A year ago I made a huge decision. I already had a successful business for 4 years, two young children, and was starting to build a house. It was at this moment that I decided to give up my business and go full time into being a co-founder at Zoostr. Most people thought I was crazy!
The past 12 months have been a roller coaster ride from planning and launching a product, marketing on a limited budget, trying to get investment and dealing with many ups and downs along the way. Every week seems to teach me something new about the world or about myself.
Here are a few things that I’ve learnt along the way that hopefully will help others also:
- Pick your initial team VERY carefully. Make sure they understand and FULLY commit to the startup life. They need to understand that there is no money, lots of uncertainty, many obstacles and they’ll constantly be told that their idea, market, abilities etc. are no good. We lost way too much time (and had to change co-founders) in the beginning because of this. They also need to be working on it full time or nearly full time, not just weekends and evenings. It will significantly hurt your ability to move quickly.
- Spend time with your customers. We are based in Israel so it’s not easy but we have consistently got on planes and come over to India to meet with users and non-users in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, etc. ahead of having an office in India. We discovered how we could seriously improve the efficiency of small businesses in India and then went and built it. It taught us a lot. We have built Zoostr based on the feedback from these meetings and other feedback loops that we have in place.
- Ask for help & advice. You will be amazed at how many people are willing to help you. We have consistently asked for people’s advice and opinions or to connect us with others. Just contact people politely (LinkedIn is great for this) and ask for help. The response is amazing; it restores your faith in humans! We have learnt things from people in one conversation that would have taken us months to learn ourselves.
- Chase revenue from day one. We were fully focused on the longer term picture and “doing things right” when we should have also focused on an additional short term goal of revenue generation from another region / product etc. It takes much longer than you think to do everything and you need revenue or money to live from! Which leads me to the next point..
- It will take longer than you think. Things never go to plan. People, product, investment, market – they will always surprise you and throw you another obstacle or burden to carry. You have to accept that it will be harder than you think.
- Every investor you speak with will have a different view and often contradicts what the last investor told you. They are all right and all wrong. Deal with it. You need to find someone who is passionate about your idea, and believes in the potential, your team, & the market. Accept that you probably won’t find this person and you’ll have to continue alone or fold. No-one promised you it would be easy :)
- Learn how to tell your story. It took us some time to realize that we were explaining our story in the wrong way. Zoostr is a story of disruptive innovation – about transforming an existing market, and that’s not about technology (although it plays a part) but about making things simpler, more accessible and more affordable. Getting your story right is critical.
- Focus, focus, focus. Accept that your product won’t be perfect. Just build the critical features and get it out there to see what happens and then learn from it. There are still things that I dislike about Zoostr but we have 20,000+ people who love it because it provides real value and they care less about design than I do!
- Test, test, test. You need to test everything. Product features, marketing, messaging, announcements etc. You need to do a lot of learning in the beginning and see what works and what doesn’t so you can focus.
- Development speed is critical. You need to minimise the complexity and make things simple. This not only enables you to get stuff out the door quicker but chances are (if it’s done intelligently) your users will love you for it.
- Look after yourself. The life of a startup founder is not for the faint of heart. Make sure you run, do Yoga or Pilates, eat well, sleep well and generally be as gentle with yourself as possible. Believe me; you’ll thank me for it.
As a final word, don’t forget to enjoy the victories along the way, even the small ones. Getting a feature out, getting your first user, first investor meeting, standing on stage and pitching your idea, all deserve some celebrating. Make sure you enjoy it along the way!
About the Author: Spencer Waldron is the Chief Marketing Officer & Co-founder at Zoostr, a free to use software for small businesses to create create price quotations, invoices, and purchase orders that look professional, as well as send out bulk SMS marketing campaigns.