You'll get pulled in a zillion directions. Finding your balance is key.
I came from a corporate environment where roles were clearly defined. The startup life is, well, a little more hectic. Any given day involves a dizzying combination of sales presentations, hiring (and, sadly, firing), strategy discussions, and putting out fires. It's great fun, but I wish I had a better sense of prioritizing when I started out. Early on I spent too much time fighting fires. Now I recognize the value in careful planning and time management.
Another balancing act lies in dealing with conflicting advice. Many people will tell you you're a genius, others say you’re an idiot. Some recommend keeping an open mind and seeking new customers and markets, while others preach the virtues of focus. The tough part is that most of the advice is "smart," and comes with a healthy dose of compelling evidence and good intentions.
The solution? Don't just put on the blinders and plow ahead with your own ideas (see lesson No. 2). My experience has shown me the importance of balancing the flurry of advice. Learn to ignore the noise. Don't let the fans inflate your ego or the naysayers bring you down. Figure out early on who you can go to for advice. Find a mentor who's been in your shoes. And have the conviction to make difficult decisions. At the end of the day, you're the boss.
Change is your friend. Embrace it.
Rarely does a business evolve as the entrepreneur first envisions it. Business plans are great, but once you get into it, the reality on the ground is very different. So be open to new ideas. Get out of the office and talk to people. Meet with potential customers and figure out what they’re looking for. Talk to folks in the industry who've gone through the startup doldrums. Read blogs and monitor social networks to get a pulse of what the public's looking for. Track your competitors' moves.
After doing your due diligence, ask yourself if the original ideas still make sense. Ask yourself if you're on the right track, or if it's time to pivot. In the early days of Reel Tributes, I was dogmatic about sticking to my plan. I had the blinders on. But I quickly realized that being dogmatic is the wrong approach. It's all about figuring out where the opportunities lie; even if those opportunities are conspicuously absent from your company's original business plan.
Building a website is about as fun as talking to your tax guy.
Actually, it's much worse; at least the tax guy gets stuff done. Nobody told me that it would take months to find a website designer, and a few more months to find a developer, and then many more months for them to get the work done. Or that managing the design and coding process would be a logistical nightmare. Nothing gets done on time, and rarely do you get what you want the first go-round. After speaking with fellow entrepreneurs, it appears that my experience is not unique. In fact, it's the norm.
So what's the solution? Aside from learning to code, which is not feasible for most of us, I'd offer three pieces of advice:
- Do the diligence on the designer and developer before hiring them. Ask friends, get plenty of references, and pick apart samples of their work.
- Actively manage the project. Break the deliverables into small chunks. Set definitive timelines and hold them to it.
- Expect the worst. It'll take at least double the amount of time you first anticipate. Coming into the process with low expectations will reduce your stress level. And if it all goes smoothly, you'll be in startup heaven.
David Adelman is the Founder and CEO of Reel Tributes, the premier producer of high-end personal history documentaries. Reel Tributes' films preserve timeless stories and memories through interviews, photographs, narration, and music. He is a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business's development and growth.