As I put the finishing touches on and near the end of my second full year as a fledgling tech entrepreneur, I gave myself permission to stop and look back on my journey thus far. Granted, I have not really accomplished that much yet and understand that I am probably still in the second inning of this. Nonetheless, here are some lessons and observations that I learned along the way. Hopefully they can help some of you!
1. Take the scenic route (but hurry up).
In the tech world, you read about the enormous successes and billions of dollars in revenue earned from sites like Twitter, Google, Dropbox, Facebook and more every single day. But, the reality is that only a rare few actually have spectacular exits and most sites either fail or never really amount to much. It’s easy to get distracted and have false expectations in this type of environment, where everyone is expecting a huge exit (investors too).
Since I founded The News Funnel, a real estate news site that builds customized news feeds, I had a very focused long-term plan of how I was going to build the business. While I have adjusted my plans based on market realities, I take the “scenic route” of building a business that is sustainable and meaningful to our customers. Having said that, it’s just my personality to want to go as fast as I can in building our site. But, it’s based less on clouded judgment of false expectations and more just on the competitive nature of running a business. It’s a marathon and a sprint at the same time!
2. Be passionate about listening to your customers.
I personally spend a great deal of my time asking our customers for their feedback. We do this at every meeting, every event and on every call. It's part of our DNA. Each of my teammates acts the same way. It's how we learn and it’s how we adjust our entire platform accordingly. And we don't just want to hear the good; we want the bad and the really ugly.
While building my PR career the first time around, I learned the power that networking holds – and it’s no different in the tech world. I have spent a great deal of time simply calling up sites and executives who I admire, going to see them and learning as much as I can. It’s amazing how much you can learn from fellow entrepreneurs and how truly open the best ones actually are in the tech world.
4. Drown out the naysayers.
More so than in any other industry, working in the field of technology presents you as an open target where everything you do is out in the open. When you try something new and risky, it seems a lot of people like to openly take shots at you. I have thick skin so it’s all well and good, but I see it happen to a lot of other younger entrepreneurs who get discouraged. My advice is to drown out the noise. Most people don’t have the courage that a start up has, so take it as a sign that you must be doing something right to inspire such criticism!
5. Culture is everything.
When I was running my previous company, culture was something that I literally spent half my day creating, building and preserving. Now I spend zero time on it. While it’s true we are a small group of about 10 people, it’s the best culture I have been around in my 25-year career. Why? Because I finally made the decision to hire based on culture rather than experience. And if you do that, coming to work is a joy each and every day. My team inspires me to work harder, think bigger but also to have a lot of laughs along the way. Thanks guys!
And finally, I am big on quotes so here are some of my personal favorites:
- "Think like a beginner" - I think it’s a Zen Buddhist quote
- "Start ups die for lack of ideas, not a lack of funding" - I read that somewhere and can't remember where; my apologies to the author
- "If you can't feed a team with two pizzas, it's too large" - Jeff Bezos
- "When you innovate, you have to be prepared for people telling you that you are nuts" - Larry Ellison
- "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your inner voice" - Steve Jobs