Your first startup should be someone else's

You’re about to start your first startup. You have an idea, you have the talent (whether yours or someone else’s) and you’re poised to take over the world. The only thing that stands between you and success is that you have absolutely no idea what you're doing! GO!

Let’s be honest, I don’t think any of us would start a company if we already knew what the journey would be like. To do what we do requires a healthy dose of naivety . You have to be either brave or foolish (or both) to think you can succeed where so many others have failed. Being ignorant of the odds of failure can be a blessing, but without some sniff of reality it can become quite the curse.

The one common thread among aspiring founders is their absolute belief in their vision. They believe it’s unique, they believe no one else could possibly do it, and they believe it has massive market potential. More often than not, they’re wrong on all counts. But often that dedication to solve a problem without fear of failure is what makes it possible to succeed. By not stopping at the intermediate point of impossibility they eventually find a way to attain the highly improbable. It’s that drive that makes working with startups so exciting.

But whilst throwing caution to the wind can often be beneficial, even an ounce of experience goes a long way when the tough times come, and they will come.

The most obvious solution is to surround yourself with experience. Advisors, mentors and investors are all great sources of learning. People that have “been there, done that” can step in to help solve problems for which you’ve been unable to find a solution. As helpful as they can be, the bottom line is that all of the responsibility still comes back to you. It’s up to you to make the decisions.

Whether it be hiring, firing, budgeting, planning, pitching or selling… the decisions are yours to make. All the advice in the world won’t stop you from ever making a bad call, especially when you consider no one has all the information that you, as founder, has.

The only thing that can help you in these situations is your own experience and your own gut feel for the situation. The more experience you’ve had, the better equipped you’ll be to make the right call. This is where I believe the best way to help yourself is to help someone else first.

First time founders, I beg you, please go and work for someone else before you start your own business! Too many wannabe entrepreneurs have this crazed notion that the only way to work in a startup is to start your own. Unless you're solving a problem that is so important to you that it keeps you up every night, you may well be better off working for someone else. Think about it, do you really need to own the business to enjoy your work?

Go get some experience, contribute to something important, be part of something bigger than yourself! Maybe you'll meet some folks that can help you in a future venture, maybe you'll get some equity in a growing business, maybe you'll even take part in an exit! The worst case scenario is that you'll learn a lot (even if it's how not to do things!) In time you'll find something to be passionate about, and only when you've found something you must solve should you strike out on your own.

There's a whole heap that can go wrong in a startup, and the only way to really know about it is to have gone through it. It's true that you'll never learn as much as you'll learn at a startup, but it doesn't mean you have to be the owner to learn it. 

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