It has been just over a year since I made the jump with Shaila (my cofounder) and started Enstitute. We've had a hell of a year. We've done a lot of things right. We've done even more things wrong. We've laughed, fought, hugged it out and shopped at Costco more than I can begin to describe. Most importantly, I've learned a lot this year. Here are my biggest takeaways.
1. You need a stomach of steel.
When Marc Andreessen referred to startups as "roller coasters," he was being nice. Startups are the most gut wrenching, bipolar, emotional mind tricks you will ever experience. Today is a good day. Yesterday sucked. A couple months ago, Enstitute almost never happened. Now we're looking at national expansion. It's impossible to prepare yourself for what is going to happen. The best you can do is promise yourself never to quit and surround yourself with people who will listen to you complain and celebrate your successes (wins?).
2. You know if something works really quickly.
It becomes apparent very quickly when what you are doing isn't working and needs to be tweaked, overhauled, or dumped. It is also really easy to get tunnel vision and keep hacking away on something even though it's not the best use of resources. It is important to set timelines and measurable goals within that timeline to make sure you are constantly utilizing your resources properly. If something doesn't work, move on. The next thing might.
3. It is okay to be wrong.
I am wrong all the time and that is okay. When you are wrong, you learn. What is most important is that you are someone who can accept being wrong, learn from it, and move on. It is important to work with people who can and will tell you when you are making a wrong decision.
4. You always have time for friends and family.
No matter how busy you are, make times for those that you love. It doesn't have to be a lot of time, but don't let your personal relationships suffer. It's not worth it and you will work better when you are fulfilled across all areas of your life. If you have a significant other, commit time every week to spend with them. There are times when you need to be "heads down", but you always have to come up for air.
5. Ask for help; people want to give it.
People are awesome. They want to help you. They want to spread the word, test your product, intro you to people, etc. They also want you to respect their time, brain, and relationships. Do not be afraid to ask for help, but also be generous with your time. Help others and they will help you. Rising tides carry all boats.
6. Teams are EVERYTHING.
Amen. People say this all the time, and I am going to repeat it once more, having a TEAM IS EVERYTHING. Shaila is my exact opposite -- in skills, temperament, decision-making processes, outlook, etc. She is also the best person I have ever partnered with and one of my best friends. Enstitute would have never happened without her. When we brought on our first hire, Katie, we found someone who has the traditional education experience we are lacking and was a perfect cultural and personality fit. We thought to hire her right away, but still brought her on as an intern to make sure it was right. By testing before buying, we were able to see that she was passionate and willing to take the risk while testing to make sure she could do the job.
7. Celebrate small successes.
No matter how small, make sure to recognize the wins and successes you and your team have. This can be done over a drink, via email or with small rewards to your team. Celebrating small successes keeps everyone motivated and makes sure people feel appreciated.
8. Take time to think .
Sometimes, you just need to think. Set aside time to strategize, plan and think big. I have a running email draft that I update weekly with goals, running projects, long-term plans, and dreams. It is good to stay focused on short term goals but it helps me to spend an hour a week putting my big and long term ideas down. I often do this on subway rides or while traveling.
9. Everything takes longer than you think.
Timelines are important. Realistic ones are more important. Everything big we have done has taken longer than I thought. Managing big deadlines has taught me to set realistic expectations for my team and myself to deliver a polished, well-executed product.
2012 taught me a lot. I expect 2013 to teach me even more as Enstitute grows and expands. For now, time to take my lessons learned and put them to work.