Your first startup? Here are 3 basic charts on what to expect

I was flattered to be asked a few weeks ago to speak to a bunch of budding engineering students about my startup experience. They seemed to have this pressing question in their minds on what startup life looks like. So I ended up summarizing it to them in the following 3 basic charts.

#1: be prepared for a roller coaster ride

In ideal circumstances, an 8–5 job could help you see a steady growth in your income. You should be aware that taking the leap of faith in building a startup really requires quite a bit of “faith”. In the very beginning, one should be ready for a deep cut in pay. As a startup makes it to the market, you could see your personal income freshening up with some fluctuation, only to be hit again by a macro-economic crisis. We’ve seen this firsthand in this COVID-19 crisis. Be ready for that!

#2: what failure really means!

There are so many studies and stats on the percentage of startups failing. You can take the numbers in the above figures with a grain of salt. My message here is that many of the 5% of successful startups (whether those with moderate growth or even unicorns) dwelled, possibly more than once, in the 95% bucket. In fact, I’ve noticed that even some of the most successful venture capitalists went through the sufferings and learnings of failure.

#3: Think Customer

I had the privilege to work for Emerson a few years ago. I guess one of the best things I learned there was to “Think Customer”. And in reality, the best way to capture meaningful customer feedback is to have them try out your product. I learned that it is ok to approach customers with a far-from-perfect product. Unless there is something utterly wrong or offensive about your product, you will not be tainted if it does not perfectly meet the expectation of users. Just start!

After presenting those three charts I was hoping for the following question from the audience. And it indeed did come across: “so why should we do it?

I guess this is the most important part of startup life, i.e. the “why”. Here is mine:

  1. Sense of purposefulness: feeling that you have a unique contribution to your domain.
  2. Passion to build: satisfying that inner child inside you who wants to build new stuff.
  3. Pure joy in problem solving: there is nothing like a happy customer who sees the value of the solution you’re offering to relieve his/her pain.

I advise a couple of startups run by a bunch smart fresh grads. I felt that framing their expectations more realistically catalyzes their way forward. The last thing I’d hope for them is to be misled by media and textbook hype, and more importantly not to be ground in unsympathetic incubator/accelerator mills.

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Entrepreneurial Technologist | Innovation Enthusiast

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