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What I’ve Learned After 18 Months Running a Startup

It was the way I ended our pitch every time – whether that be at pitch practice in front of the same 20-30 people every week, or our grand pitch in front of 900+ people on our last week in Dallas: “Why are we building this service? Because we’re learning enthusiasts. We love learning, and are devoting our lives to learning all that we can, and making that accessible to as many people as we can.”

We knew launching this startup would be a huge learning experience, and we couldn’t have been more on point. Since we launched a little over 18 months ago, I can confidently say each and every single day has taught us something new, and has made us more prepared for carrying out our ultimate vision. Now, 18 months into our idea, here are the biggest takeaways so far.

Just Because you Build it, Does Not Mean They Will Come

The first thing we learned with our startup was that simply building something does not result in sales, or even traffic. I have spoken to so many people, and read from so many different places this exact difficult lesson that entrepreneurs had to learn early on. People are always so afraid of sharing their ideas because they think that someone will copy them and become an instant success. We all have this notion that once you create something that you deem as valuable to society, it will catch like wildfire. Friends and family will hear about it, tell their friends and family, before you know it you’ll be featured on every major news outlet and on Forbes 30 under 30. I’ve learned just the opposite is true: Ideas, products, or services in and of themselves are completely worthless – it’s how you get the idea out to the right people that will result in success, and it won’t happen on it’s own.

 

An overnight success is as probable as getting struck by lightning

lightning

We’re all obsessed with the idea of an overnight success – we see Justin Bieber’s story of a kid that was singing on youtube without any plans of getting recognized and turned into one of the most influential pop icons of the century. Mark Zuckerberg who created a service where college students can connect with each other and see their pictures, eventually becoming one of the biggest companies in the world. Sure, it’s possible that an idea you have will blow up overnight, just as it’s possible that you’ll get struck by lightning, or win the lottery. I’d much rather invest in a strategy that’s more in my control – working hard, day and night, to achieve a goal. People are always so quick to admire the musician who can solo for hours, but never have an idea as to how much practice, how many hours of blood, sweat, and tears went into getting him to where he is today. One of my favorite quotes explains this well:

If anyone tells you they received, but didn’t toil, don’t believe them.

If anyone tells you they toiled, but didn’t receive, don’t believe them either.

The only truth in this world is toiling, and then receiving.

If things were that easy, everyone would be doing it, and then it wouldn’t be worth much – right?

 

Doing The Right Things is Much More Important Than Doing  Things Right

This was my entrepreneurship professor in college’s favorite line. This may seem contradictory to the last point, but it’s a very important one. You can set a goal to reach a destination by running as fast as you can, but if you are running in the wrong direction, all of your work and effort is useless. The challenging part is that the whole nature of a startup requires you to do something that doesn’t have a set formula, unlike the way we’ve been raised our entire lives by attending school. Instead, it’s a constant “shoot, assess, shoot again”. At times you can wake up and realize the entire last 3 months were a waste, and it’s time to pick up and run in another direction. It’s so easy following a script like getting good grades, you know exactly what you need to do: work hard by following the given steps / instructions. The challenging part is figuring out what to do when you don’t have a script, constantly learning from your mistakes, and having the stamina to keep going. Which brings me to my next point.

 

Having a High Tolerance for Failure is One of, if Not The Best, Quality You Can Possess.

Like I mentioned above, one of the biggest challenges that we faced was realizing that there was no set script for how we are going to become successful. It was, and still is, a constant focus of hard work in a specific area, assessing the results, and deciding whether to continue to pump out more work in that area. There have been hundreds of times in which I wondered whether we should just throw in the towel due to the fact that we weren’t seeing things immediately, and had to destroy many of our preconceived notions of how things would go. It required us to fall down 100s of times, and stand right back up with a new approach. I recognize now that this is the only way a person can achieve meaningful fulfilling goals. Tons of successful people have hit rock bottom numerous times in their lives before hitting success – just google the stories of Walt Disney, Colonel Sanders, JK Rowling, or Abe Lincoln (the list is endless). The bigger of a goal that you are shooting for, the more stamina and tolerance for failure you can expect to need in order to get there.

 

The Odds of Hitting Your Target Goes Up Dramatically When You Aim at it.

darts

One of the best articles I read this year was by Gary Vaynerchuck, titled What to do After You Graduate College. He dubbed your first 5 years out of college as the years to be massively risk oriented, to try new things and to do anything but take the safe route to make a couple extra bucks, as there will be plenty of time for that later on in your life. Youth brings a real beautiful thing to someone’s life – passion. Younger people tend to have a ton of passion in life, with little guidance, while older people tend to have tons of guidance in life, with little passion. The best thing a younger person can do is not extinguish his flame, but rather guide it in the right direction. If someone were to ask you today what your wildest dreams are, do you have an answer? Much more importantly, with the answer that you gave, are you currently on a path to achieve those dreams, even in the slightest chance? Many of us may be relying on the lottery for that…I wonder how many of us are even buying lottery tickets.

The number one take away that I have from all of this is that setting a big goal that is different from the majority of those around you is an extremely challenging task, and takes a tremendous amount of stamina. While the payoff can be huge if you are indeed successful, to me, the things that i’ve learned throughout this whole process is a payoff that is big enough. I’m grateful for the opportunity that i’ve had so far over 18 months to work on this idea with 2 of the smartest guys that I know, and I pray that we get the opportunity to continue as long as we can.

 

Thanks as always for reading – looking forward to sharing more news about our journey.

About Josh

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One comment

  1. Wow! This is a very good read. I feel rejuvenated and refreshed. I’m surely going to read your other posts.

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