Three years ago, I founded a tech startup as a sole founder, in an unfamiliar industry, and with no tech or startup experience. Looking back, I couldn’t have been more “out of the tech scene” – I was a corporate lawyer at Cravath, a formal firm in midtown Manhattan. Making mistakes during those early stages of Updater was par for the course.
In hopes that you will avoid some classic “first-time entrepreneur” missteps and build your company faster, here are the top three lessons I learned:
1. Don’t hire unqualified early employees.
When you’re running a company of one to three people and trying to accomplish a lot without the necessary manpower, it’s easy to think that you just need a few people to help take the weight off, build the prototype, or just get you to the next funding hurdle. Anyone will do, right? Wrong.
How did I hire my first engineer? I hired one of the first people to respond to my job post who seemed confident he could do the work and was willing to do it at a low price. I thought I was getting a great deal … I wasn’t.
How could I have made such a rookie mistake? In retrospect, I could partly blame the fact that I lacked funding and connections to get top talent, but the real problem was that I just didn’t know exactly what the job entailed. I understood the tasks that needed to be completed, but I didn’t understand the skills the candidates should possess to complete those tasks, or how to evaluate the candidate for those skills. Unfortunately, with that lack of knowledge, my hiring mistakes were nearly inevitable.
My advice to you: chat with more experienced entrepreneurs and people currently doing the job that you’re hiring for at another startup to properly understand the qualifications for the role. Talk to anyone who will give you advice. They’ll help you identify the right skill sets and help you set key performance indicators and deliverables for the role, allowing you to hire more effectively and gain proper expectations.
Also, even the earliest employees are helping set company culture. Your early employees must have the right skills, but equally important they must have the right personality and attitude to help you build the company and environment that you want to create.
2. Find a co-founder.
Going at it alone with no experience is difficult on all fronts. When it comes to startups, it’s true that two heads are better than one.
While an idea can be great, it’s really all about the execution, and my limited technical know-how was, frankly, very limiting. Having a co-founder helps ensure that you have someone to complement and balance your strengths and weaknesses, which is key to long-term success.
Comfortable accomplishing things myself, I waited a long time before finding a partner. Waiting was beneficial because, over time, I was able to identify the exact experience and skills my partner should possess to complement my skill set, and as a result I was able to identify the ideal person.
However, I would have achieved more much faster and greatly reduced the company’s risk profile if I had a partner at the beginning, even if not the perfect partner. So don’t start your company alone! While owning 100 percent rather than 50 or 33 percent may seem appealing, you’re probably increasing your likelihood of owning 100 percent of nothing.
3. Don’t protect your ideas – share them.
I got this one all wrong, too. I spent valuable time and money working to protect my ideas and strategies for implementation, thinking someone might try to copy me.
Not only did I waste time and money, but I also missed countless opportunities to get feedback from potential users, clients and early adopters. I spent weeks (and thousands of dollars) on patent and trademark protection, when I should have been building a prototype and showing it to everyone and anyone who would listen.
What I know now is ideas aren’t as valuable as they seem. Rather, it’s the ability to execute that’s valuable. No one was going to steal my idea because no one was as passionate about reinventing the moving process. In fact, hundreds of people probably already had my idea, but couldn’t or wouldn’t execute it.
To sum it up, tap into the resources around you for feedback and help.
Related: The 4 Reasons Why My Startup Failed