I was asked this question the other day:
What’s the most difficult aspect of starting a company? • Can you talk about some of the early challenges you faced? • If you could go back and give your past-self one piece of advice, what would it be?”
Email To: Future Me
Subject: Hey Me – It’s Going To Take Longer Than You Think!
Two plus years ago, I founded Affinity Center International, a Reston-based association loyalty and member engagement marketing firm. Here are four points I would send myself in a time traveling email.
Listen up! You need to really think about these five points – they will help make the adventure more enjoyable for all:
1. People are the challenge. The right people on the bus make all the difference. While past performance of a person is a great indicator of future performance, you still need to take into account the new variable of working for a start-up. Some people do well in big, old, process filled businesses, but in uncharted territory they become lost or focused on the wrong things. Start-ups are about a team morphing into one living organism: no egos, no titles, just pure movement and velocity of the business. If a person slows down the team or derails the focus; get them off the bus ASAP. People will come and go at different stages of the start-up’s lifecycle – that’s OK.
2. Set realistic expectations early. Investors (both financial and mental support) will push for bigger sooner. Remember that the desired outcome will likely be longer and slower than they’d like (or yourself). Rapid growth can be addressed, but the expectation of speed and size once shaped is hard to shift. This can create a cycle where, even when you are succeeding in development, gaining ground in the market and moving forward, you feel like you are not exceeding the expectations that were set. Also, numbers no matter how much you say are “rough estimates” become real once on paper and you have to live with them.
3. Take care of yourself. The stress, challenges and pushing to bring something new reality will be a mental and physical wallop to oneself. Eat well, get out and experience more than 24-7 start-up stuff. As the leader, people will come at you from all sides – don’t miss the one key side that also needs care and attention, yourself. Create breathing room for other things, schedule “me time” to think, research and explore, go find old friends to talk about other topics. Be more than your start-up.
4. Its a river not a pond. A start-up is like an expedition to an unknown land and a river with many turns, white water rapids and water falls. You plan, pack as best as you can and bring the right team for the journey. You may lose team members, or have unforeseen challenges, but you will be richer for everything you experience.
5. Status quo is the enemy. You need to be growing all the time, finding the next level the next field of results to grow towards. Remember when you Dad was very ill and in the hospital when the Doc's said "he is stable" and you said "great" and they said "No this is bad. We either want to see improvement or getting worse that way we know what we are doing has an impact, other wise he will have a catastrophic event in the near future and die" - well a start up is like that, keep adjusting and changing, seeing growth or not.
Don’t forget, this is why you love start-ups!
Best in Spirit!