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What 2015 Taught Me About Running a Startup

I’m sitting in bed, taking a break from debugging a particularly tough software bug, while listening to Pretty Pimpin’ by Kurt Vile. My mind wanders to dsfa, the small but bold professional services startup aimed at providing data science services for small businesses I embarked on launching a year ago. For all its successes and failures, the startup has forced me to learn a lot about myself from various discussions with mentors and founders and friends. I figured I would collect a list of the things I learned in this blog post. This seems like the proper thing to do now that the new year is approaching.

  1. Growth requires change and change requires growth. The two are inextricably linked and a successful organizational leader knows exactly what changes need to be made within an organization in order to inspire growth.
  2. If you feel discouraged, tired, or sick of the grind, start by doing the smallest possible thing you can do for your business and go from there. Whether it is fixing padding on a webpage or organizing a hectic Google Drive, small steps inspire giant leaps.
  3. Following up on #2, do one thing for your startup every day. This was especially important for me because I am not in a position to work on my startup full-time so I have to balance it with a couple of other things. The most effective way for me to do this was to make sure that there was one item related to dsfa on my daily to-do list.
  4. It’s OK to move slowly. The entrepreneurship space is very fast-paced and often times it’s important to realize that you don’t need your first customer within 6 months and you don’t need the prototype done in time for the launch of a complimentary product by that Other Big Tech Company. Do things at a pace that is healthy for you, your business, and your employees.
  5. Don’t ask for anybody else’s money unless you absolutely have to.
  6. To misquote Joseph Campbell, “We must let go of the business we have planned to accept the one that is waiting for us.” Sometimes pivots and changes will arrive naturally as your organization progresses. Don’t fight them.
  7. Stop focusing on the goals you really don’t want. If something doesn’t contribute or relate to your grand purpose in this world, don’t do it! You won’t dedicate your full heart to it and you’ll be left exhausted afterward. Leave your passion and your energy for the things that align with your purpose.
  8. To misquote (again) Jonathon Safran Foer,“You cannot protect yourself from failure without protecting yourself from happiness.” You will fuck up. You will be angry with yourself. You will be depressed. You will be ashamed. You will think your idea is stupid. But you have to think those thoughts in order to accept the positive thoughts and all the good that comes with.
  9. Share your successes with others and inspire the successes of others. It’s not gratifying to win by yourself if other’s aren’t winning with you. Mentor, teach, write, speak, share your tips for success.
  10. Everyone has their time, their place, and their niche. Just because fellow entrepreneur Bob Smith has an over-funded Kickstarter for his bouncy castle for dogs idea while you have zero customers and no funding, doesn’t mean your idea is absolutely worthless or that you won’t make it. Everyone, yes everyone, who dedicates themselves to an idea and works tirelessly at it will have their share of Success.
  11. Creating a unique niche for your company is a valuable way to ensure customers (and profits) in highly competitive markets. However, creating a successful niche is a difficult task. Be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot by creating a niche that is contradictory, undesirable to customers, or lacks profitability.

I figure that dsfa is a lot of where my more interesting learnings on business, software, and data science happen and I’ll do more to share those learnings here in this blog.

Thanks to my good friend Eric (@EricTendian) for reviewing this post.