I’ve been founding and helping run technology companies since 1999. My latest company is fabulis.com.
Here are 57 lessons I’ve learned along the way. I could have listed 100+ but I didn’t want to bore you.
Most products that fail do so because users don't understand how to get value from them.
Many products fail by being too complex.
You don't have to write code but you do have to understand how it is built and how it works.
He/she must own the functional user experience.
No two features are ever created equal. You can't do everything all at once. Force prioritization.
Keep improving the user experience and the product, even before things go wrong.
You'll never know how good your product is until real people touch it and give you feedback.
Don't worry about adding that extra feature. Ship the bare minimum feature set required in order to start gathering user feedback. Get feedback, repeat the process, and ship the next version and the next version as quickly as possible.
If you're taking more than 3 months to launch your first consumer-facing product, you're taking too long. If you're taking more than 3 weeks to ship updates, you're taking too long. Ship small stuff weekly, if not several times per week. Ship significant releases in 3 week intervals.
Without customers, you don't have a company.
In the early days, the key determinant of your future success is traction. Spend the majority of your time figuring out how to cultivate pockets of traction amongst your early adopters and optimise around that traction.
Traction begets more traction if you are able to jump on it.
12. You're doing really well if 50% of what you originally planned on doing turns out to actually work
Follow your users as much as possible.
Focus groups can tell you what to fix and help you identify potentially interesting kernels for you to hone in on, but you still need to figure out how to synthesize such input and where to take your users.
If you want to be an important product and a big business, you will need to figure out how to fit into one of those 5 to 7 services, which means capturing your user's fascination, enthusiasm, and trust.
You need to give your users a real reason to add you into their time.
If you can, catch onto an emerging macro trend and ride it.
This is someone who has done it before -- raised money, done deals, worked with startups. Give this person 1 to 2% of your company in exchange for their time. Rely on them to open doors to future investors. Use them as a sounding board for corporate development issues.
Don't do this by committee. Advisory boards never amount to much. Find one person, make them your sherpa, and lean on them.
Don't settle for less even if there's pressure for time.
18. Co-locate as best possible but be willing to travel to remote offices to make multiple offices work
Online collaboration maxes out at 3 to 4 weeks apart, which means you need to commit to travelling almost monthly to make remote offices work.
There's no sense in going to war with people you don't like.
They will have your back and care as much about the product as you do.
22. Position your desk in a way in which you are staring at your co-founders and they are staring at you
If you aren't enjoying looking at each other each day, you're working with the wrong people.
It's easier for many people (especially developers) to post a status update than to write an email.
It's impossible for everyone to keep track of every file sent to their email in-box.
Use basecamp so there's a history and central repository.
25. Figure out quickly what you are personally really good at and focus your personal time around those activities
Let other people do the other stuff.
Let them do the stuff they are better at. Don't do their jobs.
Learn from them, because you don't know it all.
Arguing can make your product better in the end.
Otherwise you'll get stuck.
It helps to have the same motivation and vision.
Everyone needs encouragement through the highs and the lows.
Keep your body in shape if you want to keep your mind in shape.
It ruins you and wastes your time.
And be friends with, and get advice from.
Force yourself to be budget constrained as it will cause you to carefully spend each dollar like it is your last.
39. Once you have some traction, raise more money than you need but not more than you know what to do with
This is tricky. Don't skimp on fundraising because of dilution fears.
There are very few Googles and Facebooks. A good outcome for your business might be a $10M exit or a $20M exit or a $100M exit or no exit at all. Plan for the business you want to build.
Don't just shoot for the moon. From a money-in-your-pocket and return on time spent standpoint, owning 20% of a $20M exit in 2 years is much better than owning 3% of a $100M business in 5 years.
A VC business is expected to deliver 10x returns to investors. That means if you're taking money with a $5M post-money valuation, the expectation is that you are building for a minimum $50M exit. $10M post-money valuation = $100M target.
hat's not to say that you might not sell the company for less and everyone involved might be happy with that outcome, but that's not what you are signing up for when you take VC money with such a valuation. Know what the implications of taking VC money are and what it means for expectations on you.
The business will only succeed if you are motivated. Investors can't force the business to succeed.
And they certainly can't force a CEO to care.
I wear funny socks to remind myself to not settle for boring and to be creative.
They see the world differently, and that's a good thing.
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