It’s 2:30 AM, late Saturday. It’s the wee hours of the night and I’m laying in bed, head spinning vigorously. Something’s not right. Am I drunk? That can’t be it. I can’t remember the last time I was. I simply haven’t had the time to be. How wildly my life and typical day-to-day agenda has changed. Since the founding of Kibii, my days have been filled with meetings, work, and collaboration sessions with my fellow teammates.
No, my head is spinning with ideas. My body aches for sleep, yet my mind still has more to give. I need to get them down now so I don’t forget. Tomorrow, the Kibii team has a full day of work ahead of us and we need to hit the ground running.
I turn over and reach for my laptop, which I’ve been bringing to bed with me for some time now to get that extra little bit of work done before I turn in. Words start forming on the screen. Ideas begin to take shape. In classic Michael form, I open Slack and send a summary of all my ideas into one long message in the team chat. I doubt anyone will see it tonight.
My team learned a long time ago to turn their snooze option on at this time to avoid my constant bombardment of scattered thoughts and ideas. That’s okay. We have a solid team (in my biased opinion, the best team), and I’m positive as soon as they wake, a dialogue will begin, a process will be put into place, and the necessary groundwork needed will be completed in order to bring these ideas into fruition.
It’s time for me to turn in. Time is a precious thing, and that statement holds far greater truth in the life of a startup.
I’ve had my fair share of experiences working in both large corporations as well as startups, most being within the tech industry. However, I’ve loved my job in both cases. I’ve experienced success and I’ve also experienced failure. But the question in my mind always remains the same: do you want the structure and stability of the 9-5 job? Or will you embrace the chaos and take the leap into a world where everything begins and ends with you, your passion, your vision, and work ethic.
I prefer the latter. The opportunity to build something from the ground up and call it yours. Something to truly sink your teeth into and grow with. It has always intrigued me. There’s a time and place in one’s life to settle into a comfortable role. I’m just not quite there yet. With that being said, here are some of the things, through my trials and tribulations, that I’ve learned along the way about founding a startup:
1. Build a team around you whose strengths complement your weaknesses.
First thing’s first. Identify your strengths and be honest about your weaknesses. Personally, I had development chops. The vision was there. But I had little to no business background, and minimal knowledge on how to build a solid short and long-term marketing strategy. I’ve learned the hard way from previous tech startups that without solid marketing, your app will simply collect dust in the app stores. We are lucky enough to have built a talented and hardworking marketing team that complimented my weakness in that realm.
Tip: Don’t think you can do it all. It takes a village! Trust in your team that they know better than you in their respective fields.
2. Set Attainable Goals
In the chaotic world that is a startup, one of the most important things you want to prevent is the feeling that your team is a bunch of chickens running around with their heads cut off. Efforts in the right areas need to be made. Solutions need to be validated. In order to do that, goals need to be set, both micro and macro. Goals that are attainable. If your goal is to increase organic traffic to your website or blog, identify existing numbers and make incremental improvements. If you see an average of 100 visitors on a given blog, set your goal for your next three blog pieces to 110. The message here is to set goals that you can actually achieve within a reasonable timeframe.
Tip: Goals are not constants and should always be evaluated and adjusted. When you hit a goal, adjust it and push forward. If you are constantly falling short, work towards figuring out why this is.
There’s always so much to do. Every day, something new emerges, issues arise, and tasks are added to your plate. As things pile on, it can quickly become nothing short of overwhelming. That’s why prioritization is key. When looking at your seemingly endless to-do list, you need to identify which items are of the utmost importance, and then prioritize them accordingly. You’ll see a quicker turnaround, higher quality, and less stress.
Tip: Don’t stand back and look at all of your tasks as a whole. Lock in on a single item and have tunnel-vision.
4. Embrace Your Mistakes and Failures
You will fall. There will be daunting hurdles to overcome. Mistakes will be made. This is a fact. Don’t dwell on yours or your team’s mistakes and failures. Embrace them. Learn from them. Communicate in a constructive way your plan of action to prevent it from happening again.
Tip: Blame begins and ends with the team lead. Each team member needs to be set up for success.
5. Done is Better Than Perfect
The reality in a startup environment is that output needs to be high. What is most often the case is that your team is small to start, and you simply do not have the resources to make things perfect. You can spend hours perfecting a task like making that cool animation in your app pixel-perfect, but this isn’t time well spent.
In my opinion, perfection is an unattainable milestone and fretting over the little things is only going to take time away from your other tasks.
Tip: Practice makes progress, not perfect.
6. Build a Support Network
With limited funding and limited resources, you’ll find it necessary to build partnerships and support systems within your space. Early stage technology incubators can help with operating costs and provide tools at a discount that streamline your internal processes. They may also have connections with invaluable people in the industry, assisting in bridging that gap. At Kibii, we’re fortunate enough to get accepted in the iBoost Zone, an amazing incubator housed under Ryerson’s Faculty of Engineering & Faculty Sciences.
Tip: There are many incubators out there that can be applied to. Find which one best suits you and your project! Explore a list of Toronto-based incubators!
7. Make Sure the Passion is There
The fact of the matter is, a startup is not your typical 9-5 job. You will be working long hours well into the night and you can bet that they will bleed into your weekend. In fact, your weekends will be consumed. Forget about getting your 7-8 hours of sleep as well. You need to be awake far after your competition falls asleep, and you need to be up before their last REM cycle.
With this in mind, you best sink your teeth into something you’re truly passionate about. The sacrifices you make in your life, both micro and macro, are that much easier when you’re doing something you love. If you find a job you love, you won’t work a day in your life.
Tip: If you’re feeling burnt out, handle it accordingly. It doesn’t make sense to be taking on tasks when you’re not at your best because the quality will suffer. At Kibii, we subscribe to the concept of micro-vacations. If you need a day or two to yourself in order to reset, let your team know, make sure your duties are covered, and separate yourself. Your team will appreciate the transparency, and you’ll come back fresh and ready for action.
8. Put in the Work!
There’s a lot of talk out and visualization of ideas coming to life. But realistically, an idea is just an idea until action is taken. People want and desire something and believe it will magically come to life. This isn’t something I subscribe to. Don’t get me wrong, you most certainly need a vision, but the driving force of success in any startup is one simple thing: hard fucking work.
Tip: Make sure all that hard work is applied to the right things. Yes, you need to work hard, but it needs to be focused in the right direction. Working hard on things that aren’t of importance, brings no value to your team and business.