15 Tips on Surviving Your First Year in Business from Startups and CEOs

You may think you know what you’re getting yourself into when you launch a startup, but really, there is so much you just can’t understand until you’ve got some time under your belt.  Unfortunately, the business could very well go bust while you’re ironing out the kinks.  Instead of learning completely by trial and error, why not avoid a few common mistakes and misconceptions about that first year by reading what a few folks who have been there before have to say.



1.     “Unfortunately, investors will lie to you.  They will tell you straight to your face they are interested, want to learn more and actually want to invest.  This, most likely, is a lie.”
Startup CEO Nick Hughes has several hard-earned pearls of wisdom about the first year of business, but his warning that many investors are just looking for cheap information is probably the most valuable for guarding both your money and your time.

2.     “A lot of what we then considered ‘working hard’ was actually ‘freaking out.’  Freaking out included panicking, working on things just to be working on something, not knowing what we were doing, fearing failure, worrying about things we needn’t have worried about and other time-consuming activities.”
And yet, despite “not knowing what they were doing” and everything else, Caterina Fake and her husband managed to mold image-hosting site Flickr out of their plans for a MMOG.

3.     “I set a goal of getting at least 10 ‘no’s’ each day — that way I knew I was working hard enough.  Depending on your business, people are going to shoot down your ideas all the time.  Use that negative energy as motivation to make something positive.”
Luckily for Matt Moore, the CEO of men’s cologne company Moonshine, his persistence paid off with a lot of yeses and the business found success.

4.     “There are a lot of startup costs — entrance fees to trade shows, gas and food when you spend your day meeting with people, having your website built and hosted, company vehicles, mailings, phone costs, business cards, brochures — that I don’t think people even think about when they start a business.”
Small business owner Julee Wasserman took a 10-month community college program to ensure she was factoring in all those hidden costs in getting her event-planning company Gorge Tours off the ground.

5.     “There is so much information to take advantage of out there on the Internet for small business owners.  Use these incredible resources to help learn new things and propel your business forward.  With a jam-packed schedule, it’s easy to convince yourself that you don’t have the time to waste reading blogs and articles.  But you must find a way to fit it in.”
Hey, we’re big fans of blogs and all the advice they can give struggling business owners.  We’re glad to hear marketing firm Webonize’s founder Martina Iring is a fan, too.

6.     “If you can’t sell yourself, you don’t want to work for yourself.”
Bryan Beaty’s consulting company Decomplexification (an ironically complex name) would have gone under had he not hooked up with a group of marketers looking to start their own business.  But he learned that being able to sell is vital to a small business owner, and that he hated selling.  If you hate it, too, you might want to follow his example.

7.     “I was actually really good at thinking about the big picture in the beginning when everything was fresh and new.  But as the year went on I started throwing myself into client work more than I should have and not doing a good enough job leading other aspects of the company.”
Todd Zeigler serves as operations chief at D.C. “digital agency” Brick Factory.  As he says, the slope from heading operations to obsessing over single jobs is a slippery one for a startup exec.

8.     The last 10% it takes to launch something takes as much energy as the first 90%.”
Even with passion like his — to create a place for “beautiful things worth preserving”— Etsy co-founder Rob Kalin learned the final push for your startup may be the hardest part of the entire process.

9.     “I’ve noticed that it does tend to consume me.  12 to 14-hour days are pretty common.  Basically, the business is you, and you become the business.”
Her business may be called Fluff Cupcakery, but entrepreneur Jessica James put in Wall Street hours in order to get it off the ground in its first year.

10.  “Don’t raise too much money.”
StumbleUpon stayed self-funded through not just 1, but 4 years, a move CEO Garrett Camp credited with teaching him and his team to be efficient and to prioritize.

11.  “Entrepreneurs are, by nature, usually confident, positive and optimistic, but if success in startups is the outcome of a million random factors, inspiring help from others is among the most important.”
In his first year helping make Greatist the fastest-growing fitness site on the web, founder Derek Flanzraich discovered the beauty of accepting help from friends.

12.  “When you start something on your own, you’re so much more emotionally invested in it than you are with your corporate job.  All the excitements and disappointments are heightened.  You absolutely can’t afford to run your business solely based on how you feel.”
Though she’s technically no longer a boomerang kid, Lindsay Hunt started her own media company, no doubt with the help of her knowledge gained as a blogger.  It was her experience that you’ll go through discouragement, boredom, anger and many other emotions, but you have to keep those at bay to make it to 365 days.

13.  “There are huge advantages for working at a startup, but those come later as the result of very hard work.  The day-to-day is not glamorous.  You have to be resourceful because you don’t have people who have been there, done that and have guidelines on the best practices and lists of answers.  Everything you’ll be doing in a startup will be a brand new learning experience.”
At just 25, InstaEDU CEO Alison Johnston is wise beyond her years.  She’s found being the top dog means doing whatever needs doing, and often that’s the drudgery work.

14.  “[The second time] we only talked to investors who had run their own business before, and did so successfully.  This is because they are easier to deal with, they are significantly smarter and they actually understand the problem we are solving, and get it instantly.”
After wasting time dealing with “institutional investors who didn’t get her problem,” inDinero CEO Jessica Mah wised up and took her pitch to venture capitalists who spoke her language.  The technique worked so well she had to turn people away.
15. “A negative correlation exists between how good your idea is and how much the slow masses will understand it — at least in year one.  Don’t worry about this – they will get it in year two or three.  If it’s a good idea they will actually love it in year two or three and not even remember the fact that they ever doubted you.”
Blogger, angel investor and several-time startup guy Jason Calacanis makes no bones about the fact that great ideas take time to catch on.  He’s been through it all and lived to tell about it, and so will you.


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