SETsquared Blog

5 lessons from 5 months

It's been just under 5 months since I arrived in America, 5 months that can only be described as a truly incredible journey. People often ask me, what's the one thing you've learned? Or what has been the highlight of your trip so far? I always go blank and start searching the room for an answer - it's so hard to distill all my experiences, all the people i've met, all the places i've been and all the lessons i've learned. You can imagine then how difficult it was when Kauffman asked me to put together a presentation which included a slide detailing 5 key learnings. So - after much deliberation I came up with the following: below is the slide.
Lesson 1: From my internship at Startup Weekend I learned to just get on with it. Their slogan is, "No Talk, All Action". It's a great reminder that all the planning, the discussions, the meetings the business plans. All this talk is no good if you're not doing anything! Part of the lean startup methodology developed by Steve Blank and Eric Ries talks about a minimum viable product and just trying something. Getting a rough version of your product or service out there into the hands of the customer and iterating like crazy until you have something polished. So that was lesson 1, to stop wasting time and start making progress.
Lesson 2: Ideas ore cheap, so cut the bullsh*t about NDA's (non-disclosure agreements). I found that if I wanted good advice or useful feedback then I need to be open about my ideas. If it's a good idea then i'm definitely not the only one thinking about it! The thing that's going to protect my idea is my passion, it's my commitment to executing on the idea. It's the blood, sweat and tears thats going to beat my competition. I found that being really transparent with my ideas allowed other people to contribute, to help and build it into something better than it was before. Now, this is slightly different in the world of patents but really, let's stop being so protective and start benefitting from collective contribution.
Lesson 3: Team dynamics are the most crucial thing to any business. Make sure the team is right or it'll tear the organisation apart. Noam Wasserman of Harvard Business School and the Kauffman Foundation have both produced a wealth of research showing that the majority of failed startups are due to issues with team dynamics and not with the quality of the ideas. I've felt the impact of mismatches within teams first hand and i'm firmly of the opinion that there couldn't be a more important lesson to learn.
Lesson 4: Problem vs Solution. Fall in love with the problem and not with your solution. If you want to innovate, if you want to iterate, if you want to stay ahead of the competition and if you want to achieve real success then you must truly focus on the problem you are trying to solve and not on the solution you have come up with.
Lesson 5: "It's not about the money, it's about the money". This was a quote from the Big Omaha conference earlier this year. What it is saying is that starting a company isn't about the glory and riches, it's not about trying to become a millionaire because that's the quickest way to failure (second only to bad tam dynamics!). It's more about cash flow, it's about finding a paying customer, it's about making sure you don't burn money faster than you earn it. I've seen at least 100 pitches for different ideas and i'm sick of hearing about the next useless app to solve the next non-existent problem. We shouldn't be trying to follow the business model of instagram. Building something to amass users and hope for a healthy acquisition is a recipe for disaster. People say there isn't a bubble, well i'm of the opinion that there is. All this investment going into non sustainable businesses, pinning hopes on a quick flip - it's going to hurt so much when this bubble bursts. I'm convinced we should be striving for sustainable business. Spawning businesses that create jobs, that support communities, that grow the economy rather than making a few bright young fellas and a bunch of VC's multimillionaires. I'm in it for the journey not the destination and it's been an excellent journey so far...