Today marks one year since the launch of Founders Network. One year of founders helping founders and one year of lessons learned from starting up. We now have 132 members: tech founders and partners from around the world. We are growing by roughly 10 new founders per month who go through our approval process and have a ton of momentum going into our second year of existence.
To commemorate our first birthday, I took a minute to write down 12 lessons learned during our first year on starting up a business – one for each month of our first year:
- Talk to people who are skeptical about your idea – At the beginning you will have a lot of people say your idea is a bad one for many reasons that are probably true. However, they miss the point – a startup is not an intellectual exercise. It is something an entrepreneur feels compelled to do. Still, I’ve found skeptical people incredibly helpful for sharpening my thinking on the strategy for Founders Network.
- Focus on your vision – My motivation of the past year, months and weeks has ebbed and flowed. One thing that has sustained me through the down cycles of the past year is a belief in the vision of Founders Network. I’ve also found that many of our members cite the same belief in vision as a key to staying motivated.
- Figure out what gets you enthusiastic – Without enthusiasm you will have no inspiration, creativity or motivation so find a way to get enthusiastic about your project. Over the past year I’ve (re)discovered that diet, exercise and sleep keep me upbeat, energetic and enthusiastic during the day. I’ve used Lose It! fairly religiously to help with that.
- Persistence pays – You’ve heard this one before but it is worth repeating. ;)
- Collect anecdotes – Especially early on you dont have historicals or a track record of signiciant numbers to prove value. I made it a point during my first year to collect testimony from each member and add it to the site. I got up to around 30 and stopped. Each one reaffirms my mission and value add and recharges me. If you want to hear any more you’ll have to apply to join the group!
- Don’t work alone for too long – Isolation is bad. Find a way to get out of your home office as soon as you can. Originally I moved into the now defunct Pier 38 Dogpatch Labs space. On my first day there the city served an eviction notice the tenants. I then got lucky and found a great partner in RocketSpace where I work several days a week. RocketSpace provdies a healthy social setting with the opportunity to get out of the house and interact with others throughout the day.
- Be good company – I set out with the intention of finding partners whom I liked being around. After one year we have several partners who I truly enjoy hanging out with and who I count more and more as good friends: Jonathan Gleason and Brian Patterson from Gunderson Dettmer; Nick deWilde and Mary Kate Hurlbutt from First Republic Bank; Carolyn Betts from Betts Recruiting; Gadiel Morantes from Mohler Nixon & Williams and Matt Elmquist of Cresa Partners. We have fun and focus on building friendships versus nitty gritty business details which can be discussed over email or the phone. It took a lot of meetings to find the right partners but the effort was worth it and it makes the ride that much more enjoyable.
- Plan on a weekly basis – We had an online member meeting with Colin Barceloux about Scaling Up Your Startup and he talked about the importance of identifying and prioritizing your goals each week. I’ve followed his advice and it has proven extremely helpful. Sounds obvious but the key is discipline of doing it week in and week out.
- It all comes down to disciplined execution – For me this comes down being organized about getting it on the calendar. I add a description of the steps in the event description, attach a corresponding doc or spreadsheet and invite people on the team who are responsible for completing the task.
- Maintain balance – I’ve kept in mind that the more I work, the more work I create. Instead of just working a ton I’ve tried to figure out how to work smart by focusing time and effort on the key drivers of value for my members. This has required saying no to other opportunities but ultimately has allowed me to maintain an active personal life with new hobbies like rock climbing, basketball and skiing.
- Strive to be “Bootstrap Perfect” – I think I coined this phrase while creating our promo video for the FN site. I used a $99 Flip camera and Screenflow to edit the video together along with some licensed audio from Animoto. I spent at least a week on the project and realized that at a certain point I had to upload it and move on. Later on I can invest resources in a more professional video but for now it is bootstrap perfect.
- Have fun – Things can get a little too serious when everyone is trying to “change the world”. Over the past year I’ve see that when people have fun they are happy and in turn refer other founders to the group. Our last member meeting at the City Beer Store was a blast and sure enough, one member nominated two more new members the next day.
Of course time and learning are compressed in a startup and I could go on and on with lessons learned. Which of course is the whole point of Founders Network ~ learning from other founders to become better startup managers so we can accelerate progress while removing risk from the equation.
Things are looking good for Founders Network as we head into our next year thanks to the help of countless friends, members, partners and skeptics. A heartfelt thanks to every one of you and looking forward to another big year ahead!
Kevin started Founders Network to help tech founders achieve success through peer mentorship. Prior to Founders Network, Kevin advised hundreds of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs from idea stage through funding. Kevin was named “40 Under 40 in Silicon Valley” by the Silicon Valley Business Journal for his work with startups and promoting entrepreneurship. He has served on the adjunct faculty at both Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business and the University of San Francisco School of Business. Kevin holds a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Business Administration from Santa Clara University.