What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Startups 4 Years Ago



 

The year is 2007, and I had just left Microsoft to dive into the startup world. Like many first time entrepreneurs, I was very excited about the adventure. And like many first time entrepreneurs, I didn’t know where to start.

So I attended events, meetups, conferences, and mingled with the local startup community in Seattle. When time came to move to the Bay Area, I found even more events, more meetups, and more conferences. The startup ecosystem was so busy and alive, and I found a wealth of knowledge and experience being shared, which I consumed eagerly.

There were also blogs, videos, interviews, and books that I ingested with passion. They made great conversation topics during the events, the meetups and the conferences.

I even joined a startup incubator!

It wasn’t until I decided to launch my own startup that I realized that nothing I’ve read, watched or attended really prepared me for it. And I mean it. Absolutely NOTHING. I had forgotten most of what I’ve learned, and what I remembered didn’t apply much to my situation. I’ve been snacking on other people’s experiences and successes, and like good junk food, it made me feel bloated and satisfied.

Sorry to be a party pooper, but that’s reality.

In the beginning, I tried applying the things I’ve learned to my situation. That didn’t work. The magic moment really happened when I made peace with the fact that I’d just wasted a good deal of time learning things I didn’t really need, believing there was a magic word someone would utter that would launch me into action. Every event, every conference, and every blog post was just another excuse to postpone action one more day. I made peace with it and moved on with a beginner’s mindset, believing that I will figure out what I need along the way.

And that made all the difference.

There is a part in each one of us that wants to create, deliver, and launch into an entrepreneurial adventure with all the uncertainty and risk that it brings. But there is also the other part, the one that wants to feel certain and confident that we’re making the right decision, and we’re not going to fail and hurt ourselves along the way. And that’s where most of the friction comes from.

But these blogs, these events, and these interviews didn’t really remove that friction. For a while, it just gave me some comfort knowing there were enough people doing the same things. Going into entrepreneurship was outside of my comfort zone, and I’d just I moved from one comfort zone into another. And you know what? I was in good company!

One day I had my reality check and saw that I was busy doing many things, except working on my product. A couple of months later, I can say with full confidence: the only thing that counted was to actually sit down and do the work.

Don’t take me wrong. I think some blogs and conferences are valuable. But unless you’re already working on something that provides the framework for your learning and networking, you’d be wasting some valuable time.

Here are some action steps that helped me overcome the “startup friction syndrome”:

- I stopped reading startup news and blogs for a few weeks, and I realized I didn’t miss anything related to my products. It didn’t matter who got funded, who got acquired, or why Internet Explorer was losing market share against Google Chrome. The only WHOs I care about are the customers, and the only WHATs I focus on are their needs and desires, and how to best deliver value to them.

- I stopped going to startup events for a couple of months, and started catching up with friends over coffee or drinks instead. I still go to one or two events each month, but I do it for fun. I no longer confuse going to entrepreneurship events with being an entrepreneur.

- I taught myself through small projects. I broke down ideas into small manageable chunks, and gave myself deadlines to finish each of them. Projects and experiments are amazing teaching devices, because you learn as needed, and you learn first-hand. Keynotopia has helped tremendously in getting ideas out of my head and into a format that I can quickly see, interact with, and show to potential customers – that’s why I created it in the first place! Sometimes these small projects can even become profitable ;)

- In each step, I came up with a list of questions that would help me move to the next step. Whether it was getting more traffic, improving the product, or increasing revenue without increasing traffic, I came up with the best questions I could, then I did research, asked people, and I put the answers into action immediately. Every information not  acted on takes too much space in my biological memory stick.

- This is my favorite: I created more fear of not starting than the fear of starting. I realized that every day I waited a customer was not getting my solution, and a competitor was getting closer to that solution before I did. I even imagined my worst nightmare if I’d failed to take action: I was Milton from Office Space, tucked in the corner cubicle of Innotech, staring at my red stapler, and waiting for my next paycheck. That was the magic kick-in-the-butt I was looking for.

- I first got things done, then I got them done right. I learned (the hard way) that momentum mattered most. If I can’t take action right away on my idea, chances are I never will. Whenever I get an idea nowadays, I do something to pin it to my reality, and to make it tangible. I do it in a quick and ugly way, then figure out how to do it better, and learn only what I need for that.

- I faced reality: nothing was going to happen until I went out of my comfort zone and did it. Many wait, but a few act.

I want to leave you with a quote that changed my life: successful people aren’t necessarily smarter or luckier than others. They just try so many things and fail until something works out.

Don’t be an entrepreneur by association. Be an entrepreneur by action and results.

Have you been in a similar situation? Share your experience in a comment below.

Related posts:



I highly recommend Keynotopia for designing interface mockups for web and mobile apps

Keynotopia is a user interface design toolkit that enables you to use Apple Keynote or Microsoft PowerPoint to prototype, test and demo your application ideas quickly and cheaply, without doing any design work or writing a single line of code.

It includes thousands of wireframe and high fidelity vector user interface components and royalty free icons for mobile, web and desktop apps, all designed from scratch in Keynote and PowerPoint, and can be edited and customized without needing any design tools.

Keynotopia is used by 40,000 entrepreneurs, designers, and developers in more than 80 countries.

67 Comments

  1. Very nice Meeerooo and very inspiring … although it somehow reminds me of Jerry Maguire … lol .. Just kidding!!! .. It’s really very nice and humble of you to share your experience with others .. Me too want to be an entrepreneur but do not have any ideas, do you think I can still succeed?? :)

    Reply
    • Awesome post, procrastination takes so many forms!!!

      @Mohsen, are you sure you dont havea ny idea? Or you just dont have idea that you think are worthy? Start with something, the most simple idea you have, maybe it is not gonna change the world but getting start, receiving feedbacks will make your project evolve and grow. Until you find THE idea. Don t stay sititng on your chair or listening ot other speech expecting an awesome idea will come to you.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  2. Excellent Article. I think it is time I inject some fear of not starting into my life as well.

    Reply
  3. Great story, people have to go through these stages and see if they can make it out of their comfort zone. However, consider the 4 years as your personal incubation period, these things can not be told or taught!

    Welcome to the business world!

    p.s. I guess your only regret is not having enough time for yourself…

    Reply
  4. Thanks for the insight and this post. I have been wondering for sometime if my consumption of everything startup related is worthwhile or not. It makes me think that the hours of time spent on “learning” startup “how tos” may not be worth it. Are there one or two blogs that you consistently read or have you gone cold turkey and just ignored them completely?

    Thanks again for the post!

    Matt

    Reply
  5. I think this is a common mistake, working with computers you’ll get acustomed to be able to research topics to great extent. Transitioning into a world filled with shades of gray might prove difficult. Thanks for your insight

    Reply
  6. OK, wow I never thought about that before.

    Reply
  7. Amen! I’ve been waiting for someone to blog about this. You can spend 80 hours a week attending conferences and reading blogs, but it doesn’t make you an entrepreneur – you need a product. There is a whole industry built to profit from those who want to do startups, and if you’re not careful it will slow you down. As someone who just got to beta, I can tell you its a huge difference to be able to point people to a product, because there are so many people stuck in the planning period.

    I also left Microsoft and went through a similar learning period. I’m curious how long it took you to get over Microsoft and really get started? I feel like you need to budget at least a few months.

    Reply
    • It took about a year of therapy to get over Microsoft, then a couple of years to get over myself :)

      Reply
  8. Excellent post. Preparation is great, but it only goes so far… what was that silly marketing slogan, again? Oh that’s right — “Just do it.”

    Reply
  9. So maybe I shouldn’t be reading this article right now.

    Reply
    • That’s the only one you should read :P

      Reply
  10. Thank you for the article. I love this, and I feel the same way right now. Luckily, I’ve been introduced to the startup world a few months after being out of college. However, your post has motivated me to use events and meetups the right way. You’re right about just sitting down and doing the work. You learn a lot more by building a product and engaging your customers, no matter how many or how few you have.

    Reply
  11. Amir, Thanks for advise and the specifics on how to beat the syndrome. Every bit of it absolutely true.
    Unless you learn within the framework of your work, all the reading and inspiration is pointless.

    -Prashant

    Reply
  12. Thanks for another blog post to read, I was looking for something to postpone the action for another day. :P

    Reply
    • I didn’t realize it takes that long to read :P

      Reply
  13. Well i’m really thankful i’ve read your blog, :) thanks for sharing your experience, i think it really boils down to who’s blog you read and the speaker you listen to, there’s really a lot of crap out there.

    Reply
  14. I stumbled upon your post after @vpsingh tweeted
    Wow I am just too happy that I read this,I guess I am like this too & feel I have wasted a lot of time, still have fallen too behind esp in my company where hard work in not seen only smart work.
    Well ,still I am into the deciding syndrome, hope I will be better now

    Thanks for this post.

    Cheers,
    Jassi

    Reply
  15. inspiring post. Thumbs up & implementation to begin :)

    Reply
  16. While I was reading this post I realized that this seem familiar to me, and finally I realize that this episode was what I had gone through a while ago. The truth indeed.

    Reply
  17. I am the kind of guy who you are talking about. Thanks for this post. If this doesn’t get me focused, nothing ever will.

    Reply
    • Rohit,

      I think Amir elegantly (or politely at least) makes an amazing point however I think (in my opinion) that you may be looking at this post as a holy “focus” grail. It all starts and ends in your mind. You have to discipline your “will” and it will get rid of all your “nothing ever will” talk.

      Best Success,
      Jaret

      Reply
  18. your advice is exactly what i’m planning to do in a few months, when starting my first big project.
    i noticed a while ago that i can read as much hacker news and related stuff as i want but that doing so doesn’t realy get me anywhere.
    so when it’s time, i’m going to delete my HN bookmark and actually start doing stuff.

    Reply
    • Colin,

      Hacker News is a blessing and a potential curse (for some). I am a non-technical (for the time being) aspiring entrepreneur and I owe plenty of learning to Hacker News and many other sites, however there is a time that one needs to cut the cord and start doing something. I read a cool quote in 37 Signal’s Rework (I think) by Oscar Wilde to the tune of quit trying to be somebody else as they are already taken. Business from my experience is the same way. No business is exactly the same, no people are the same, no circumstances are the same, and no success is the same as everybody’s definition varies. And look at the most successful people many of us aspire to in the technical world and you will find they are trailblazers and they just got out there and did stuff. I think your “when” is now.

      Best Success,
      Jaret

      Reply
  19. It is newbie way of doing things, like reading and learning about dating, if one read about dating all tips and stuff he still won’t be able to pick up a girl. You have to go and actually pick up a girl to pick up a girl. Reading about programming paradigms will not make you programmer, but actual programming will.

    Maybe they should teach about it in schools because I see lots of people doing this kind of error.

    Reply
  20. OUCH! Recognising your own behaviour and having someone point at it is painful! ;)

    I’ve started my own business last week and it wasn’t until yesterday I realised I should actually be WORKING. I am so busy with ‘starting up’, worrying why I am not at conference such and such, going from one training course to the next workshop, reading, thinking, surfing the web etc. I kind of forgot that I should be out there looking for customers and spend time on my business. Oops!

    It’s very easy – and often extremely frustrating – to focus on other successful and smart people. What I tell myself is that they also got started at some point in time and most probably failed at stuff. Being good at selling yourself doesn’t necessarily mean your good. Maybe that really successful person is also stuck and without assignments and therefore has so much time to work on blogposts/personal branding etc. Not that a limited dose of other people’s success is not inspirational of course.

    But enough of that, because this is also just an excuse to postpone action. Thanks for the great article. You just got yourself a new follower/fan :)

    Reply
  21. Great article!

    Reply
  22. “I do it in a quick and ugly way, then figure out how to do it better, and learn only what I need for that.”

    I love that line. When ever I try to start something that I’m unsure of . I never do anything. For fear of it not being perfect first time round. So I postpone and procrastinate. Nothing is produced. Terrible mind trap.

    Reply
  23. Will keep me moving :) Thx

    Reply
  24. Lately I was thinking the same thing, “Why am I reading all these blogs and posts about startups?” They all basically say the same thing and I didn’t feel like I was moving forward much with my startup. So I recently went to a conference that related to my niche and engaged with potential customers and vendors in the market. That alone has provided such a boost because in the end, it was all about our customers and making our product better. Instead of worrying about making connections in the startup field, we focused on making connections in our target market. And that has made such a huge difference.

    Reply
  25. What a great post Amir, reflects exactly my feeling, however I was way apart from being able to write it down in such a breath taking way. Great stuff :)

    Reply
  26. >>There is a part in each one of us that wants to create, deliver, and launch into an entrepreneurial adventure with all the uncertainty and risk that it brings. But there is also the other part, the one that wants to feel certain and confident that we’re making the right decision, and we’re not going to fail and hurt ourselves along the way. And that’s where most of the friction comes from.>>

    Very well said, Amir.

    I was exactly in that comfort zone that you talk about – going to events, reading blogs, helping other entrepreneur friends – somehow not willing/ready to take the plunge myself. Now when I finally ventured out – I realize that all that doesn’t really help much – 80% of the stuff you learn while on the job, and some times the hard way..

    Reply
  27. Wow, this is such an awesome post. I’m a writer, artist, musician, and (more recently) an entrepreneur, and a lot of this is relevant in the arts as well. It’s hard to sit down and make crappy first drafts of your potentially awesome creative work – so much so that a lot of people never do it. Start-ups are the same!

    Reply
  28. Amir,

    This is a great piece of valuable experience.

    6 months ago, a great friend and hacker told me the same, “stop reading these stuff, they’re there to procastinate.” So these day later i’ve read How to procastinate by Paul Graham and realized that i’ve loved read stuff, not build stuff. All in the world can read a blog post, or even write some chunks of knowledge, but the main reason entrepreneurship is hard is because create something is very hard.

    Reply
  29. So true, so true. Thanks for a great post!

    Reply
  30. Amir, this the best and most relevant post I have ever read. For the last few months, I have been burying myself in the world of startups and entrepreneurship by going to several different events a month and reading blog posts to help inspire me. In the back of my head, I knew the more time I spend doing that, the more time I spend not working on my product. I ignored that little voice and continued to do so. I felt like I was the only idiot in this world who was doing it. THank god I am not!

    The funny thing is, I started off just doing the start up. I wanted to just dive it, take the risks and just go with the flow and learn. However, certain adult influence intervened and have hammered into my head that this is reckless and not smart and I need a backup plan (This was about a year and a half ago, I had just graduated from graduate school). Ever since, I guess I lost my way. Since then, I have kicked that influence out and slowly getting back on track to just doing it.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  31. Excellent. Thanks for saying what we’re all thinking. The bit about how if you don’t act on an idea it probably will never happen is so true and bears repeating.

    Reply
  32. Great article! Having just opened a Pilates & health coaching studio, I know what you mean about life outside the comfort zone.

    Lucky for me, my studio is nestled in a really collaborative, entrepreneurial workspace in NYC. While having access to great entrepreneurial minds and regular networking events, it’s so easy to get caught up with all the things that you “should” be doing, reading, etc. Sometimes, you “should” just sit down and get things done…done with authenticity and done right. Sometimes, you “should” just catch your breath and make sure you are still moving in the right direction.

    Reply
  33. Great read. I’ll just close Firefox and start away on my project. But don’t get me wrong, we all know that it is the way you say, we just don’t do it anyway. But your post is like a kick in the butt. Thank you for this :)

    Reply
  34. Hey Amir,

    As someone who founded a startup and years later went on to a successful sale – I have to say it doesn’t get any easier. To this day it is still a challenge to stay focused and avoid distractions (hackernews!!). However, I think the important thing is to try avoid life’s “filler” content, and start doing real work everyday to move closer to your goals.

    Cheers,

    Mike

    Reply
  35. Great read, Amir! Very insightful. I seem to be following a similar progression after leaving Sun Microsystems. This perpetual cycle of distraction is something that we struggle with daily. We have good bursts of productivity followed by periods of unproductive distraction. It always takes something (or someone) to reset our perspective. This post was a nice reminder of what we have to relearn time and time again.

    Reply
    • Thanks for stopping by, Mike.
      Great to hear from you again!

      Reply
  36. You’ve definitely got down to two very important lessons and steps there, which I’ve realized myself as well.

    The first is the fear of not acting at all. This is something that it often takes very long for people to start feeling. We tend to think it’s OK it will come together later.

    I’ve learned to really appreciate the importance of delivering something every day that has some engagement with our surroundings, preferably directly to people. This isn’t just a matter of “continuous integration” of software, it’s crucial to our own ability to act.

    The second is treating projects as continual practice in your career as opposed to the definitive action. I focus on this from a different perspective. This is actually the opposite approach to the same issue that your first lesson addresses. We are often paralyzed by not being able to commit to a decision of how to go about reaching our target, so we don’t act. By treating our projects as practice we don’t just get more practice, we overcome the cause of our paralysis in reaching our target. You mentioned momentum as well, which is also what this attitude of practice gives us, we don’t second guess decisions as much anymore.

    Reply
  37. Sounds like I am going down the path where you had been before. I wanted to do startup but with no enough programming knowledge to do so. But lately all my time was spent on reading tech blog posts or stuffs from Hacker News (plus cooking up startup ideas along the way), rather than learn more on programming or etc.

    Looks like I need to start gaining more momentum on learning to code! All in all, great sharing!

    Reply
  38. I think it was Goethe who wrote that ‘beginning has boldness and genius in it’ – he was writing about Providence and that it can not do its work if you do not initiate. I like to say to myself ‘everything I have ever done has prepared me for this’ and then do my best.
    If start-ups were not measured by money earned but by sheer experience and creativity, the business of expressing oneself and ones relationship to others then perhaps we might all fear failure less and perceive success differently.
    There are some realities that we do well to bear in mind when entering business such as the need for resources (financial, physical, intellectual, relationship) and our own ability to live with uncertainty (one measure of an entrepreneur).
    For my part I am grateful for the chance I have had to create something unique, in my own image as it were, reflecting my experience and way of seeing the world. Its financial success is uncertain and depends on others now with their own priorities…and I do not know for sure what I will be doing to feed myself in a few months time….but I feel free.
    If you have begun then I wish you perseverance, endurance, resilience and the capacity to be grateful for the chance you have given yourself to originate.

    Reply
  39. This article is very great because it is very true, I am motivated now, thank you very much

    Reply
  40. Your post inspired me to go on a media fast, to sit down, shut up, and make my idea a reality. I have given myself 3 months of focused, uninterrupted work through the end of May. Thank you for jolting me into action!

    Reply
    • Godspeed, Jason. Let me know how it goes.

      Reply
  41. Amen!

    Reply
  42. Hey, I just moved up here 3 month ago, I am feeling the exactly the same way. I wouldn’t even attend college, I’d probably came here straight lol

    Reply
  43. Busy work – it makes you feel like you’re making progress when you’re actually not. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, networking events, books – they are all related to what you want to do but don’t actually get you any closer to achieving it. It just puts you in the mentality of it and makes you think you’re progressing (this all comes from experience, by the way).

    I am realizing exactly what you’re saying. That spending time blogging, reading, and networking doesn’t get my startup out the door. Thanks for an additional kick in the ass, it’s much needed.

    Reply
  44. Hi,
    well said I have to say. It’s inspiring to read your experience and understand the truth of the matter that is so well distilled in your blog posts. I also love the story about how you launched a product in 3 hours. Jackpot. Thank you for sharing:)
    Sylwia

    Reply
  45. Inspired by the article. Now i really want a project to get working on. Hopefully our Incubator will be the ideal place to do be exposed to one.

    Reply
  46. YES,JUST DO IT. I HAVE A IDEA NOW.BUT I ONLY DOING SOMETHING IS THINKING. ITS TIME GO WORK.
    RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. THANKS!

    Reply
  47. Great post, very inspiring and a true wake-up call. Thanks!

    Reply
  48. Amir,

    I have spend a good part of the day catching up on an overload of Instapaper “read later’s” and most of what I read and deleted (not all as I saved some great technical stuff) was a complete waste of time. I will be deleting this article as well but it is by far the best article I have read all day. It is awesome advice. As mentioned earlier, I am thankful for Hacker News, etc as I have learned a lot (especially from a non-technical background) but I have the knowledge for what I want to start out and accomplish so it is time to filter out the noise. I also think an overload of this information impairs your own true thinking.

    Thank you again as this was an awesome article and spurred some amazing comments.

    Best,
    @JaretManuel

    Reply
  49. So I’m curious what events or kind of events of you now attend. Are they specific to your product? Or are they to generate new ideas and start working-like a startup weekend? What is something that you wish was out there–that would be worth your time?

    Reply
  50. Hi Amir,

    I can relate to your story. I pretty much did the same thing you did. I read every blog, attended events, and webinars but you are absolutely right none of that matters until you have those experiences for yourself. I know that my past failures are lessons that I needed to learn in order to be successful.

    Thanks,
    Treosha
    @truebluecollabo

    Reply
  51. Thanks so much for this kick in the ass…I have a business but have been working an idea around in my head for quite awhile now…best advice is always Just DO IT!

    Reply
  52. I always have many ideas, but just think… I am happy that I saw your post before I start anything… Let me know if you come to Shanghai ^^

    Reply
  53. Definitely this is the best post about entrepreneurship I’ve ever read… Funny, straightforward, engaging and totally honest. Cheers mate for sharing your knowledge and experience!

    Reply
  54. Very good read…one of my personal goal is to at least try to fail 5 times this year…:) ps:I have gotten keynotopia solution for windows but still trying to fit it into my routine prototyping sessions.

    Reply
  55. Nothing beats taking action, Amir. You are right. But wouldn’t you also say the relationships you developed by going to those conferences helped when it was time to launch? were there any relationships that gave you that first traffic boost for Keynotopia?

    Reply
  56. Good post.. i read this post itself as part of the never ending ‘prepare yourself’ for startup process :-)

    Reply
  57. What an awesome post! I have been consuming content without creating anything for the past year or so, and I need to stop doing that and start WORKING. thank you Amir!

    Reply
  58. Amir,

    Thanks for the article. The fear for me is not starting but finding a product I can sell or market online that has to do with distance runners/marathoners and how I can bring my expertise in the field to a product they can be happy with.

    I am open to ideas. I can write ebooks but a product, something of real worth would be even more impressive.

    Thanks
    Nate

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Lessons from March 2011 – Whatever I say… - [...] If you want to be an entrepreneur: start doing, there is no better way to learn. “The only WHOs …
  2. 我希望四年前就有人告诉我的事情 | ubuntu新人 - [...] What I Wish Someone Had Told Me 4 Years Ago [...]
  3. [转]我希望四年前就有人告诉我的事情 | 小岩 - [...] 1, 2011    分类:生活     本文是从 What I Wish Someone Had Told Me 4 Years Ago [...]
  4. 我希望四年前就有人告诉我的事情 - iCodon.com - [...] What I Wish Someone Had Told Me 4 Years Ago [...]
  5. 我希望四年前就有人告诉我的事情 | Grow Up Diary-程序员成长日记 - [...] Up Diary-成长日记 日期: 2011 年 09 月 21 日 发表评论 (0) 查看评论 本文是从 What I …
  6. 多思乐 » 我希望四年前就有人告诉我的事情 - [...] Via:外刊IT评论 &  Amirkhella [...]
  7. 我希望四年前就有人告诉我的事情 | 博客 - 伯乐在线 - [...]   原文:amirkhella   译文:外刊IT评论 [...]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>