April 17, 2009

7 Key Lessons From My Startup: Dabble

Here are 7 key lessons I learned from working on my startup, Dabble, from 2005-2008:

1. Take breaks -- weekly, monthly, yearly -- you need to do this to give yourself spaces for rest, be able to come up with solutions when you aren't faced with immediate pressure, etc.

I didn't do this, instead working often 18 hour days, 6.5 days a week. After four years, I was really burnt out. And it took me a year to feel rested again. Not good. For me or the company.

2. Take enough funding that you aren't stressed every minute and constantly looking for money.

3. Do your startup with a partner, a co-founder -- hopefully someone who meets you half way in terms of experience, depth in their field, and knows they want their job and not yours, and vice versa.

You really need someone who's all in.. who shares what you know that other's may not be privy to, shares the vision, and worries about the same things as you, and that forces each of you to pull your assumptions out of your head, articulate them, and justify them. You need someone to hold the fort while you take a break. And hopefully give you perspective, and for which you can give perspective, or the space to take a break themselves. It's just a lot better to have a co-founder. And funders like it better too.

4. Hire people that already know their jobs because you can't afford to train them, and you are already doing something that is hard enough, ie the business is new.. make that the new piece.. not the job.. and take time hiring to find the best people, not just the people who come to you first. Hire slowly, and hire the best you can get.

I made these mistakes, once or twice each. And paid for them. But I learned and I'm more cautious now.

5. Iterate on the business model from day 1 just as you iterate on the product from day 1. Make the business model your product as much as the product is your product. Revenue, revenue, revenue.

I took the advice of several well known, prominent VCs who in 2005 and 2006 said: don't worry about revenue.. get to scale. We did, and it would have helped so much more if we'd iterated and had some revenue.

6. Focus on one thing, do it really well.. and keep going on that without getting distracted by all the possibilities you can think of but that will add to or deviate from the plan.

We mostly did this, although at one point, we took a detour and tried to add one major feature group. Not a good idea. Focus focus focus. Get your one thing really right, really used, really solving people's problems.

7. Don't let big sexy outside entities (like a large well-known company that would make a great press release if you partnered) distract you from the vision because you feel flattered by their attention and the validation of your idea but they need "new features" or changes. Make sure the requested plan works toward your focus, and iterating on your product/business model first.

We didn't do any development for partners (we had a ton of requests), but we spent time with partners and got distracted and it didn't help.

Posted by Mary Hodder at April 17, 2009 12:15 PM | TrackBack
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