8 lessons from my first year as an entrepreneur

This is an archive of blog post I wrote during my second venture (Sybil).

In a few months, you can learn a lot.πŸ”—

Last Thursday, I was invited to be a member of jury of the final of the startup boostcamp organized by the Brussels Microsoft Innovation Center. About seven months ago, we pitched in the previous session in March 2012. It was very interesting to pass the other side and listen to young entrepreneurs presenting their ideas. With a mix of surprise and obviousness, I find myself able to judge. Indeed, it forced me to realize the path I've made. Even in a so short time, I've learned a lot only because we've experienced a lot.

One year ago, Martin and I started to follow the Founder Institute program and built our business. It's a good time to crystallize some lessons. Below, the ones that resonate the most from that whole year of experience.

Listen, apply, but don't follow.πŸ”—

Closeup of a human ear

As a inexperienced entrepreneur starting his first startup, it was obvious to listen people that are more experienced. Sometimes, the advices and feedback were not convincing. But I listened and I tried to apply them. Most of the times, by applying, I learned something new and I progressed.

Sometimes, by applying, Martin and I realized it wasn't good for us. We have opinions and 8th is our business. We are the ultimate judges, the only persons that can decide what is worth doing, what is not. But that doesn't mean we don't listen others. In fact, listening others and trying helps us to forge our own opinions and build our business.

Pitching concisely helps you to build a better business.πŸ”—

At first, I sincerely didn't realize that pitching was also good for your business. As a pitch needs to be concise, we were forced to focus on the important and critical parts of the business: a problem, a customer target, and a solution with a differentiator. They are the core of the business model. Without clearly expressing them, it's impossible to build on top. It's impossible to explain to others: advisors, mentors, potential customers, providers, potential employees, investors, friends, and family. When you cannot explain your business, you cannot expect any useful feedback and advices. That also means that the chance are good that your customers will not understand it either. It's certainly not a good start if you want them to pay for something you cannot even explain.

Get out of the building or don't assume.πŸ”—

English: Interesting office building.

That one is probably very obvious and common for people aware of the customer development approach. Knowing it is one thing, experiencing it is another. It's simply based on the fact that you cannot know what other persons think about you, your idea, and so on. We have learned so much by talking to others, by meeting potential customers, and by asking why when we've got a "no". It freaked us to ask when people answered "we're not interested". But we did politely, and they answer us nicely. Same to meet people, at worse they decline. It's exactly the same result you obtain by not asking.

You cannot expect who you can meet.πŸ”—

There are so many events to attend, that I can spend half my time in events if I want. We can't afford a such waste of time. On the other hand, the topics could be interesting because it's exactly the issue we're addressing at that time. But events are not only about topics, they are also about people to meet. Networking is probably one of the most difficult task to manage in terms of time spending. But from my experience, I select events not so much based on the interest I have in the topic but for the audience, the people attending (or presenting).

At the beginning, I did chat with people, but it didn't necessarily give me a direct outcome. Anyway, I met interesting persons, gave my feedback or advices when asked, and pitched as often as I could. Sometimes, I met a potential customer that suggested us to run a pilot. An acquaintance introduced me to a person that helped us on a specific topic such as finance. I received the contact of an expert that gave us very interesting feedback on our product.

In my honest opinion, you cannot expect the outcome. But as gardening, if you honestly and gently take care, people will recognize you and at some point you just have to harvest when it flourishes.

Eighty percent of success is showing up.

Woody Allen

Lack of resources is a good thing.πŸ”—

TIME FLIES

We're still bootstrapping by doing consultancy on the side. It takes time, but it delivers the money, i.e. the mean, to build Sybil. It also force us to focus. Our time being limited, we cannot do what we want, we need to choose and decide. This is really a good thing. A few days ago, one person told me it was unfair to be a spin-off because they're in protected situation with a lot of money. I answered that I think we are in unfair situation because we're forced to focus on the business. We don't have the resources to waste, and it's a very good thing. We need to decide and progress. That really helps us to keep the pace and step forward.

Software development is not all.πŸ”—

We're techies, and we thought that the development of the product will take some time, but certainly not all our time. We would like, I would like. The reality is that a product is nothing without a customer with a problem, and without a business allowing to support its development. They are so many tasks that we need to take care, without wasting too much our time. At each step of our progression, we needed to balance our time between the different task in order to reach intermediary business milestone. That's it.

Having a cofounder is a big strength.πŸ”—

Every week day, Martin and I discuss and decide. Every single week day. Sometimes, even during weekend or holidays. Sometime, we agree, others we don't. When we don't, we listen each other, and we try to not be stuck is a disagreement. Each time, we learn something and the final decision is each time better that our respective positions.

Sometimes, we don't know what to do. We discuss, and we settle on a plan to find a solution. Sometimes, we're just sharing ideas and opinions, and it gives food for thought that helps the other one to come with another interesting idea another day. Sometimes, we are a little bit angry about the other opinion. We talk, we listen, we grow.

In my opinion, it's probably the best advice I can give: create a team with people able to discuss and exchange. Even if you have an overlapping expertise, it's better than being alone.

Have you experienced the same lessons? What's yours?

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