It ‘s hard to choose which lessons to pass on, so I chose the most expensive and embarrassing ones first. Nothing sears learning into your brain quite as well as watching thousands of dollars get flushed down the toilet. Shocking, but good.
Manage from the Numbers – ouch! This one was expensive:
I fancy myself as a successful businesswoman. I’ve managed elaborate P&Ls, built a company, grew it profitably and sold it for a nice multiple. Yet, as a mere mortal, I naturally gravitate towards the work I love and away from the stuff I don’t. Who wants to be reminded of the ever-rising “L” in the P&L?
I know numbers are necessary, I ran a successful business, remember? Yet in startups there is so much to do every day that without checks and balances, it’s easy to get caught up in the “idea”.
Measuring data is the foundation on which the build-measure-learn framework is built. Data is based on numbers, so how did it slip? I was self-financed and I didn’t have a co-founder to keep me in check.Simply put, I lacked the discipline required to manage from the numbers.
Note: If you hate dealing with numbers, find someone to crunch them for you – early and often. The sharing economy has created many resources for temporary CFO support such as Hourly Nerd, where MBA grads bid for projects.
Don’t Try This Alone:
After working 20 years, I know my strengths and weaknesses. I knew having a co-founder was important, but I didn’t have one so I figured its just one more challenge to overcome. I had two brilliant young women working with me full-time, almost a dozen advisors and many professional friends I could consult, but it was impossible for them to have enough knowledge or experience to call me on stupid decisions until they were painfully obvious. And I mean painful.
I needed someone with complementary skills and experience to challenge my assumptions. I tried the matchmaking services like Founder Dating, but most of these pairings were based upon the Silicon Valley formula — young Harvard grads + hot-shot developers = love. I had lengthy discussions with a few candidate-friend-colleagues, but none worked out. I don’t have a good answer for this one, so I won’t pretend I do. Ideally, find someone with whom you’ve worked before, who has managed a team of developers, can write a code, knows Web design, is brilliant, creative, metrics-driven, entrepreneurial and doesn’t need money to survive. If you can’t find that person, anyone with a pulse will do. Yes, I mean it.
Use Help from Advisors:
I was fortunate enough to meet with a Who’s Who list of successful entrepreneurs in the pet space, all of whom offered to help me succeed. I’d planned to ask for advice along the way, an ad hoc Advisory Board of sorts, to provide the checks and balances I was missing. I never used them, not one.I was embarrassed to ask stupid questions, ask for help or report anything less-than-stellar progress. In truth, paying it forward is part of the tech ethos and since these entrepreneurs had already given me their time, they would be inclined to follow through with help offered. It’s the MVP transgression all over again. Even one or two jewels of wisdom could have saved my business and, as a bonus, I’d also have nurtured those relationships for the future.