7 Tips after 12 Months: Startup Lessons I’ve Learned So Far

Woman Dancing in Field

A year is a milestone for any new business, and here one founder shares the lessons she’s learned so far on her journey establishing her startup.

By Hannah Wright (Founder, Makeoverly)

This may sound familiar: “Starting up is hard, but it’s rewarding at the same time.” Okay, it’s true. But there is more to this than may meet the eye.

Being almost one year into the solo-founder-of-a-bootstrapped-startup-from-Alaska startup experience, I want to share with you what I’ve learned. And no — it’s not the watered-down, safe version. This is my totally real, uncensored account of the startup experience.

1. Don’t Let Business Kill Your Personality

Don’t get lost in the crowd and stay glued to your computer 24/7. If you need to hit it hard, do so – and then take a break. Get out and separate yourself from the business for just a little while. Re-discover what really makes you who you are and embrace it.

I used to think that since everyone in the fashion and beauty industry either lives in California or New York, maybe I should keep it on the down-low that I live in the woods in Alaska. I have a love for rural life, fashion, beauty, philosophy, indie movies and startup. One of my favorite bands is Judas Priest. It all doesn’t seem to fit; my interests are a bit unorthodox.

Wrong! Embracing yourself is one of the most important things you can do in the startup world. Why? Because you’ll be spending a lot of time in your own mind – and you’re going to have to be comfortable with it in order to succeed.

2. How Does a 20-Hour Day Sound?

Sure, you may talk to other startup founders and read articles that say launching a startup takes work. I want you to envision what exactly this work may entail.

Now, multiply this vision by 1,000. Yep, I’m talking 15-24 hours days, pulling all-nighters, the whole sha-bang. That’s what it can take.

3. Know When to Quit Your Day Job

If you’re working your day job and wondering, “What’s happening with my startup? How did that conference call from yesterday evening go?” you’re likely distracted. Being distracted is likely to affect the quality of work at your day job. Don’t piss off your boss and turn up to work sleep deprived and distracted.

Quit your day job when you know it’s time, providing you are financially secure. This may mean having just barely enough money to pay rent, no luxury fund and eating endless supplies of ramen noodles. But if you believe in your startup, you’ll know when it’s time – and when it’s worth it.

4. Build a Product People Actually Like – and Don’t be in Denial

This may sound cliché, but hear me out. I’ll be honest: At Makeoverly, our first few months just didn’t cut it. Not enough people were using our product.

After endless attempts/being in denial, I went out in the woods and camped. After a weekend totally disconnected from technology and the startup world, I had an epiphany and we re-launched our platform. Oh, and we made something people actually use.

How did we know it was the right choice? Users and visitors were coming back without any push or nudge. They were telling their friends about us on their social media profiles and blogs. We’d hit the nail on the head. And you know what? This idea did not come from hours on the computer – it came from inspiration via disconnection.

5. No, You Don’t Have to Choose Between Friends, Family & Your Startup

While running your startup, you have to prioritize. Maybe it will take a while to sink in, or maybe you’ll realize it right away: You’re going to have to acknowledge what’s important to you in life and make time for these things.

Many startup founders say you can only choose one: friends, family or your startup. I disagree. I’ve chosen my husband, my folks and brother, friends and my startup.

I’m an introvert – I have a small circle of close friends, my family are some of my greatest supporters (and also happen to be very inspiring themselves), and my husband hardly knew what “startup” meant when I launched my site. Despite this, he’s been extremely supportive and understanding throughout this whole endeavor.

Yes, managing your time to make room for the people that are important to you is possible. The key? Desiring to do so. Making it happen. Creating a calendar. Knowing when to cut yourself off from computer time.

6. Actually Listen to Your Users

Be thankful and listen to what your users have to say. Your first users are the most important because they truly shape your startup. If you didn’t have your initial users, not only would you not have a business, but you also wouldn’t have their valuable feedback.

Our first hundred users taught us so much. Their comments about the startup motivated us, and their suggestions taught us a lot about the business.

We startup owners can sometimes be overly confident, which is both good and bad. It’s good because we are confident enough to believe that our ideas will succeed (and we don’t give up when times are tough). It can also be bad because sometimes we don’t listen to outside feedback.

If your users make a suggestion that you haven’t already implemented, you’ll want to really think about why you have not done so. Have a mental meeting with yourself, and challenge yourself to question your own ideas.

7. Don’t Forget to Learn – and Connect With – Others

Break out of your shell a little. Some of the most interesting people I’ve met have not necessarily been beneficial connections to my startup  — they’ve been fun and genuinely intriguing human beings.

Talk to the people who inspire you. Learn from them and listen to their stories. Their amazing personalities and attitudes will give you inspiration.

So, here’s to your endeavors! The startup world is full of highs and lows, but they’re all part of this beautiful journey.

What’s the best piece of startup advice you’ve received so far?

Hannah Wright

About the guest blogger: Hannah Wright is the founder of Makeoverly, a beauty and fashion Q&A startup. She currently resides in Alaska and has worked for startups such as Beauty.com. She is passionate about technology, startups, beauty and the outdoors. Follow @makeoverly.