I was fortunate to be accepted to Startup School, an event sponsored by Stanford BASES and Y Combinator, this year. At Startup School, tech startup founders come and speak about how they built their business and give tips to attendees about the lessons they learned along the way. There were countless things to learn from the experienced speakers and the hard-working guests of Startup School as a teenager.
Make something people want.
This is the obvious one, but it still somehow gets forgotten. If you're working tirelessly on a product and hoping people will use it, make sure people want to use it. A good example of this is Facebook and its different divisions. A person goes to events, wishes people happy birthday, asks questions, chats with friends, takes pictures and more when they're off-line. Facebook made sure you can do lots of your daily activities online on the Facebook platform. They made what people wanted. Tom Presten-Werner (Github) mentioned that while building his company, some users would email him and ask if they could pay for the service to make sure it stayed alive. You know you're working on the right thing if people are willing to pay for your free product.
Move to San Francisco.
A big lesson I learned at Startup School was to come to Silicon Valley. Companies that are starting up in major cities of technology (NYC, Seattle, Chicago, etc.) don't match the experience of starting a company in San Francisco. Investors, companies, advisors, incubators, jobs and other prominent founders of startups are primarily in San Francisco. That leaves you with the feeling that San Francisco was meant for technology. If you want to be involved with startups, come to San Francisco and other cities will not suffice.
Don't waste any time.
The life as an employee at a startup is tedious, complex and downright difficult. What a lot of startups waste time on are things like naming positions, raising capital and hiring. If you want perfection out of your startup, you must work hard towards it. To work hard towards perfection, you need to finish things quickly. Don't make mistakes that other startups have made and stop wasting time with low-priority tasks. Just get to work and success will follow.
Commit and believe.
Ben Silbermann (Pinterest) and David Rusenko (Weebly) mentioned a few times that it is necessary to commit to your mission. If you're going to be building a company, you need to start off with the mentality that you'll still be working on it five years from now. Don't start a company just to start a company. Start a company to solve a problem or to make your life easier. Long story short -- build to succeed, not to be acquired. Build something that you'll still love to work on for years.
Ben Horowitz (Opsware/Andreessen Horowitz) built his company with a mission to never quit. His company became successful enough to go public but after the IPO, things took a downturn. The company's lowest price was $0.35. Ben still chose to continue working on the company regardless of the fact that it could have gone bankrupt. A few months later, the company became extremely profitable and sold to HP for $1.6 billion. Don't quit -- startups are like continuous roller coasters. They go down but soon enough, they'll come back up.
After speaking with the founders of major technology companies and newly built technology startups, I've learnt that building a business takes time, connections, money, and all of the energy that you can exert in your lifetime. It takes an idea to make a company but it takes every resource you have to make it successful.
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