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11 Start Up Lessons I Have Learned

By Pavan Katepalli
Startuplessons

Image taken from http://www.aceshowbiz.com

Here I lay out what I did right and what I learned from my past ventures.

I'll describe a little about the Companies I've had, and the 11 lessons I've learned.

Company Number One: MyFitSolution.com

life span: October 2008 - July 2011

What it Was: MyFitSolution aimed to provide one-on-one workout sessions and diet advice that personal training offers but at 90% lower than the average cost of personal training.

You can see a demo of MyFitSolution.com here.

What I did right:

  • raised capital
  • surveyed to see if people wanted the service
  • made a product back log
  • made wire frames
  • attained press for the Company
  • attained a high Google Page Rank of 4

What I did wrong:

  • I wrote a business plan
  • Feature overload
  • Outsourced bulk of development
  • Chose partners that couldn't code their way out of a paragraph tag
  • Focused on features instead of users

What I learned:

1. Minimize the business plan

Most of the things in a traditional business plan are stupid for a start up with big value and leap of faith assumptions.

The things that matter are:

  • Your early adopters
    • Who they are
    • How you'll get to them
  • The problem, solution and alternatives for potential customers
  • Your unfair advantage
  • Defining your assumptions
    • Value
    • Leap of faith
  • Details of experiments that will de-risk your assumptions
    • Maybe a web based MVP
  • Your market size
  • Your user acquisition strategy
    • For early adopters
    • And beyond
  • A list of potential users to interview

  • Key Metrics that will tell you how your business is doing
    • Think engagement
    • Avoid vanity metrics
  • Your costs and revenue streams

2. Minimize features to de-risk core assumptions

If a feature doesn't play a part in the experiments you set up to de-risk your core assumptions

Then trash it.

Throw it out of your road map and back log.

Feature over load kills entrepreneurship.

  • It wastes your time
  • Users get overwhelmed with too much to do
  • Your app loses clarity
  • You'll feel miserable when no one uses what you built

3. Hire a US developer over a foreign developer

It's not that foreign developers aren't as smart as US developers.

But there is a

  • language barrier
  • time difference
  • fundamental difference in culture

4. Be really picky about who you bring onto your team

Bad team members are like a disease.

They infect an organization and spread indifference, incompetence, awkwardness and incivility.

Firing someone is really hard.

So that's why be really picky.

5. Fire dead weight fast

A good tip is to agree with your potential partner on goals, and deadlines for those goals.

Have your potential partner sign a vesting contract aligned with those goals and deadlines.

Potential Partners will inadvertently fire themselves upon not meeting those goals at the agreed upon deadlines.

Company Number Two: RockstarVisible.com

life span: April 2010 to September 2010

What it Was: A SEO Firm.

What I did right:

  • Minimized the business plan
  • Signed on clients
  • Built the website with minimum help
  • Got a page 1 ranking on Google for the keyword phrase: "getting ranked"
    • And beat out over 32 million web pages for the ranking
  • Sold the website to Splib Media LLC, an Indiana Company

What I did wrong:

  • Didn't sign contracts with clients.
  • Didn't charge enough
  • Didn't focus on a niche of clients
  • Expanded too fast with paid sales interns

What I learned:

6. Sign contracts with your clients

I skipped contracts and stuck with verbal agreements

Because while I was a Sales Rep, some clients didn't pay everything they owed.

And the Company I worked for didn't fight them, because of how expensive the legal battle would have been.

But this is what I learned:

Even if you're not going to go to the trouble of hiring a lawyer to fight for what you're owed, you should still sign contracts with clients.

Because when you do

most of the time, it'll keep clients in line and make sure they pay. Probably because it invokes a sense of professionalism.

Sometimes it won't work, but that's life.

7. Charge clients a fair amount for them and you

If the only reason Clients are coming to you is because you'll do it for a lower cost then you need to set goals for your client.

When you reach a goal for your client, they pay you more.

That needs to be put into the contract.

If you sell yourself short, your client will treat you the way you're selling yourself.

8. Focus on a niche of clients

It's hard to focus on a niche of clients when lead generating is hard

But when you focus on a niche of clients

You build a portfolio of work that sells itself to potential clients.

That's how you grow rapidly.

Successful agencies start out this way

And successful companies do too. Initially, Facebook focused their niche on college students.

9. Don't expand until you're monetarily comfortable

When you're closing deals and making money, it's very tempting to scale as fast as you can.

The problem is, you need to do it right.

If you're expanding, hire the right people.

If you can't afford the right people, then it's too early to expand.

Company Number Three: BloggersCompete.com

life span: April 2010 to October 2011

What it Was:

It helped advertisers get more customers by getting higher search engine rankings by launching blog contests on the site.

A blog contest gets lots of bloggers to blog about something and link to the advertiser's site.

Bloggers got paid if they won the contests and got other free stuff from the advertiser for participating.

Check out this video on how the site worked for Advertisers, and this video for how the site worked for bloggers.

What I did right:

  • I got the site a lot of press
  • It was featured on Web Pro News, Blog World, Blog Engage and We Blog Better
  • I was able to launch the site much quicker than my first business
  • It constantly got organic traffic
  • It got over 350+ verified bloggers on the site
  • The site had paid customers
  • I sold the website to Noizu Inc, a Washington based Company

What I did wrong:

  • I hired a Freelancer instead of doing it myself
  • Features took a really long time to make
  • Features would be broken most of the time
  • I was the one left testing and writing up bug reports
  • We didn't use version control, so we wrote over each other's work sometimes
  • I cut features to the bare essentials, but I could've taken it a step further
  • I should have de-risked my assumptions without any code at all
  • I hired a designer that was really late and charged a lot. I could've done it myself and saved my money and time.

All in all, I spent $10k and the site got customers, press, users, but in the end the idea didn't work out

What I learned:

10. Be as Unscalable As Possible

Clients' campaigns weren't always working

Because of the way I set up the product.

I could have found out about this sooner if I manually coded campaigns for each client

I would have also cut down development time by 80%

I would've spent less time, money and effort and I wouldn't have gotten burned out

Sure manually coding campaigns without a database and a user based application would have been hard to manage

But who cares?

Launching fast is key in de-risking your assumptions. Don't plague over features when your core assumptions haven't been de-risked.

If you can use a basic web page hooked up with WuFoo forms for your MVP, then do it.

11. Just because you can kind of afford to build out your idea, doesn't mean you should pay for it.

Because chances are you're going to have to pivot your Company.

And when you've used up a lot of your money, you're not going to be willing to put more toward it.

It's best to do it yourself first even though it's not going to be amazing, and when you know your idea works - that's when you spend money. It sounds like a no brainer, and I wish it was back when I started this venture.

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  • Hey Sayanaël I’m glad the post helped you out! I switched from windows to mac and then mac to ubuntu, so I forget how to refresh wamp. Do you pull up the wamp menu and click on refresh?

    Pavan in Cake PHP 2.2.1 Installation Errors
  • Thanks for this solution ! After hours browsing internet, your solution work just fine ! P.S: You don’t have to restart wamp, just refresh it.

    Sayanaël in Cake PHP 2.2.1 Installation Errors
  • Great article Pavan! Hopefully I can use a lot of these tips to further my own coding experience.

    Joe in How I Learned to Code For My Start Up

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