In retrospect, I am fortunate to have built my company, Terrible Labs, with an incredible team of engineers and designers. In just a few short years, we have grown from three people with a questionable brand name to a well-respected design and development consultancy. However, prior to starting a business, I spent time working at several other startups, and as a result, I learned a lot of startup wisdom that has helped fuel my entrepreneurship career so far.
Here’s a look at three important lessons no entrepreneur should ignore:
Consider what you want to learn.
Ask yourself “What do I want to learn?” instead of “What do I want to do?” For the longest time, I would gauge career opportunities based on the role alone, and then I found my passion for the work quickly faded. That is when I decided to focus on what I could possibly learn and who I would be able to learn from — thinking more about the skills I wanted to acquire. Once I knew what I wanted to learn, I began identifying people in my city who were best suited to help me attain those skills.
When we started Terrible Labs, I wasn’t excited about the prospect of starting a business. I was more excited about learning from some of the most talented engineers around. While I’m not an engineer by trade, I am passionate about managing an engineering team, understanding how to build applications, and taking an idea and turning it into a product. Needless to say, I have now been a founder at my company longer than any other role I held in my career.
Don’t be afraid to get a job first.
Like many first-time entrepreneurs, I was guilty of wanting to work for myself and start a company right out of college. I thought I had the chops to make it happen and the connections to get it done. Don’t get me wrong, some people can pull it off, but most of us end up spinning our wheels with little to show for it.
In the waning days of my first startup, a close mentor told me that if it were not for the first few jobs he had, he would not have been able to build his current company. He went on to tell me the business problems he encountered at his job, and the people he solved them with, became foundational for his startup. So, I spent the next few years working at a couple of different companies. Sure enough, it was at those companies where I met my co-founders — and several of our future clients.
Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint.
Early on in my career, I believed the startup lore that successful startups are created by those who sacrifice salary, work around the clock, and only eat Ramen noodles. So, while working on my first startup, I went along with the hype and lived the successful lifestyle. After coming up short with little to show from my effort, I was reminded that a career, even in a startup, is a marathon and not a sprint. Don’t feel like you have to start a company tomorrow. Take the time to build your skills, make money, eat a meal, and break once in a while.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Cort Johnson is a co-founder of Terrible Labs, a boutique design and development shop, and TicketZen, the easiest way to pay parking tickets with your mobile phone. He also works with Flybridge Capital Partners and its general partners as an advisor to support and broaden the firm’s investment activities. Connect with @cortlandt on Twitter.
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