Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Lessons from co-founding a startup in a business accelerator programme

My first start up went to an accelerator programme named Lightning Lab, which I wrote about in other post named Inside of a Business Accelerator.

Our team met during the Start Up Weekend and we won the first prize, since then we continued working on project on our free time until we applied to Lightning Lab. The team of 6 individuals got trimmed to 4 (and a half) by the time we joined the programme.


We went through the programme but at the end of it we decide to fold the company and below are my key lessons out the whole start up experience:

Vision

When joining or starting a start-up company it is important to understand the vision of the business that you are creating.

Dan Khan dives into Vision in much more detail and I completely agree with what he said in this article: Keeping hold of your company vision

Our mistake: we did not have one. Consequently we kept pivoting, changing direction and getting nowhere. We had nothing to help us stand our ground, not even passion:

Passion

Vision and Passion should be aligned with the co founders, otherwise there will be a drag and instability in the team. Passion, in this context, in my opinion, is the feeling of achievement when progressing and discovering the aspect you are working on. You may discover bad things, or good things, or amazing things, or horrible things, but you want to go further.... and further!

Reality is: you will place yourself under a lot of stress with no or little 'reward' and without the intangible asset of passion you may struggle to keep your motivation and productivity up.

In our case, after a few weeks in the programme, it became clear that not all founders had the same level of passion and commitment to what we were trying to do. When the first idea that brought us together failed, it was very hard to glue us back together.


Team


There is an awesome article about Minimum Viable Team made by Start Up Weekend which contains great advice regarding building your start up team.

Key learnings:
1) everyone should understand their roles and responsibilities so they have ownership and autonomy, making the founders more pro active and focused.
2) the vision and passions should be aligned with the co founders
3) understand how to keep the team motivation up, have a leader, have someone who owns the idea (likely the CEO)
4) having someone with domain expertise and connections in the sector that you are working on is a big plus. It helps finding the right people and saying the right things.

Lastly, if you are a CEO and will be looking for VC funding/investment, have a read on Sean Percival insights about his resignation - good insights there.
 
Our team had great individuals. Great skills, great knowledge, great personalities. But we did not make the Minimum Viable Team. It was like we were different pieces of different puzzles put together. Or maybe were we missing the right glue?

Personal Life

The obvious stuff: take care of your well-being, try to relax, care for those close to you.
Easy said than it is done. And looking back, I feel it is what I most neglected. I was stressed and did not know (or my mind ignored the fact).


Once the programme finished and had a bit of a break I started noticing really how the situation was. I found that day-to-day relationship with people in general was affected, I simply didn't want mingle or chit-chat. I didn't have the patience. I allowed the issues in the startup to interfere with my personal life more than it should.

Luckily, I have an awesome wife. She was supportive all throughout the programme and she understood and helped me through. I can't imagine how I would have survived if she wasn't there and I'm glad that she did survive too.

My advice: try your best to keep the balance. What I should have done: relax more, better diet, more exercise, and more time with family and friends specially during the weekend.

If want more insights about how people see the experience of a business accelerator, view this video: What Did They Give Up [to join a business accelerator programme]?

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