Tonight I had the opportunity to attend a special Refresh DC meeting on the challenges of starting your own business. The format was a panel of folks from the DC startup scene moderated by Jackson Wilkinson of Viget Labs. The panel consisted of Brian Williams of Viget Labs, Andrew Lee of Publi.us, Eric Rupert from Odeo, Eddie Frederickof Hungry Machine, and Sean Greene of LaunchBox Digital.
These were the main points I took away:
- Be passionate. The most important quality for startup founders is to be passionate about their product or service. Starting a company can be exhilarating but the setbacks can be really difficult. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing each of these roadblocks will be an excuse for you to quit. Figure out what you’re passionate about and work on that.
- Focus on your product. Don’t focus on the pie-in-the-sky potential valuations of your company or worry about leasing office space, hiring an attorney, finding an accountant, etc. Instead you should focus on the product or service you’re going to sell. Get something out there quickly — pick the most important feature and get it out there in front of your customers quickly.
- Have your customers influence your product. If you follow the previous advice and get your product out there quickly you can use customer feedback to iterate your product. You may not know all of the difference ways customers will use your product, so this feedback is critical in charting your product roadmap.
- Equity is control, don’t surrender it easily. One of the attendees asked about using equity to pay for services if money was tight. Brian said to avoid giving out equity as you make that person a partner in your business. While they may not have a controlling interest, they are still an owner and have some influence.
- Don’t overfund. All of the panelists warned of the dangers of taking too much money as it does more than dilute the founders’ ownership. Venture capitalists are looking to make a large return o their capital for themselves and their limited partners. If you need to pay a vendor or contractor find another way — defer payment, use credit, etc.
- Hire slow, fire fast. Early employees can make or break your company. You will be working long hours aside these folks so you must ensure they’re a good fit. If you make a bad hire, you need to resolve the situation quickly, don’t let emotion get in the way.
Some of the books recommended were: Art of the Start, Getting to Yes, and Founders at Work. Andrew also recommended Startup School run by Y Combinator (YC). I’ve been reading Paul Graham’s essays for around seven years now and following YC’s investments. I’m glad to see an early stage investor like YC in the DC area (LaunchBox Digital) and hope that the startup scene in DC and suburbs becomes more vibrant.
Thanks to Strategic Analysis for hosting this. It was a great venue and hope they’ll offer to host Refresh DC again.