I’m glad to share lessons I learned last year as the founder of Adproval and really look forward to your feedback. I discovered that being alone sucks when you don’t know what you’re doing, so first time founders need to seek help and learn from peers and advisors.
Absorb these lessons from this post so you don’t have to learn them the hard way. You’ll have more fun and be happier in the long run.
First-Time Startup Founder Advice
1. Being alone sucks
Quick history: Development on Adproval began shortly before I graduated from Indiana University in May of 2012. After a late 2012 soft launch, Adproval started 2013 in a private beta and drifted to a public service in the Summer. Soon after, I experienced what you may know all too well… the smack of reality that hits you after the hype of being a young “entrepreneur” dies down and you’re alerted you to what you’ve really gotten yourself into.
This smack delivered my first lesson of 2013: Being a sole founder of your first real venture is hard, and the “loneliness” that comes with it sucks. It presents so many new challenges, and you’re largely alone to face them. Fortunately for myself (and I’d imagine most, if not all, entrepreneurs), I love every unique challenge I’ve faced. Unfortunately, I did a bad job of overcoming several of those challenges out of the gate. Specifically, I poorly managed resources allocated for development of an “MVP” and took too little initiative in seeking fellow entrepreneurs to serve as healthy, consistent places to vent and receive advice. As much as I’d love to pass the blame for that onto someone else (Bush, Obama, Sauroman, etc.), it’s on me.
I’m glad I learned these lessons the hard way. Being alone sucks, but finding seasoned entrepreneurs to meet with, regardless of their industry, was a huge spirit lifter and healthy place to discuss my challenges at the end of 2013 that I look forward to carrying into 2014. Also, learning to bring down the fiscal jackhammer on building you MVP prior to development with a well refined roadmap and then finding development partners you trust with that roadmap (Foxio shoutout chyeah) is crucial at an early stage.
But that’s not all…
2. Being alone when you have no idea what you’re doing is a bad time to be alone
I know this one will get the investors chomping at the bit to throw stacks of money at me, so here goes… Not only am I the sole founder of Adproval, but I am a sole, first time, non-technical founder of a tech company. Told ya, investors, get at me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
At the start of this venture in 2012, I admittedly had no idea what I was doing. In general, I don’t think you can blame young first time founders for having no idea what they’re doing. It’s not that I doubted my capability, I just had no frame of reference. I was like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know…
I’m not sure I learned a lesson here other than how hard it is to do things of great magnitude that you’ve never done before (profound, I know). But, it does lead me to ponder how a town like Indianapolis can better “jumpstart” the credibility building process for fresh young founders? Is there a way to warrant the attention of potential angel investors and advisors without needing to “learn the hard way” by grinding alone for awhile first, or is that just part of the process?
3. Intentionally engage peers and advisors
There is a welcoming community of peers and potential advisors in Indianapolis, albeit a small community, that will help if you intentionally seek it. The brutal lessons learned being a “lonely first time founder with no idea what he’s doing” are driving me to intentionally seek the counsel of peers and advisors, and, I am so grateful for the benefits of mentorship and success I’m experiencing.
So, moving into 2014, I have an incredibly gracious group of “advisors” that have agreed to either meet with me consistently every month or be available in more organic, as needed fashion. With this arrangement moving forward, I have two questions, and sincerely want your help:
a) How can I make sure I am not wasting the time of an advisor? Maybe this is better posed to those who have acted as advisors/counsel to young entrepreneurs before: What have those you are advising (say, for one hour a month) done that you saw as a waste of your time?
b) How can I make the experience fulfilling for my advisors? I am so grateful for the time I have been getting from select people in Indianapolis. I feel like I am busy now – I can only imagine how busy these individuals must be. What can I do to make sure working with me is a fulfilling experience for them beyond just my verbal appreciation and letting them buy me lunch?
I really would appreciate your comments on how to make the most of the time I’ll be spending with peers and advisors based on your experience.
Thanks for your help – I’d really love to see a good conversation get rolling here as I know I won’t be the last naive young founder to get his start in Indianapolis.
And happy New Year – let’s party.
Check out Adproval’s bold mission in Matthew’s original Adproval pitch at Verge and learn more about disrupting the online advertising space in this interview with Adproval founder, Matthew Anderson. Join the convo in the comments to give feedback, ideas, or kudos.