If our San Francisco City Meetup speaker had listened to all the advice she’d heard, she wouldn’t be running a successful startup today. By Evgeniya (Jen) Usmanova (Founder & COO, CareLuLu)
Any advice you get should be taken with a grain of salt (including mine!) As founders, our job is to heed only the advice that makes sense for our company and its stage. Since I co-founded CareLuLu almost 2 years ago, I received a lot of advice.
Here are three pieces of advice that are commonly given to entrepreneurs, which turned out to be myths for me, and the lessons I learned along the way:
Myth 1: Co-founding a Company With Your Spouse is a Terrible Idea
Lesson learned: Your spouse can be the best co-founder you’ll ever find but it doesn’t work for everyone (depends on you and your relationship.) But before you start, you must address all the potential issues of conflict.
For many people, starting a company with a spouse sounds like a truly bad idea. Of course, there are all the potential co-founder issues that can spill into your personal life, but fundraising as a married couple can also be more difficult.
To counter those challenges, my husband and I discussed all the possible issues and what it could mean for our relationship and our family, before we decided to start a company together. Should such issues ever arise, we agreed early on as to who would take the lead and even who would quit, if necessary. Those are difficult conversations to have, but necessary to ensure things work out in the future.
We didn’t hide our marriage from investors, but also didn’t bring it up until we had 2-3 meetings. The smartest investors don’t care about you being married, they just want the right team. You need people who not only have complementary skills, but also share your strong work ethic and commitment. These are the people who will stay through the ups and downs, no matter what comes your way.
Once you find the right people, there’s nothing you can’t do together. I am lucky because I happened to find all of those qualities in my spouse.
Myth 2: Build a Functional MVP First, Don’t Waste Time on Design and Branding
Lesson learned: Depending on your industry and customers, design and branding may be key, even in the beginning. To be “viable”, your product might need to be beautifully designed right from the start.
I’m sure you know all about the lean startup and about building an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) before spending time and money on fancy design and branding. For many companies and industries, design may not be critical to get early adopters to use the product and give feedback. However, in some cases, such as ours, we felt that design and brand-building was critical from the get-go.
We spent a lot of time designing screenshots of what our website would look like before knocking on doors of our prospective clients (daycare owners). We presented ourselves as expert marketers, and therefore, needed to look the part. Design and branding matters, even if not for everyone.
At the same time, you should be mindful of how/when you spend resources: yes, we designed the mockups and brand before going door to door, but we also went door to door before we wrote a single line of code.
Myth 3: Don’t get sidetracked trying to get PR early on
Lesson learned: PR can be fairly easy to get if you’re building something that solves a real pain point, and can help you get initial customers.
Investors don’t like having users/customers coming from PR channels because it’s not scalable. However, the initial customers that PR can get you are well worth the time you spend on it. You don’t need an expensive PR firm to get things off the ground. You can do PR yourself, especially early on when you’re still bootstrapping.
For CareLuLu, exposure in the local press and on local mom blogs was crucial as it helped us get our first parents to use the site, and those early adopters helped spread the word about us in the parent community. To be successful at getting press coverage:
- Research influencers in your community/industry. Don’t go for big nationwide press coverage. Instead, reach out to local influencers in your niche vertical.
- Develop a relationship with the writers and bloggers via social media. Better yet, meet them in person at local events.
- If you do pitch a story (ideally after you have a relationship), outline a series of interesting angles for your story with bullet points. Make their life easier!
In short, take the advice you’re given, but be selective about things you implement. Do what makes the most sense to you and your company, no one knows your industry and customers better than you!
Catch Jen speaking at our San Francisco City Meetup on March 5. Grab your tickets.
Photo credit: olmarmar via Shutterstock.
About the guest blogger: Evgeniya (Jen) Usmanova is a mother of two and a co-founder of CareLuLu, a free online resource that helps parents find child care specific to their needs. She has a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley and a Masters from Georgetown University.