Entrepreneur

5 lessons I learned the hard way at my ‘starter’ startup

I’m sitting in the dentist’s office on my last Friday morning as an entrepreneur. My daughter is having a cavity filled.

Monday will be my first day free from any job title or official company in 22 years, and I’m grumpy. “Equity owner” sounds good, but capital constraints won out and equity didn’t pay my mortgage. My first, “starter” startup is pretty much dead in the water.

Nine months ago, I embarked on this journey with two partners, cash, gorgeous offices and a hot new tech company with a vision that I still believe in: crowdsourcing jobs and enabling all of us to be recruiters for our friends. The highs were high: Launching at DEMO 2012, channel partnerships being built, seed round about to close, a growing base of supporters.

But like a roller coaster ride, we came to a screeching abrupt halt and for a whole host of reasons chose to fail early.

Now, there’s nothing for me to do but reflect on my nine-month “startup MBA,” hope the company and the patent-pending technology still gets acquired in the next six months, and prepare for my three job interviews next week.

I told an investor friend that the whole experience left a smile on my face, but trust me, there are a few gashes too. Here are five lessons I learned the hard way:

Failure leads to success — maybe

Sometimes you fail early to go on to something else. Luckily we didn’t take the seed-stage investor funds we raised when we realized it would take a lot more money to market and get traction to go to scale. I learned that failure is an option, and better to do so early. After a 20-year career that I held onto like a protective pit bull, there is a strange freedom here to move on more intelligently.

Pigs are amazing

As an entrepreneur, you want to work with pigs. Brilliant pigs.

Okay, that sounds bad. My friend Mark, a prominent VC, asked me after hearing my story if I knew the difference between a between a chicken and pig. When you’re sitting down to your IHOP Sunday breakfast of eggs and bacon, he explained, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed

“Mark are you really calling me a pig?” I asked. “Yes” he said.

I’d prefer to be a pig and put my all into something even if it fails.

YOLO

Do it! No fear! No regrets! Think of your startup as a child or darling pet you are raising. Yes, you might fail and not get to see it grow up, but you also might build something worthy and phenomenal like Apple, LinkedIn, or Chipotle.

On a practical note, have money saved so you can live at times without salary. I had a good base salary and didn’t put myself in good stead to live without it. Too many trips to Starbucks and visits to Amazon Prime; I should have stashed more away for rainy days ahead.

Get good advice

Get advisors. Build a brain trust of people who will weigh in as coaches and mentors on your business. Don’t think you have all the answers all the time.

Be wary of brilliant minds who think they have all the answers. It’s best to listen a lot as you build and make strong decisions based on analytics and early customer feedback. If you don’t listen, they won’t help. People who help will also introduce you to worlds of potential customers, learning, and investors. Speak to entrepreneurs who have a lot of traction and have already had a successful exit or two.

Embrace the fall

It’s hard to put this into words. After a 20-year career as a social entrepreneur, this stint lasted just nine months, but there was something so awesome about the roller coaster ride and the learning.

I heard about Silicon Valley investors only wanting to invest in you if you’ve had failure and that learning by failing doesn’t always make sense in mainstream career thinking.

I guess what I am saying is, don’t be ashamed if your starter startup fails. Shed a few tears, grab your phone, and start again selling the brand you have been building all along: you. Reach out to your fabulous networks and begin to identify opportunities or people you might want to build with.

But this time, start smarter and use your lessons learned so you can build a more lasting relationship with your next company.

“Mommy your situation — it’s like my cavity,” my daughter said on the drive home from the dentist.

“My teeth hurt a lot for a while, but then they filled it. You still have tons of good teeth, and now you need to move on.”

Julie Kantor blogs weekly for Huffington Post and In the Capital on issues around social recruiting, job search, entrepreneurship, women in the workforce and more. She is the co-founder of Barrel of Jobs, a startup that made its debut at DEMO Fall 2012.


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