#OliveInspires 5 Valuable things I got from starting a company as my first job (So far)
A year ago, I thought that I would be in Graduate School right now, studying my way to become a biomedical engineer. Then I pitched at an event in Wilmington, DE called Tech2gether. This was the start of a year of pitches, rollercoasters, and travel. 9 months ago, I formed a legal entity to create the company you see today, Olive Devices. It wasn’t until June of 2016 that we revved up our engines and started the race.
#1 First things first…
Prove your market. One or two people doesn’t cut it. Especially when you’re working with new communities in which you are outside of their culture. There’s a lot to be learned, a lot of feedback to get and people to understand. These can be done with a cardboard and paper mock-up. Show them an idea and you’ll get feedback. Find advocates and advisors in these communities and you’ll likely get better input. DON’T THINK YOU KNOW EVERYTHING. Whether you are a newly graduated student or a serial entrepreneur, there is always something to be learned. So, don’t wait… GO LEARN.
#2 Academics is not the same as Doing
While we’re in school you learn a lot of things by the book and some from experience, but it’s very difficult for an academics to be exactly like the real world. I was lucky, I went to a university that often involved real clients, packed your work schedule to appear as a busy design consultancy, and taught you how to get a product from idea to production. However, I have learned so much more by doing and failing.
Now, I am the biggest advocate for academics (remember a year ago, I thought I was going to be an academic, and in a future life I still may be) and there is a lot that when learning from a book is easier to translate into actionable tasks to better a company. The most difficult things for me so far have been business law and marketing.
When I was in school I concentrated more on the engineering side of product design and development. But starting a company I needed to know more. So, I read, I got advice, and I talked to mentors. When I was in a meeting and didn’t understand something, I would either ask, or go home and figure out what to do and how to react so that I would be prepared next time it came up.
#3 Timing & Abilities
Know your timing and know your abilities. If you don’t have a product that can be launched right now because either you don’t have the money or you don’t have the power of skill to do it all, make sure you understand these constraints. Going back to #1, make sure you at least prove your market and learn the culture this can be done before money is acquired, before coding is done. Be frugal, and be creative! Your willingness to learn and let people bring you into their culture will be very valuable at these early stages.
Once you have proved that your solution will be useful and can compete in the market, then you can start finding those people to complement your skill sets. Build a team that can code, that can create a marketing plan, your business strategy, your design… but don’t forget about outsourcing. Sometimes this can be a less expensive solution in the long run. See what your options are depending on your needs now, versus your needs down the line.
#4 It’s not what you like, it’s what is right for your customers
Unless you are your customer (which is often not the case) you can’t think about exactly what it is that you like. Whether this ‘like’ must do with graphics, your website, a physical product, or the way you market, you need to get feedback from your customers. If no one is going to your website, if no one is reading certain blog posts, there are reasons for this.
Review trends, create consistency and then start changing one little thing at a time. Find where you get your best results. When do, people tend to make more clicks, subscribe to your page, or return to your site on another day? What are the questions being commonly asked in emails? Are your investors or potential clients asking the same questions as individuals? Find these trends, adjust and see what factors your customers react the most positively.
#5 If you have the guts, go for it.
Simply put, most people don’t have the guts to start. They don't have the guts to create a company and put everything they have on the line. If you have a dream, something you’re passionate about, take the leap. Doing this young will not only help me in the long run to learn how to be successful, but I have a different lifestyle now than I may have 5 or 10 years down the road. It’s an exciting experience and you don’t have to it alone.
Although, at many points it feels like entrepreneurship is a lonely ride, you realize how much more meaningful your family and friends are, how close your small team is, and how important your own health is. Do not neglect any of these things. Show your appreciation to yourself, to your loved ones, and to your team. Although I can’t eat it, I enjoy giving my team special treats on a whim. When we were in our offices and Trader Joe’s brought out all their pumpkin groceries, I made sure to bring my team the best. Living away from home for the past 5 years and starting this journey far from my family and friends I realized just how important they are. Moving closer was a great decision for my relationships and for my health.
Please remember, as leaders, the decisions we exhibit, those we make for ourselves and keeping ourselves healthy effect the rest of our team. When you’re not feeling 100% you can’t manage your team to 100% and therefore can’t build your product to the best of your abilities. Feel great, look great, and you’ll build great things!
Until next time,