A bit of our pitch at the MIT Startup Demo was meant to be tips/lessons learned for other potential entrepreneurs. While we are certainly continuing to learn more everyday, it was a good exercise to look back and find any advice I could give. Some of our fellow presenters offered their 'additional' advice had they had more than 10 minutes, so I figured I'd do the same:
1. Hire people smarter than yourself. The initial thought is to hire your friends, or frat buddies, or coworkers or whatever. Not giving into these desires has worked out extremely well for me, and by putting in the leg work to find some other entrepreneurial minded people is worth the effort. I suppose if your friend is smarter than you knock yourself out, but I've heard far more stories about friendships hurting due to starting a business together rather than friendships strengthening. Plus, my way, you'll make some friends in the process.
2. Ask for help. If you could met anyone in Seattle, who would it be? Have a phone call with anyone in the states? Go for it, find their email (or email someone at the company you know they're a part of) and ask. Don't try and sell them, humble yourself, tell them the truth, and ask for advice. You'll get a lot of non-responses, but the 1 or 2 yeses may just be worth it.
3. Launch. Tomorrow. Then base your feature set off of what your test users want. It's a way we've fought feature creap, and, while we lost some users since not everything was functioning perfectly, it's certainly helped us define what to spend our time working on. In many websites, I feel that 'stealth,' mode is overrated, especially if you don't have the money to hide out in stealth while building.
This doesn't work for everybody. I'm glad we launched before we were ready. Your product has to be usable, but I think it's better to get user feedback, even if it's bad, then to wait till you think it's ready.
4. Meet your target market. Offline. Over coffee or beer. Our end users are athletes (which I am and know very well) and coaches (which I kind of am but have many assumptions about that were proved wrong), and interviewing both before building features helps a lot. I used to blog about this, but many social sites are launching at the youth/college demographic, and if you are no longer a part of that demographic make sure you learn their needs first. Many of your assumptions may be quite wrong (hint, very, very few college students actually read any blogs).
5. Smile, nod, move on. You're going to have a lot of people doubt you, and a lot tell you 'no.' Their opinions should be heard and you should definitely take them into account, but sometimes, people just aren't going to be in your corner. And that's ok. Have a thick skin, believe in yourself, and don't get bogged down with the negative, it'll just eat at you.
6. Do the networking thing. Some people love it, some hate it, I hang out in the middle. All these npost and MIT and NWEN events help you meet a lot of people, and give your elevator pitch over and over and over. It helped us in our DEMO immensely that I'd given our little spiel a thousand times. Plus, sometimes, you meet someone who can REALLY help you out, just randomly by shaking their hand and talking in the back room of some bar in Belltown at a networking thing.
7. Know your holes. According to John Cook our answering of questions helped us at the MIT event. You know what parts of your pitch aren't obvious, because people ask the questions a lot. Know the answers. It's just like a job interview, go in with an answer to 'explain a time when you've failed and what you learned from it.'
8. Stop for a second. Thing about what you're doing. A friend of mine was asked if she knew anyone who had their dream job, she said she knew only one. It was me. We don't get salaries, we work crazy hours and it's a continual rollercoaster. But seriously, would you rather be doing anything else? Take a minute to relish the moment.
Then get back at it.
Thanks for reading if you made it this far. Have a great holiday.