• Know What You Know, Know What You Don't
I had a pretty unique college experience, as I played college basketball at Clark University and then joined a fraternity at the University of Miami. This gave me a completely different understanding of the college demographic and it's something that I apply to Sumpto every day. I know college and I don't know much about anything else though... and that's fine. I've learned it's better to be the expert at one thing than good at a lot of things. It's essential you understand and showcase your strengths, but also your weaknesses. I can't code, I'm terrible at math, and Excel spreadsheets scare me; but I have an understanding of the college demographic that most people don't and I've tried to launch a startup off of that thinking.
• Go All In
Before I launched Sumpto, I built an iPhone app with a developer. It was a good idea but the execution was terrible. I didn't work hard enough, I wasn't sacrificing anything, and the work suffered because of it. I learned that if you're going to do anything, you have to go all in. No one is going to force you to do anything, make you wake up early, keep you up late at night, or tell you that you shouldn't go out that night. It's really going to be up to you, and the moment I understood that our success was aligned with my sacrifice was when we started growing. Being stressed out is a good thing... being relaxed, content, and comfortable will be detrimental to growth.
• If You Can't Code, Get Someone Who Can (and Is the Best)
My biggest mistake so far is that I didn't find a tech co-founder and now I'm still looking for one. There are so many changes and iterations I want to make to the platform but simply can't. I've learned that when you're beginning to set up your team, one of the founders must have a technical background. And he or she should be the best; find someone who is passionate, hustles, and fills in your weaknesses with their strengths. To say it has hindered our growth and provided a lot of challenges regarding raising money would be an understatement. But with that said, so what? Move on. Admit mistakes and prove to investors that you're not technical and you still managed to do X, Y, and Z. Sure, in a perfect world I would have teamed up with a technical wizard before launch who sleeps three hours a day and whose dad is an early-stage venture capitalist. But we don't live in a perfect world. Nothing will ever go as planned. The quicker you can adapt and hustle then the closer you are to being successful.
• Ask and You Might Receive
When I was just starting Sumpto, I had no idea what to do (Disclaimer: I still don't). All I had was a vision and I needed help. I emailed contacts and tried to find credible introductions to people who had done this before; persistence is key. I somehow was able to get Ethan Austin (COO of GiveForward) and Elliot Moskow (CEO of Pricefalls) to be our advisors. Their insight, help, and connections have been crucial to our success. I learned that it's extremely important to find people smarter than you, show them how passionate you are to make this happen, and ask them for help. You'll have to suck up your pride and be persistent. Find connections with anyone and through anyway possible. I've emailed guys who weren't even in the same fraternity but I told them I was Greek as well. Yes, it's a stupid comparison and I'm sure they didn't care, but it still set me apart from most of the people in the tech world. People want to help people, especially someone who is passionate, hard-working, and wants to learn.
• Most People Won't Understand What It Is You Actually Do
And that's a good thing. When you're starting out and you tell someone what your vision is, they are supposed to have a confused look on their face. If they get it right off the bat, how is it different and new? Some people still don't understand what Sumpto is, and besides it's probably because my pitch sucks, it's also a new and misunderstood concept. I learned that you're going to have to be determined to prove people wrong. I used to hang up rejection letters from VC firms in my apartment to constantly remind myself to work harder. Besides running out of empty wall space and looking like a scene out of A Beautiful Mind, it created a hustle inside of me that grows every day. Embrace rejection -- it's the only way you know you're doing something different.
Follow Ben Kosinski on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Bennyyk