The 18-Month Startup Crash Course

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Cook Taste Eat co-founder Tanya Melillo talks about how she learned more in 18 months of startup life than in the previous 12 years of her corporate career.

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Startups, everyone knows, have a steep learning curve. How steep?

“I’ve learned more in the last year and a half than I did cumulatively in my career before, and my career before was 12 years,” Tanya Melillo, co-founder and CEO of Cook Taste Eat told Women 2.0.

A lifelong food fanatic, Melillo took a roundabout route to becoming a startup founder, one that passed through both Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the California Culinary Academy, and included filming a pilot for the Food Network and schmoozing with some of America’s top chefs.

Melillo and her co-founder, Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina, have now bagged seed funding from SV Angel, Michael Dearing of Harrison Metal, Khosla Ventures and Blumberg Capitaland and attracted a fantastic all-female leadership team to their startup (“I am just crazy inspired by the amazing women on my team,” says Melillo) to execute their vision of offering on-demand video that teaches top-notch culinary skills to foodies who don’t want their cooking dumbed down. So what’s she learned in the whirlwind 18 months since she started the company?

Be Possessed

It’s not news that you need to really believe in your startup idea, but Melillo insists that however much dedication you think is enough, you’ll probably need more.

“Believe in what you’re doing like you would do crazy things for it because you’ll end up having to do crazy things to get it to work,” she says. “There are so many obstacles and there’s absolutely no clear path, so I think you have to be possessed a little bit.”

Hire Rock Stars (Here’s How)

Again, the revelation here isn’t that this is true, but the degree to which it’s true. “You can’t be one bit uncertain. A small company will not move if you don’t have phenomenal people who are super passionate. When I found our VP of Product & Marketing, I knew she would take care of this company like I would and that’s what you need in your employees,” says Melillo.

Of course, every other founder out there is also desperate for top talent, so how can you attract these all-important rock stars to your team. Work your network, of course, but, if possible, also leverage your product or space, suggests Melillo.

“Our company is very attractive for those employees who adore food and love tech. That’s allowed us to really leverage people’s passions. It’s a really cool job. It’s hard in all the ways startups are hard but we have a test kitchen and there’s amazing food and we’re cooking with Michael Mina. For a foodie it’s pretty cool,” she says.

Ask for Help

No one knows everything you need to do a startup so don’t be shy about calling on the collective wisdom of the community. “You’ve got to have smart advisors. You have to know when to ask for help because there are so many things you’re not going to know how to do, and it’s really helpful to get people who have done this before,” says Melillo.

Women 2.0 readers: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on your startup journey so far?

Jessica Stillman is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @entrylevelrebel.