In the summer of 2017, Parakeet was one of 12 lucky companies to join Techstars New York. After 3 months late nights, early mornings, and laser focus, we came out the other end a better and more mature company.
Through this post we’ll walk through some of the most valuable lessons we took away from those enduring 12 weeks.
Launch early, launch often
As a founder – launching your product is one of the most difficult things you’ll do. You’ve just spent months, if not years, developing something amazing. Maybe you’ve had a few beta users along the way, but you probably knew them from somewhere. Now, you’re launching your fledgling startup for the world to rip apart. No matter how many times we tell ourselves we’re going to do it, we find just that one more thing that needs to happen. That one feature we need to build. That one bug we need to fix. Indeed we had the same experience at Parakeet, and my only advice is: launch anyway.
When we first joined Techstars, we had mapped out the tasks needed to launch our product. Four weeks, we thought, and we were ship shape and ready to sail. Of course, at this point we were already months past the last time we knew we would launch. Unfortunately though, I was wrong. In hindsight, we spent the first four weeks of the program building features our customers didn’t really want, and lost critical time we could have spent learning. The lesson here was simple: launch early, launch often (also more bluntly known as fail early, fail often). If we had released updates weekly and engaged with prospects on a continuing basis we could have learned immediately that we were trending down the wrong path. While we can never get those 4 weeks back, I’ve learned a valuable lesson that will ensure we don’t waste them again.
You’re not always the smartest one in the room
It’s easy, as a founder, to trick yourself into believing you’ve got all the best ideas. So easy, in fact, that you’ll start to ignore advice from brilliant minds because “they don’t know my industry that well,” or “they just haven’t been in the space.” You’ll be well served if you never let these thoughts get into your head.
While experience can be incredibly powerful to understanding a product or a market, it can also give you tunnel vision. Founders who spend weeks on a particular problem often fail to see simple solutions staring them right in the face. As a founder, it’s your job to surround yourself with the best people you know. You’re not doing this so you can convince yourself that you’re smarter. You’re doing this because sometimes the best and most obvious ideas come from the least expected places. Take them, run with them, and execute them at 110%. Your business will be better for it.
Your team is everything
Of course, none of this matters if you don’t have an incredible team. Contrary to popular belief – startup ideas are not that powerful; people and execution are. While a great team can’t always make a bad idea succeed, a bad team will always ruin a great idea.
If there’s one thing you get right in your early days as a founder: hire well. If you need to raise more money to pay higher salaries and get better talent, do it. Your first 10 employees will set the culture, work ethic, and trajectory for your team. If they’re not rockstars, it’s going to be hard to make your business one.
Learn from every experience
In summary, I guess the overarching lesson throughout our time in Techstars was: every experience is an opportunity to learn. Nobody makes all the right choices. But the best founders are ones who acknowledge when they made the wrong choice, own up to it, and learn from it. Acknowledging mistakes leads to a team that’s more respectful, more engaged, more likely to experiment, and thus more likely to succeed. Don’t waste the incredible opportunity you have when starting a business. Learn from your mistakes and failures – you’ll be so much better for it.