Whether you’re a novice in the startup world, or you’re at it third time around, starting your own company can be scary, thrilling, hopeless and gut-wrenching all in the same triple-shot, almond milk, takeaway latte kind of way. Technically, I’m in my third startup, but given that this one is also one I’m co-founding, all my feels are on hyper-drive when it comes to the highs and lows of starting a business. It’s now OUR real-life money we’re playing with.
So, in light of this serious statement, we thought it would be good, and perhaps a little cathartic, to note the funny things we’ve discovered on our journey so far. (And yes, we’re fully aware that this is just the beginning. This list is likely to grow before EOFY hits.)
A little background in case you’ve landed here and have no idea who we are. We are Run & Rule. A fitness app that you don’t have to be fit to use. Read more here, but basically, when you use the app doing your outdoor exercise, where ever you go, that land becomes your virtual territory. Think Pokémon Go meets Runkeeper.
Whilst it’s a fun concept, we’ve had our fair share of whoopsies and aha! moments to get to the point we are at today…
- Buzzwords can make or break a meeting.
We made the classic mistake (more than once) of smiling and nodding and pretending we knew about incubators and accelerators, that we were boot-strapping, had a sick deck and were trying to disrupt a segment with no clear exit strategy. It’s not that we were consciously not buying into the fancy jargon. We just didn’t have a clue what some key industry buzzwords even meant. Not a good look when you’re trying to break into the market. Be prepared my friends!
- Learn to accept small successes.
Like making it through the day without tearing your hair out. Despite all the Zuckerberg and Atlassian million-dollar stories, most of your successes won’t come with a bottle of bubbly and a fat injection to the bank balance. Our first success didn’t make a single dollar. We leveraged our social network to get our foot in the door to run a trial. A free trial. One that cost us money. But getting that trial was a sweet, sweet moment. It meant we’d achieved what we set out to do. And once you’ve reached this point, the next step becomes that much easier.
- Give yourself a giant high-five when you get external buy-in.
Ok, I lied about number 2. Our first REAL success was when strangers, who weren’t our mums/dads/brothers/besties, actually downloaded our app. When people outside your immediate family and friends circle start buying into your product/service, you’ve had yourself a success! When we discovered random strangers had downloaded our app, confusion was soon replaced with elation. We went from trying to figure out how they had heard about us, to ‘who cares?’ They’re using it!
- Ugg boots. Until. Midday.
Yes, one of the mostly loudly touted perks to owning your own business is the hours you can keep. As a startup in the health and fitness space, this means we can wait until the day warms up a bit before going for a run. And we can squeeze a grocery shop in before the after-school rush. And yes, we can wear our Ugg boots until midday. And while flexibility is key, it’s important to maintain balance too. It’s so easy to keep going until the wee hours of the morning because you’ve set yourself a ridiculous deadline. Similarly, it’s also easy to blow off work for an afternoon because you’ve got a slight headache and something amazing just dropped on Netflix. Just set realistic daily and weekly goals and stick to them. Easy.
- Not knowing if you’re on the right track.
Or where it started. Or where it went. Or how many backseat drivers there’d be. Self-doubt is a killer. If we had a dollar for the amount of times we’ve turned around and said “are we doing this right?!” we would be ready to launch into the US market by now. It took us quite a while to realise that there is no “right” way to do anything. The only thing that mattered is belief in our business and belief in ourselves.
- Not knowing when to scream for help! Like, now!!!
Navigating the startup world is Tricky with a capital T. From sourcing a designer, to applying for grants, to pitching tips and to helping with life admin. Every step can have its challenges. Knowing when to ask for help was just the start of it. Knowing where to seek the right kind of help had us feeling like the shy kid who really REALLY needs to go to the toilet. Like, now people! In our initial stages, we just slogged it out. But there came a time where we realised we needed outside input. We needed to be attending events, seminars, functions, hub meetings. But working from home meant we were very isolated from other startups, mentors and advice givers that we desperately needed. We didn’t have the foggiest of where to start looking in the Australian startup community. Fortunately, our nous led us to the likes of Startup Smart, The Entourage, Hub, and good old LinkedIn groups helped too. (We’re still on the lookout for more if you have any suggestions!)
- Having no money. Ever.
To the point when you question why you’re buying brand-named soap from the supermarket. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, we’re bootstrapping (yep, check out us using a buzzword in context) the majority of our venture. And while we have been able to manage, it’s important to have a plan B, or C, or D in place and have a very specific timeframe to meet funding deadlines. Living in limbo off the smell of an oily rag can only ever be a temporary measure.
- Having zero social life.
When you’ve got so many crazy deadlines and you know it’s entirely in your hands whether your business succeeds or fails, it’s so easy, and often necessary to become a hermit. This was a particularly big life lesson for me. Having always been a social person, having to say ‘no’ to coffees and dinners was painful. Luckily I have extremely supportive friends and family who get what we’re doing – many of them have even dabbled in the startup field themselves. But it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly prepared to give up my double-shot latte in the beginning.
- Don’t be a perfectionist. Be an it’ll-do-for-right-now-ist.
This one reared its ugly head a number of times for us. When we first started, we wanted everything to be perfect. We kept pushing back our launch date because there were still elements of the app that weren’t perfect. Then we delayed marketing because we weren’t sure if we’d nailed the perfect target market or channels. Then we shifted our focus entirely and developed a new arm of the business, which we were too frightened to talk to people about because it wasn’t ready and we didn’t know if it would work. Moral of the story – we could have, and probably did, miss opportunities because we were waiting for things to be perfect. And guess what? Things still aren’t perfect! You just need to break through that hairsplitter veneer and get it done. Fail fast, fail often. You’ll never know if you don’t try. They all ring true in the startup realm.
- Staying motivated. At all costs.
YOU MUST BE (and stay) MOTIVATED. And passionate. And dedicated. Otherwise you will while away hours to certain social media platforms or mindless gaming apps. Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs a break from their screens. But you need to make sure you stay focused on the task at hand and not get distracted by that pile of dirty washing or that thin layer of dust on the TV. It can wait! Treat your venture like a real job.
So there you have it. Our top 10 #fails at startup.