The Most Important Startup Lesson I’ve Learned

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All you need to launch your startup is the right motivation... and a lot of hard work. So what are you waiting for?

By Thomas Honeyman (Co-founder, FindMySong)

Last January, I joined my good friend Vince Fong in co-founding FindMySong. The incredible ups-and-downs of running a startup have become the most intense learning experience of my life.

Along the way, people began to take notice of what we were building. Some, who wanted to create startups of their own, began to seek out our advice. Most advice given to pre-preneurs centers around catchphrases like Just solve a pain in the market! or Have you read the Lean Startup?

Today, I want to shed a little light on the less glamorous side of running a startup and share the most important lesson I’ve learned:

Start now, work hard
 – you’ll figure the rest out.

Start Now

Here’s a hint: you will never be successful with your eyes fixed to a blog post. Not even this one. A tendency towards overlearning and underaction is the most common issue I see among people looking to start their own business. It’s easy to feel like you’re making progress when you’re reading, but it’s mostly illusory. You have to create something with your knowledge — not simply accrue more of it.

When faced with the question, “Why don’t you start today?” the typical response I get is “I don’t know how.” Those words are poisonous. Here’s what you should do instead:

Change “I Don’t Know” into “I’ll Figure it Out”

This simple shift in mindset has been a powerful influence over the way I work. It helps you move from a passive mindset into a position of strength and action.

The truth is, I’ve spent most of my time at FindMySong solving problems I have never faced before. Such is the way of the startup founder. Education in a startup is reactive; you’re faced by a problem, and you do your research to figure it out. If I waited until I had any idea how to do more than sit in a chair and look busy I would never accomplish anything.

So start now. The worst that can happen to you is failure, and that’s the best education of all.

Work Hard

You’ve heard this advice a thousand times before. At first, it can be inspiring to imagine staying up until 4am every night, passionately building your startup (which will revolutionize “X”). This fantasy is what I thought was going to happen when we began FindMySong. But here’s the truth:

You’ve set yourself up for an indeterminate length of incredibly hard work, racing against the clock with no instruction manual and little experience or funding. Working on your idea every day is exhausting, and most of that work won’t be on revolutionary features or speaking with legendary venture capitalists. Most of your day to day work will actually be focused on tasks you don’t particularly enjoy, but are necessary. Half the time, you won’t even know if the work you’re doing is good or if you’re screwing up.

Don’t stop. This is how you become successful.

When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successfulEric Thomas I want you to crush it. I want you to build something amazing. But simply knowing you should be working hard is not going to be enough to get you through the tough times when it seems like nothing is working. It certainly wasn’t enough for me. So here are the two supports which have held me up over the past year:

Be Held Accountable by People You Care About

Nothing pushes me harder than knowing that my team is relying on the quality of my work. When I slack, they have to work harder to cover for me. My business partner is one of the hardest-working people I know and that pushes me to match his energy. I am held accountable for the quality of my work by a team of people I care deeply about.

If you have no team yet, then a group of your peers who are striving towards the same goals you are will work just as well. When you’re getting outpaced by friends around your skill level & experience because you’re not putting in the work, you’ll find all the motivation you could ever need.

What’s Your “Why”?

Most wantrepreneurs haven’t started their company yet because they don’t have a strong enough reason to. When your desire is strong enough, you can and will crush through any obstacle that stands in your way. When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful. With this level of passion, there’s no time for “I don’t know” anymore. All that’s left is the way forward.

Finding My “Why”

When I was a freshman at USC, I had two experiences which would change my life forever. First, I got a job working in a call center, where I begged alumni to donate money to the school for twelve hours per week. I hated that job. It was valueless work. The day I quit, I made the commitment to never do meaningless work again. I would create real value instead.

The same semester, my father lost his job and the financial security of my family was thrown into question. I no longer had the safety net of being a college student−the real world was here now. Two years later, we’re not safe yet. This drives me forward, every single day. This is my why.

You’ll Figure the Rest Out

If you want to succeed in the startup world, you can’t afford to waste time dreaming. You have to realize that every second you spend thinking “I don’t know what to do,” someone else is building your idea. Someone else is figuring it out. And they’re leaving you with nothing but wishful thinking. You have to get going right now.

That means finding people to hold you accountable right now. That means figuring out your “why” right now. That means asking for help from someone you respect right now. Don’t wait a moment longer.

This post originally appeared on Thomas’s blog.

What about you? What’s your “why”?


About the guest blogger: Thomas Honeyman is a songwriter, startup founder and marketer in Los Angeles, California. He co-founded a music collaboration platform called FindMySong and writes about startups on his blog. Find him on Twitter at @thomashoneyman.