rock Health
So far I’ve planned out what the next 2-3 weeks will look like, but I have no idea what’s to come or where I will be in even a couple months.
III. TOP FIVE LESSONS LEARNED
I thought it might be helpful to compile a top five lessons learned, if you will — half of these I’ve mentioned in previous posts and half of these I’m mentioning for the very first time.
Some of the hardest lessons I’ve come to learn, in no particular order:
1. Don’t get wedded to your idea. It will change over time, and you need to be OK with that.
I originally started out targeting vegetarians/vegans and Paleo, but now have since completely focused on the gluten-free audience. Even now, I am having some doubts about the viability of my original idea (separate from intended users) and am thinking about pivoting and entertaining other related pivots or even entirely different startup ideas that relate to my strengths.
One of the problems I’ve realized with myself is that, sometimes, even in the face of increasing evidence to the contrary, I will get stubborn and try to make something work if there are more and more signs pointing out that it will not work, or at least, not meet my threshold of success. I take the approach of it will work if I put in more hours, do more work, etc. I find it hard to let things go when I feel that they haven’t reached their full potential.
Sometimes you just have to let something go and be in love with the problem you’re trying to solve, and flexible about the solution.
2. If you ask people, you will get lots of advice. Listen to them, but make your own decisions.
I was in NYC last year at the NYC Uncubed conference and I distinctly remember sitting in on a lecture by Gary Vaynerchuk. I don’t remember exactly what the session topic was, but he was talking about his past experiences and life story so far.
What stuck out to me the most from what he said was this simple sentence: “Don’t listen to advice.”
Hold on a second and let me explain.
Everyone has advice and an opinion and everyone has his or her own story. I don’t want to devalue that, but I want to caution people to be careful to separate the signal from the noise in terms of what advice they seek out and act upon. Some of my successful friends and entrepreneurs have certain pieces of advice that directly contradict each other — and who is right? Both of them! Whatever advice someone gives you, it worked for him or her in the past – in his or her specific set of circumstances and situations. What works for someone may completely backfire for someone else.
Keep that in mind. What works for someone else may not work for you. And there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s important here is to be aware of that as you consider actionable advice.
At the end of the day, you need to carefully evaluate the advice you’ve been given, try to pick out patterns and trends and ultimately decide for yourself what is best and the next step. I do encourage you to seek out advice, but be much more aware of how circumstantial some advice is — and so don’t get angry or confused if you follow someone’s advice but it turns out very differently for you — but if it’s something that’s repeated over and over (even as general startup advice), it may be worthwhile to do that.
3. It’s cool that you are your own boss, but watch your time and focus like a laser.
Now that I’m working on this full time, I’m my own boss and sometimes it is very easy to get distracted. Prioritization is key. Focus like a laser. As Paul Graham says, there’s a difference between a manager’s schedule and a maker’s schedule.
This is extremely important and one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn — and still am learning.
4. Avoid burnout and find your rhythm.
As I mentioned before, working out has been my rhythm and de-stresser. Find what you need to do to find your rhythm and be committed to it.
5. Stop trying to monetize or grow before you have users.
Find out if someone will actually use it first. Get to product/market fit and have users who find your product valuable before trying to make money off them or worry about distribution problems.
This month has had the most ups and downs I’ve ever experienced in my entire life from an emotional standpoint. It’s been the most exciting and challenging thing I’ve ever done — not to mention scary — and I can’t wait to see what the upcoming months have in store for me.
Thanks for reading and following on! If you have other lessons and advice to add, I would love to hear from you.
P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter here.
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