Over the past six months, I've lived and breathed the startup life, working full-time as lead designer/frontend engineer for a pre-Series-A startup in Silicon Valley. I'm back on the East Coast now tending to some family issues, but I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I've learned over the past few months.
1. Success is dependent on effort
This might seem pretty obvious but while I was in the valley, I noticed first-hand that the companies that put in the most amount of effort were the most successful. It's essentially just like school - the people who work extremely hard are able to get good grades, even if they're not the most intelligent in the class. There are, of course, outliers - companies that are just exceptionally bright from the get-go, though I think they're far less common than smart students in school.
2. Everyone thinks they can be an entrepreneur
I remember at our launch party, I met a couple of people who told me they quit their jobs recently and were starting their own business. They were working in the valley and now they're living the dream, starting a company of their own! While that's all fine and dandy, in all reality the vast majority of startups fail, and truth be told, not many people have what it takes to succeed. A lot of the people I met lacked both technical skill and work ethic, which makes it all the more difficult to succeed as a tech startup.
3. Only work with people you really like
I was fortunate enough to be able to work with guys I got along with very well. We all shared similar interests and had a passion for success, which made working 16-hour days much more bearable. If that were not the case, I have a feeling I would likely get depressed or at least highly stressed out.
4. Have an understanding of startup finances
Before living in the valley, I had very little understanding of the financial end of startups. Being involved in a startup meant I had to learn at least the basics of how startup financing works. While you don't need a business degree, it helps to know how dilution works, how valuations are calculated, how convertible debt works, etc.
5. Get a gym membership
We made sure to go to the gym at least 4-5 times a week and aside from being a 'reward' that I looked forward to most days, I've managed to get back into decent shape. I know if I keep it up, I'll be in the best shape I've ever been after a year or so. In my mind, that's a huge gain for me as a person - I may be working a lot but I know that I'll look and feel the best I've felt in a long time. For the company, it's a minor expense to make an employee feel great about their self-image and ensure positive mental health.
6. Startups are unpredictable
Companies pivot all the time, some much more than others. Some for the better, some for the worse. Many, many startups fail and it's pretty hard to predict which will be successful (investing must be hard!). If you're joining a startup as an employee or a co-founder, make sure you know/trust those involved and that what they're doing makes sense to you, since it is a huge risk from your end as well. It doesn't hurt to have a backup plan for what happens when/if it fails, or to have a financial cushion of some kind if you're not getting a big salary.
7. There's still a lot of money to be made
Having the opportunity to meet people that were very successful has made me feel differently about financial success, that it is a lot more achievable than I had previously thought. Don't get me wrong, it's still incredibly difficult and will take a lot of work, but I have a lot more confidence in 'hard work pays off,' having met real-life examples in person.
8. Money is not the end goal, just a means to it
Coming from a semi-poor/lower-middle-class family, I've always had a different view of money than a lot of my wealthier friends. I've wanted a lot of it for primarily one reason: financial stability for myself and my family, though I had no idea of how much it would take to achieve that. I now understand that it is a lot less than I had originally thought and that once certain things in life are taken care of, money doesn't mean as much. For me, it is much more meaningful to make an impact on those around me rather than have a big bank account.
There are a few other points as well that I'll share in another post in the near future, but that's all for now. For those of you who've made it this far down the post, I'm planning on having a giveaway sometime next week for DevGrow readers. So far, Tyler from VirtualHostX has pledged a couple of copies of his excellent software and I'm working on a couple of more leads. If there's something your company can offer for the 40,000+ readers, let me know in the comments!